Why we need more women in STEM careers

Science microscope and laboratory instruments

What does twice-Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamar, and children’s author Beatrix Potter have in common? They were all women working in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Curie pioneered radioactivity. Lamar was both a movie star and scientist: creating the wireless technology we use today in our mobile phones. Potter was a passionate botanist and among the first to observe fungal spores.

STEM careers have traditionally been male-dominated, but throughout history, women have always played a significant role. Today, more than ever, women are needed in STEM careers.

What are STEM jobs?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The possible careers in STEM are vast and varied for all levels of professionals. Geologist, statistician, data analyst and an engineer are just some of the STEM careers in demand.

The job outlook for STEM careers is excellent. Last year, a Government study showed STEM jobs are growing significantly faster than any other career area.
However, there are concerns in Australia about fewer high school students studying STEM subjects. Women especially need to be encouraged to study STEM, despite science and maths traditionally – and wrongly – being seen as ‘male-dominated subjects’.

How many women are currently studying or working in STEM?

Less than a quarter of STEM students are women, and less than a third make up the STEM workforce. A male-dominated workforce can make it difficult to attract and retain women in STEM. The reasons for this include:

  • Workplace cultural differences, which can make networking or career advancement challenging. This may include less understanding and flexibility around parental responsibilities and part-time work.
  • Limited female role models to mentor new women employees
  • A significant pay gap between men and women employees – research has shown the gap is larger in STEM than in any other industry.

Why are women so important in STEM?

Women make up half the population. Their absence in STEM means half the potential innovation, quality and perspective in these fields disappear. That’s a big loss of knowledge. Not only that, but the economy suffers from the absence of women in high level, professional STEM roles.

Evidence continually shows boys and girls perform equally in maths and science. Much of the problem lies in old-fashioned perceptions of women’s roles.

Are things improving for women in STEM careers?

Slowly. The percentage of women studying STEM subjects, and working in related industries, is consistently rising in small increments. The Government has also launched a strategy for advancing women in STEM and a commitment to gender equality by 2030.

If you are a woman who is passionate about studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics, follow your bliss and choose a STEM career. Visit the Government’s site for advancing women in STEM for more information.

If you liked this article, you might also like taking a love of STEM subjects and turning it into a career.