Studies show that women researchers are squeezed out of science careers by structural barriers. The loss of such expertise is a significant waste of knowledge, talent and investment
Gender equity and gender diversity impact our nation’s scientific performance and productivity.
In 2012, data shared by the Office of Chief Scientist showed that women comprise more than half of PhD graduates and early career researchers in the natural and physical sciences (but that’s including medicine; as we see below, the picture looks less optimistic without this field). Yet women make up just 17% of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.
The most recently available data from the Department of Education and Training1 show that, in 2014, inequalities within STEMM2 disciplines are pronounced.
Students in STEMM
Data obtained and held by SAGE show that, including medicine and health, women make up just under half of all STEMM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, but excluding these fields, women make up just over a third of undergraduates and 42% of PhD students.
- Bachelor degree: there are 384,913 total students studying in a STEMM Bachelor degree (includes medicine and health).
- 170,884 are women (44.4%); and 214,029 men (55.6)
- Excluding medicine and health, women make up only 39% of STEM undergraduate degrees
- PhD: 24,099 total students are working towards a PhD in STEMM
- 11,136 are women (46.2); and 12,963 men (53.8%).
- Excluding medicine and health, women make up 42% of PhD students (STEM).
Academics in STEMM
The overall picture for women academics in STEMM looks relatively more egalitarian when we look at the total proportion of women in STEMM (excluding health and medical sciences), but excluding these disciplines, women make up less than one third of STEM academics.
Data here are presented as total number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions. Note that FTE count undercounts part-time workers who are often women, as well as people working in disciplines such as Medical Sciences and Health with a high proportion of part-time academic roles. Data on total numbers of staff will be published when available.3
Total STEMM: there are 23,018 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) academic positions employed in STEMM
- 9,169 are women (39.8%) and 13,849 are men (60.2%)
- If we exclude medicine and health, women make up only 29.7% of Full-Time Equivalent positions among academics (STEM)
Table 1: Sum of FTE for Academic staff in STEMM fields by gender, Department of Education and Training data, 2014
|Sum of FTE||%||Sum of FTE||%|
|Agriculture, Environment and Related Studies||432||34.4%||822||65.6%||1253|
|Architecture and Building||247||38.2%||400||61.8%||647|
|Engineering and Related Technology||651||16.8%||3225||83.2%||3876|
|Natural and Physical Sciences (other than Mathematics)||2713||37.1%||4608||62.9%||7321|
|All Natural and Physical Sciences||2905||35.5%||5288||64.5%||8194|
|Total STEM (excluding Health)||4496||29.7%||10645||70.3%||15141|
|Medical Sciences and Health||4673||59.3%||3204||40.7%||7877|
|Other Disciplines (non-STEMM)||9347||48.6%||9883||51.4%||19230|
Gender disparity by level
Looking at gender and levels, women make up around half of junior academics but around one fifth of senior professors.
- Level A: there is a total of 4,867 FTE junior lecturers in STEMM (Level A)
- 2,338 are women (48.0%); 2,529 are men (52.0%)
- Excluding medicine and health, women make up approximately 40% of FTE positions among junior (STEM) academics
- Level E: there is a total of 3,322 FTE senior professors (Level E)
- 703 are women (21.2%); and 2,619 are men (78.8%)
- Excluding medicine and health, women make up only 14% of FTE positions among senior (STEM) professors
If we look at sub-disciplines, the gender differences are even more stark.
- Natural and Physical Sciences (excluding Maths): Women comprise 47% of junior academics at Level A (1003 FTE staff), but only 17% of senior professors at Level E (172 FTE staff)
- Mathematics: Women make up 27% of junior academics (43 FTE), but only 12% of Level E professors in Mathematics (19 FTE)
- Medical Sciences and Health: Women make up 69% of junior academics (905 FTE), but only 35% of senior professors (390 FTE)
- Agriculture, Environment and Related Studies: Women represent 48% of junior academics (160 FTE) but only 15% of Level E professors (21 FTE)
- Engineering and Related Technology: Women make up 23% of junior academics (169 FTE), but just 9% of senior faculty (59 FTE)
- Architecture and Building: Women are almost 50% of junior academics (25 FTE), yet only 16% of professors (14 FTE)
- Information Technology: Women comprise 27% of Level A staff (34 FTE), and 18% of Level E academics (28 FTE)
- All STEMM: Women make up 48% of all junior academic FTE positions (2,338 FTE), though just 21% of all STEMM professors (703 FTE of 3,322 Level E FTE academic positions).
Why this is so important
Australia needs to urgently address barriers of gender equity to:
- retain our best scientists and innovators to ensure Australia effectively maintains research and development excellence
- keep our best and brightest minds in the fields in which they have the most potential to deliver
- ensure social and economic returns on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent each year on training women scientists, by supporting them.
Current approaches to tackling gender equity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) have been fragmented and for the most part unsuccessful.
This silent brain drain affecting 50% of our best and brightest scientists is a situation that Australia cannot afford.
To find out how the Australian Academy of Science is helping institutions improve gender equity in STEMM read more about the SAGE Pilot.
You can help to champion the cause of women in STEMM by supporting SAGE.
- Join our mailing list to keep up to date with SAGE initiative activities
- Donate directly to the SAGE initiative
1. Data provided by Department of Education & Training. Data held by SAGE.
2. STEMM is defined as:
- Engineering and Related Fields;
- Information Technology;
- Natural & Physical Sciences;
- Agriculture, Environment & Related; and
- Architecture and Building
3. This page was updated 9th May 2016. The previous update of this page was issued on 31 March 2016. The data represented in tables and figures referred to a total count of work contract type. This has been updated to FTE as it gives a more accurate picture. Broad patterns identified in earlier tables and figures hold for FTE data.