A program to support women in STEM careers has opened, with up to 500 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships available across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields over the next six years.

It comes as 2021 data from the STEM Equity Monitor, now in its second year, shows that just five years after graduating, men were 1.8 times more likely than women to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation.

Overseen by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), an independent, non-government organisation, the program is funded through the seven-year $41.2 million Boosting Women in STEM government initiative.

The program encourages women to pursue education and careers in STEM and offers opportunities to extend qualifications, networks and professional skills in STEM and business.

Next year will see the first cohort of scholars supported by the scheme that aims to strengthen collaboration between industry and academia.

“Collaboration between Australia’s research workforce and industry sector underpins innovation in our economy and will be critical to support growth in onshore jobs during and following the COVID-19 pandemic,” a spokesperson told Information Age.

Promoting diversity in STEM

The Elevate scholarship program will immerse women into a diverse, inclusive STEM ecosystem through collaborations between industry, academia and government.

ATSE says applications from a diverse range of girls and women are encouraged to support them pursuing careers in STEM.

“Diversity builds strength and is crucial to the future of science, technology, engineering, and innovation in Australia. More women in discovery and innovation will build the resilience, capability and breadth of Australian research and innovation,” said ATSE CEO Kylie Walker.

ATSE is keen to develop a collaborative relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and Traditional Knowledge.

An intersectional approach will be applied and all STEM disciplines will be considered, including Indigenous knowledge systems in STEM.

“We understand there are rich benefits to be drawn from respectfully working with, listening and learning from Traditional Knowledge in science and engineering – from environmental management, to medicine, to nutrition and food security,” Walker said.

Report card on women’s participation in STEM

Women’s participation in STEM is improving, albeit slowly, with university enrolments up 2% since 2015 and the proportion of women working across all STEM-qualified industries increasing from 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2020, according to the STEM Equity Monitor.

While these increases are encouraging, the government recognises that Australia’s talent pool is still limited by the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM education and careers.

There is also a significant gender pay gap between qualified men and women working in STEM.

The gender pay gap in STEM-qualified industries was $28,994 in 2020 compared to $25,534 across all industries, the Monitor found.

The Elevate program will provide targeted professional development, mentoring and cross-sector networking to help scholars graduate with career-building knowledge and skills, and connections and relationships to help address the disparity in women’s participation in STEM.

“Elevate will propel women into senior STEM leadership positions, boosting women’s voices in decision making and future shaping in industry and academia,” said Walker.

The assessment criteria will consider diversity, inclusion and achievement relative to opportunity, recognising the challenges faced by different minority groups.

The organisation believes the goal of successfully achieving sustainable, prosperous outcomes across the economy, society and environment requires vital STEM skills within a diverse makeup of professionals.

“We need a broad range of people equipped to solve problems through creativity, collaboration and innovation,” she said.