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Australia allocates $6.7 million to advance women in STEM initiatives

Women make up only 28% of the country's STEM workers

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The Australian government has allocated $6.7 million (£3.5 million) in additional funding to expand programmes that address the under-representation of women in STEM.

The government's Advancing Women in STEM Strategy was originally launched in 2019 at a time when women across the country made up only 28% of workers in STEM. This was later updated with the 2020 Action Plan, which aims to produce an Australian society that provides equal opportunity for people of all genders to work in STEM.

The latest funding will be divided over a handful of programmes, including $2 million over four years to extend the Superstars of STEM programme, delivered by Science and Technology Australia (STA). This is an initiative that boosts the profile of women in STEM by equipping them with advanced communication skills and opportunities in media, schools, and on stage.

The programme states it aims to grow a critical mass of celebrity women scientists to inspire future generations. The new funding will help it develop an additional 120 women into future leaders in the STEM sector and help boost their public profiles.

The Women in STEM ambassador has also been given $2.4 million over two years to ensure her work continues until 2025-26. The role was established in 2018 to advance gender equity in STEM in Australia, and is currently occupied by inaugural ambassador professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.

The ambassador works on a national scale to raise awareness of issues that can hold girls and women back from STEM study and work, and aims to increase their participation in the sector.

Lastly, an additional $2.3 million over four years will be used to expand the ambassador’s Future You programme. This helps 8-12 year olds envision a future for themselves in STEM by showcasing diverse role models and career pathways. The government said it has reached 3.1 million children, parents, and carers across the country since it launched in October 2020.

“Supporting girls and women with opportunities to excel in these areas is not only an important issue of equity, but it bolsters the pool of available STEM-skilled workers,” said Melissa Price, minister for Science and Technology.

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The government highlighted that only 20% of girls reported being interested in STEM before 2018, but today upwards of 68% are interested in a STEM career.

One of its initiatives is producing a STEM Equity Monitor, which is published annually from 2020 to track system-level change to provide a consistent source of evidence.

For example, it found that in 2020, women’s participation in STEM occupations decreased to 13% from 14% in 2019. Previously this had increased by 3 percentage points between 2009 to 2019.

For comparison, women have comprised almost 50% of people in non-STEM occupations since 2009.

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