The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector should reflect the diversity of our nation. It is important for our knowledge-creating and problem-solving capabilities, and important for our workforce pressures. Failure to address this urgent priority would represent an enormous missed opportunity, setting Australia back for years to come. Hundreds of activities and programs across Australia have attempted to address disparity in STEM sectors over many years.
The Diversity in STEM Review is an important opportunity to scale up, connect, prioritise, incentivise and resource Australia’s attempts to boost and support the participation of women and other underrepresented groups across the STEM sector. The 11 objectives and 19 draft recommendations released in August 2023 demonstrate a high-level, strategic approach to increasing diversity in STEM. ATSE welcomes the draft recommendations of the Diversity in STEM Review, noting almost all the draft recommendations align with ATSE’s recommendations to the review and with recommendations ATSE has advocated for through other avenues.
These recommendations, if implemented, will help to create transformative change across the STEM sector, supercharging our knowledge and innovation capability and giving greater opportunities to groups that have encountered barriers to inclusion. The details of implementation will be vital to ensuring success. ATSE urges the review to ensure its final report goes beyond simply stating recommendations, by outlining clear actions and accountability measures to ensure their successful implementation.
Ensuring these recommendations are successfully implemented will require robust accountability mechanisms and clear lines of responsibility. A national strategic approach to diversity in STEM, as in draft recommendation 2a, must be based on the best available evidence and tied to long-term, strategic outcomes. As the parallel ACIL Allen report notes, many initiatives aim to create generational change; therefore, a long-term lens is required in both designing and assessing the impact of these programs. The national strategy should target all aspects of the STEM ecosystem, from exciting and attracting a range of young people to STEM, through to systemic and structural reform, and – importantly – genuine cultural changes at all levels of STEM academia and industry.
Programs underpinning this approach will need clear assessment metrics aligned with long-term outcomes and should have their ongoing long-term funding tied to meeting these metrics. Those programs that are demonstrating impact should be invested in to achieve meaningful scale. Metrics should be based on a model similar to the Women in STEM ambassador’s National STEM Evaluation Guide. ATSE’s Elevate: Boosting Women in STEM program provides a blueprint for how such a program can be implemented, with accountability and assessment of its efficacy, and continuous improvement, built into its core.
In addition to our previous recommendations to the conversation starter and the let’s talk solutions consultations, ATSE makes the following further recommendations to refine the Diversity in STEM Panel’s interim recommendations:
Recommendation 1: Use the central Diversity in STEM office to provide oversight and accountability for diversity initiatives in industry as well as academia.
Recommendation 2: Limit government-funded research grants to organisations that have, or are demonstrably working towards, Athena Swan accreditation through SAGE.
Recommendation 3: Ensure the national strategic approach to diversity in STEM includes initiatives tailored to people retraining or returning to study to enter the STEM sector for the first time.
Recommendation 4: Simplify visa pathways and processes for recognising overseas qualifications to unlock Australia’s underused skilled migrant workforce.
Recommendation 5: Provide long-term funding guarantees for an expansion of ATSE’s Elevate: Boosting Women in STEM program, to support a greater number and diversity of people to qualify and attain employment in STEM.
Recommendation 6: Commit to scaling dedicated support programs for out-of-field STEM teachers through state and federal education departments.