The pandemic risks wiping out hard-won gains by women in STEM

  Last updated June 5, 2020 at 5:40 pm

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A new report confirms an urgent need for employers to closely monitor and mitigate the gender impact of the pandemic on the STEM workforce.


STEM workforce_women in STEM_scientists

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges to the already under-represented women in the STEM workforce. Credit: Westend61




Why This Matters: We can’t let important work be undone.




Across Australia, COVID-related job losses have been profound. At the start of May it was estimated that almost 1 million Australians have lost their jobs, with many more since.


The STEM workforce is also feeling the brunt of COVID-19 related restrictions with a new peer-reviewed research report finding that hard won gains for women’s advancement in the STEM workforce are now at risk of a major setback.




Also: Women in STEM




The report highlights that even before the pandemic hit, women were under-represented in STEM.


Now, the early evidence from during the shutdown suggests women in the STEM sector have suffered even greater job losses than men.

The report also points to women carrying a greater share of responsibilities for caring and distance learning duties during isolation.


‘Double-burden’ has been made even greater, again for women in STEM workforce


Australia’s scientific and technical services industry recorded job losses of 5.6% from mid-March to mid-April 2020, with jobs down 6.3% for women compared with 4.8% for men in this field.


Lead author, UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston. Credit: UNSW


Professor Emma Johnston AO, who led the research, says the peer-reviewed report confirms an urgent need for STEM employers to closely monitor and mitigate the gender impact of the pandemic on jobs and careers – or the hard work over many years to recruit and retain more women in STEM could be undone.

“The challenges are likely to be most acute for women in STEM with children under 12,” says Johnston.

“The combination of juggling working from home while supervising distance learning for children has made women’s well documented ‘double burden’ even greater again.”




Also: Diversity in STEM boosts Australia




The report is the work of 15 scientific organisations including the Australian Academy of Science, Science & Technology Australia, and Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, requested the group produce the report.


Employers can’t let hard work go to waste


Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert says job insecurity was even more of a risk for women than men in the STEM workforce.

The report highlights that vulnerability to job losses varies from discipline. to discipline. In mathematics, for example, 64% of all women in academic positions are in casual jobs.

“With casual and short-term contract jobs likely to be the first to go, women are at particular risk – with women in STEM one and a half times more likely to be in insecure jobs,” she says.

The authors say the report is a reminder to STEM employers about the need for them to be vigilant on gender equity or they risk losing their hard-won gains.


Diverse perspective create better STEM workforce outcomes


The report also highlights that currently there is insufficient research to assess whether women in STEM who faced additional barriers to entry pre-COVID, such as those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, women with disabilities, women who identify as LBTIQA+, have experienced further challenges as a result of the pandemic.

ATSE Chief Executive Officer, Kylie Walker says diversity in the workforce is integral to higher quality and more resilient STEM research and application.


“The diverse perspectives that women bring to the STEM sector enable and drive better outcomes for scientific and technology-based industries.”


More Like This


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‘Death by a thousand cuts’: women in colour in science face a subtly hostile work environment




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