Gender Equity in STEMM

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. The most recently available data from the Department of Education and Training show that women continue to be underrepresented across STEMM fields, particularly at senior levels.

Scissor graph for all STEMM fields showing comparable proportions of men and women among students and in Academic Levels A and B, but higher proportions of men represented at senior grades (Levels C-E)
Gender distribution of staff and students in STEMM fields. Source: Higher Education Research Data, 2014.

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 only a third of undergraduates and 40% of PhD students.

  • Bachelor degree: there are 369,123 total students studying in a STEMM Bachelor degree (includes medicine and health).
    • 180,382 are women (48.9%); and 188,741 men (51.1%)
    • Excluding medicine and health, women make up only 33% of STEM undergraduate students
  • PhD: 33,366 total students are working towards a PhD in STEMM
    • 15,265 are women (45.8%); and 18,101 men (54.2%).
    • Excluding medicine and health, women make up 40% 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.

Total STEMM: there are 28,724 academic staff and 2,598 research-only professional staff employed in STEMM

  • 13,488 are women (43.0%) and 17,844 are men (57.0%)
  • If we exclude medicine and health, women make up only 32.3% of academic and research staff (STEM)

Table 1: Total number of academic and research staff in STEMM fields by gender, Department of Education and Training data, 2014

Field Females Males Total
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Agriculture, Environment and Related Studies 544 36.7% 938 63.3% 1482
Architecture and Building 290 37.6% 481 62.4% 771
Engineering and Related Technology 851 18.3% 3787 81.7% 4638
Information Technology 299 22.1% 1056 77.9% 1355
Mathematics 226 22.8% 765 77.2% 991
Natural and Physical Sciences (other than Mathematics) 3762 40.7% 5483 59.3% 9245
All Natural and Physical Sciences 3988 39.0% 6248 61.0% 10236
Total STEM (excluding Medical Science) 5972 32.3% 12510 67.7% 18482
Medical Sciences and Health 7516 58.5% 5334 41.5% 12850
Total STEMM 13488 43.0% 17844 57.0% 31332
Total Other Disciplines (non-STEMM) 12266 49.7% 12422 50.3% 24688
Grand Total 25754 46.0% 30266 54.0% 56020

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 6,038 junior lecturers in STEMM (Level A)
    • 3,029 are women (50.2%); 3,009 are men (49.8%)
    • Excluding medicine and health, women make up approximately 42% of junior (STEM) academics
  • Level E: there is a total of 4,007 senior professors (Level E)
    • 825 are women (20.6%); and 3,182 are men (79.4%)
    • 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 (1193 women), but only 16% of senior professors at Level E (218 women)
  • Mathematics: Women make up 28.5% of junior academics (51 women), but only 12% of Level E professors in Mathematics (23 women)
  • Medical Sciences and Health: Women make up 66% of junior academics (1399 women), but only 33% of senior professors (466 women)
  • Agriculture, Environment and Related Studies: Women represent 49% of junior academics (180 women) but only 13.5% of Level E professors (21 women)
  • Engineering and Related Technology: Women make up 23.5% of junior academics (190 women), but just 9% of senior faculty (65 women)
  • Architecture and Building: Women are 51% of junior academics (31 women), yet only 16% of professors  (21 women)
  • Information Technology: Women comprise 26% of Level A staff (36 women), and 16% of Level E academics (34 women)
  • All STEMM: Women make up 50% of all junior academic FTE positions (3,029 women), though just 21% of all STEMM professors (825 women of 4007 Level E academics).

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.

Learn more

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.


1. Data provided by Department of Education & Training. Data held by SAGE.

2. STEMM is defined as:

  • Engineering and Related Fields;
  • Health;
  • Information Technology;
  • Maths;
  • Natural & Physical Sciences;
  • Agriculture, Environment & Related; and
  • Architecture and Building

3. This update was issued on 22nd May 2016. Data presented represents total STEMM staff numbers among full-time and fractional full-time academic and research staff.

Previous updates 9th May 2016. Updated data representing FTE positions. Earlier published data are available here.

31 March 2016. The data represented in tables and figures referred to a total count of work contract type.