The Australian government’s review of diversity in STEM presents a pathway towards boosting inclusion in engineering and other fields.
Strengthening the diversity of workers and students in STEM fields has long proven to be a challenge for the engineering profession — yet there is enduring potential for improvement.
The submission responds to recommendations laid out by the review in a draft report published in August 2023.
The review is due to provide a final report in October 2023.
Head to the bottom of the page to browse the review’s recommendations, and read Engineers Australia’s submission here.
According to Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew AO FTSE HonFIEAust EngExec, the disparity in gender representation, for example, is clearly apparent.
“Engineering is the largest employer of STEM occupations but has the lowest female representation, with only around 16 per cent of Australian engineering graduates being women,” Madew explained.
Yet diversity encompasses not only gender but also ability, sexuality, race, age, neurodiversity and several other factors.
“Overcoming the diversity challenge facing the engineering profession is critical to lessening current and future skills shortages as well as enabling more people to see themselves in STEM,” Madew said.
What do the recommendations cover?
The draft recommendations outlined in the review are broad areas for change and are designed to prompt discussion and further refinement.
“That’s why, prior to our submission, Engineers Australia met with the Department of Industry, Science and Resources taskforce supporting the Review, and identified how we could contribute the most value and what advice the Review sought from us,” Madew said.
“We discussed engineering case studies that demonstrated how the recommendations could work in practice,” Jenny Mitchell, General Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Engineers Australia, told create.
In Mitchell’s eyes, the review has taken a “more sophisticated view” of diversity than past reports, accounting for a swathe of perspectives and parties.
“The review is looking at how intersectionality plays a part in diversity discussions alongside more ‘traditional’ diversity lenses such as gender and ethnicity,” she said.
“The recommendations are broad because they look at structures and governance. They look at the pipeline of people coming into and staying in — or leaving — STEM, the materials that support STEM education, and what the workplace culture is like when people get into STEM jobs.”
Some of the recommendations include:
- The Australian government should set up an ongoing central office and independent council to maintain accountability, oversight and momentum of diversity in STEM initiatives.
- The Australian media and entertainment industry should work with relevant academies, STEM peak bodies and not-for-profit organisations to celebrate diversity in STEM.
“One of the case studies Engineers Australia has included in our submission is around engaging really young children through picture books like Andrew King’s Engibear series,” Mitchell said. “The submission talks about how engineers are under-represented in the media, in movies and on TV.”
- The Australian government should do a detailed analysis of how overseas STEM qualifications are recognised in Australia.
- Governments should partner with First Nations people and the education sector to reflect First Nations scientific knowledge in courses.
“The submission discusses the value of First Nations knowledge and how to incorporate that into educational materials and workplace practice.”
Barriers remain evident
The recommendations are promising, Mitchell said, although she cautioned one particular point.
“We have to be careful not to lose the nuance of science versus technology versus engineering versus maths in STEM,” she said. “What might work for engineering might not work for science and technology, and vice versa.
“In the implementation phases, we need to look at what works for each of the disciplines individually, not only STEM as a whole.”
Strengthening the profession’s diversity through skilled migration is not as straightforward as it ideally would be.
“Migrant engineers still face barriers to employment in Australia,” Mitchell said.
“Reviewing how international qualifications are recognised is one thing but skilled migrants may still be prevented from achieving successful employment outcomes.”
“Coming from overseas, some qualified migrant engineers don’t have local support networks or anyone to vouch for them here in Australia. There are also perceptions around whether they have the ‘right’ soft skills and the ‘right’ understanding of the Australian context, which can hinder progress.”
Despite these concerns, Mitchell is “very optimistic” about the progress of the review.
“Particularly because it suggests ongoing governance structures to keep up the momentum,” she said. “Having a central office and an independent council overseeing it means we could see a lot more coordinated effort moving forward.”
Madew summarised the call for increased diversity in STEM.
“Engineers, including those representing diverse perspectives, enhance productivity and innovation by bringing in fresh perspectives and experiences to solve the complex problems facing our future,” she said.
List of recommendations
The Australian Government should set up an ongoing central office and independent council to maintain accountability, oversight and momentum of diversity in STEM initiatives.
Building on recommendations of this review, the Australian Government should create a national strategic approach to diversity in STEM initiatives.
Government funding bodies and STEM-employing organisations should commit to the long-term success of diversity in STEM programs and initiatives.
Government grant funding, investment and procurement for STEM-related programs should align with best practice guidelines for inclusion and diversity.
The Australian Government should develop and run a formal, long‐term and measurable national communication and advertising campaign relating to STEM.
The Australian media and entertainment industry should work with relevant academies, STEM peak bodies and not-for-profit organisations to celebrate diversity in STEM. This would involve more accurately representing the diverse people and roles in STEM.
All STEM-related sectors should actively include diverse knowledges and representations of diversity in research, publications, education materials and scientific approaches.
Empower schools and educators to teach STEM thinking and skills, and support pathways to STEM careers for diverse students.
Governments should partner with First Nations people and the education sector to reflect First Nations scientific knowledges in courses. This would include school curriculum support materials, teacher professional development, and vocational and higher education
Vocational education and training (VET) providers, industry and other education providers (like schools and universities) should increase collaboration to promote VET-based STEM offerings. This includes promoting streamlined pathways to STEM careers or university STEM qualifications. These communications should reach parents to address parental perceptions of STEM VET education.
Industry and government should increase horizon-scanning exercises to inform STEM workforce development.
Governments and Australian universities should work together towards equity in access, participation and attainment of STEM higher education.
Each Australian university should address the barriers to access for diverse cohorts for its STEM courses.
The Australian Government should consider opportunities to broaden existing successful initiatives that support gender diversity in university STEM education to other underrepresented cohorts.
STEM-employing organisations and governments should apply policies like anti‐bullying and harassment, flexible work and pay transparency to create safe and inclusive environments. They should invest in programs to accelerate progress for underrepresented groups, like career development, fellowships, job customisation or mentoring.
STEM-employing organisations and governments should adopt or strengthen accountability mechanisms for middle and senior leaders to effectively implement policies and programs that accelerate change and inclusion.
All STEM-employing organisations should develop a recruitment and promotion system for STEM positions that attracts, retains and promotes employees from underrepresented, including intersectional, cohorts.
The Australian Government should do a detailed analysis of how overseas STEM qualifications are recognised in Australia.
Australia should follow the lead of other countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK, to change the recognition, reward and research systems we use to assess the performance of STEM researchers.