Science Academy welcomes diversity focus in STEM review

| February 15, 2024

The Australian Academy of Science, an independent organisation of distinguished Australian scientists championing science for the benefit of all, has welcomed the release of the Australian Government’s final report of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM review.

“It is pleasing to see that the review has highlighted leadership, governance, cultural transformation and inclusive workplace environments as important priorities for improving diversity the STEM sector,” Academy President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said.

Up until now efforts to promote diversity in STEM have largely concentrated on improving the underrepresentation of women.

“We must now focus on a more expansive and systematic approach to cultivating talent and promoting the full inclusion of excellence across all dimensions of diversity.”

“This includes not only women and girls, but also First Nations people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people with disability, LGBTQIA+ people, neurodiverse people, people facing age-based discrimination and people living in regional, rural and remote areas.

“STEM skills are in such high demand that we must make use of all the available talent and ensure they can work in safe workplaces free of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

“STEM-qualified Australians should reflect the make-up of the community from which they are drawn, and our practices should enable a collective commitment to equitable participation and opportunity in STEM.”

The Academy welcomes the panel’s recommendation that learned academies, as standard setters within the science and research community, work with the academic community and Traditional Knowledge holders to build respect, awareness and better practices to weave First Nations Knowledge into science and research systems.

And that this work should be guided by First Nations people and inform the Australian Government’s actions in this area.

Professor Jagadish confirmed that the Academy, in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, will be working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Knowledge holders to co-design and co-develop a paper on the intersection of Traditional Knowledge and the broader scientific knowledge systems in STEM.

“Our intention is to provide practical guidance to research leaders and administrators on how to meaningfully incorporate Traditional Knowledges into research methodologies and empower the research sector to be actively and routinely involved in weaving together such knowledges,” Professor Jagadish said.

The Academy welcomes the recommendation to develop a whole-of-government, long-term strategy to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM. Until such a strategy is developed to address the important findings in this review, the sector should continue to be guided by the whole-of-sector Women in STEM Decadal Plan, which lays out opportunities to achieve gender equity by 2030. These opportunities are applicable to other diversity dimensions and are consistent with the findings of the Diversity review released today.

The Academy also supports the review’s recommendations to establish a new advisory council and empowering the STEM Equity Monitor to improve data capture and analysis on underrepresented groups beyond women.

It also backs embedding best practice program design in all diversity in STEM programs, particularly through evaluation; ensuring accountability, especially when public money is distributed; and concerted efforts to enhance STEM education and employment outcomes for underrepresented groups.

The report also calls for steps to increase awareness, visibility and importance of diversity in STEM. The Academy considers that this will be most efficient if it is evidence-based, sustained and targeted. Existing projects should be leveraged, including the Academy’s STEM Women Global database. Further support to Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is also required to drive cultural change in the higher education and research sector.

The Academy notes the recognition of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan and initiatives it has triggered, including the STEM Equity MonitorNational Evaluation Guide for STEM equity programs, STEM Equity Evaluation PortalWorkplace Gender Equity Implementation Guide developed by the Women in STEM Ambassador, and the Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit for small and medium enterprises by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

The Academy thanked the Review Panel for its comprehensive analysis and looks forward to the government’s response to the review later this year.