Why are successive generations of clever, well-educated women in science, technology, engineering, maths and science not reaching senior levels in their field?
That vexing question will be tackled by some of Queensland’s leading engineers, medical practitioners and scientists on Monday in an event hosted by Women in STEMM Australia, as part of National Science Week.
Queensland Science Minister Leeanne Enoch said gender equity in the fields was not just a question of fairness but one of economic imperative.
“We can’t afford to educate women to post-graduate level and then see them leave the profession,” she said.
“We need to draw on our entire pool of STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) talent to get the best outcomes and ensure we have enough of the workforce we need.”
Ms Enoch said under-representation and low retention rates of women scientists, engineers and technologists could influence girls’ decisions to take up STEMM careers, which could be dire for Queensland’s economic future.
A University of Melbourne science research workforce report in 2015 showed women outnumbered men in many universities in Australia.
And although more than half of all undergraduates studying natural and physical sciences were female, they made up just 17 per cent of senior academics and top-level professionals.
Ms Enoch said women who were passionate about cancer research, physiotherapy, astrophysics, drones and robots could smash stereotypes and turn around opinions about STEMM as an exciting and viable career for women.
“They can greatly influence girls at critical stages, such as when their interest in doing maths and science wanes or when they’re deciding their future career,” she said.
From 2012 to 2016, enrolments in STEMM subjects like biology, chemistry, physics and maths B and C have increased in Queensland secondary schools.
Compared to New South Wales, where 23 per cent of students study biology, 32 per cent study the subject in Queensland.
Women in STEMM Australia chief executive Marguerite Evans-Galea said the event featured speakers on equality issues and networking opportunities, with a panel discussion at the Queensland Museum.
Ms Enoch is due to deliver a speech at the event on Monday night.
She will talk about the need to draw on the entire pool of STEMM talent – men and women – to improve research output and make sure we have the workforce required to out-innovate other states.
National Science Week runs until August 20.