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Launch of Women in STEM Decadal Plan – Canberra


1 April 2019

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Thanks to the Australian Academy of Science, my parliamentary colleagues, fellow speakers, members of the Decadal Plan Expert Group, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

How exciting to be here with people from many different walks of life united by a common cause!

School teachers, university lecturers, policy analysts, scientists, researchers, business development and communication experts, CEOs, politicians and more.

Thank you all for being here today.

As you will know, gender equity in STEM is a cause I’m passionate about. And I know you share my passion.

I’ve been privileged to have a portfolio that gives me an opportunity to work with people like you who understand what it means to improve diversity in STEM.

The Parliamentary Friends of Science I established in 2012 has also helped place STEM issues high on the agenda of Australian lawmakers.

I’ve had the opportunity to hold productive roundtable discussions with many of you in the recent past.

Discussions that have informed several government initiatives to support women in STEM, including the development of this Decadal Plan.

The great vibe around here tells me we are onto something really momentous.

Let me say this: This is not déjà vu. What we have here is a meeting of minds unlike any we’ve seen on an issue so important to the prosperity of our nation.

There’s no doubt that the push for gender equity in STEM has been going on for a long time.

And, in fact, there’s no shortage of wonderful programs to tackle gender inequity in STEM across Australia.

But never before have our efforts been more concerted.

Seldom have we all come together to direct our focus and energy to this critical task in such a unified way.

The message for Australia is loud and clear: getting the gender balance right in STEM is everybody’s business.

Through the Decadal Plan, we’re signalling our collective commitment to tackle this issue once and for all.

The Decadal Plan for Women in STEM is a decadal plan for Australia’s future prosperity.

Gender equity in STEM is not simply about fairness, as the word “equity” might suggest.

It is about harnessing the entire pool of our nation’s STEM talent to support our economic prosperity.

As a nation, we pride ourselves on our achievements.

We boast high standards of living, high levels of education, and high life expectancy.

We’re a world leader in mining and agriculture.

We’ve given the world Gardasil, Cochlear, ultrasound, Wi-Fi, plastic lenses, the electronic pacemaker, spray on skin and much more.

We couldn’t have reached those heights without our science and technology capabilities.

Today, technological disruption is rapidly changing the way we live and work.

The role of STEM in our economic and social life has never been more important.

Broadening our STEM capability base is critical to creating new opportunities for industry, competing in global markets, and supporting high living standards.

It makes perfect sense that Australia can tap into all our potential STEM resources regardless of gender.

But the reality is this: In 21st century Australia, girls and women continue to be under-represented in many areas of STEM.

We know that girls in this country do not take up many STEM subjects at the same rate as boys.

For example, boys outnumber girls 3 to 1 in Year 12 physics, and almost 2 to 1 in advanced mathematics.

And in the Australian workforce, only 16 per cent of the 2.6 million STEM-qualified Australians are women.

Isn’t it incredible that nearly a century-and-a-half after Edith Dornwell became the first Australian woman to graduate with a science degree, we’re still talking about under-representation of women in STEM?

And after my Year 12 teacher unsuccessfully discouraged me from studying engineering, fewer girls than boys are taking up STEM subjects?

We know that this imbalance is not the result of girls performing poorly in STEM compared to boys.

In fact, a University of NSW study of more than 1.6 million school students, published last year, shows that girls and boys perform similarly in STEM subjects.

We must do all we can to ensure girls and women can follow and stay in any STEM path they choose by removing barriers to participation in STEM education and careers.

Whether they’re unintended biases or whether our young girls tend to “follow the tribe”, as Associate Prof Janelle Wheat, from the University of NSW, once put it.

My department recently commissioned a survey of young Australians about their attitudes towards STEM.

The survey shows that gender stereotypes around some STEM careers persist.

For example, girls see maths, engineering and computer programming as careers for boys.

These are some of the sobering challenges we face.

Challenges that no single sector can tackle by going it alone. Working together is key.

Government, industry, the education sector, the broader community—we all need to work together.

The Decadal Plan we’re launching today provides us with a roadmap for this collaboration.

Working in partnership with the STEM sector, the government has a strong leadership role in this space.

And I’m proud of our record in supporting improved gender equity in STEM—in education and in careers.

Just two days ago, I announced the government would invest an additional $3.4 million to increase girls’ and women’s participation in STEM study and careers.

This funding in the upcoming Budget will provide $1.5 million over three years for an initiative to raise digital awareness among young Australian women.

It will help ensure they understand the importance of STEM to their future.

And with this initiative, we hope to reverse the bias and stereotyping that often put young girls off pursuing STEM.

We’re also providing $1.8 million over the next three years to continue our support for SAGE, the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.

This builds on our $2 million initial investment in SAGE under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

It recognises SAGE’s great success in improving gender equity practices in our publicly funded research sector, including all four of my portfolio science agencies.

The new Budget funding is in addition to the extensive investment we’ve already made to increase Australia’s STEM capabilities, including:

  • a $13 million investment through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, and
  • an injection of $4.5 million in the 2018–19 Budget.

The Liberal National Government is committed to showing the necessary leadership to make a real change for women in the STEM sector.

The Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants program is a prime example of this commitment.

It funds activities designed to increase the participation of girls and women in STEM education and careers.

It also funds initiatives to boost the number of women in senior leadership and decision-making positions.

It has already provided $8 million to support 46 projects.

Including coding workshops for school teachers and girls, networking and mentoring for female entrepreneurs in rural areas, and drone flying and programing camps.

The program also funded the first round of the Superstars of STEM initiative, run by Science & Technology Australia.

This initiative trains and supports women working in STEM to share their passion with the community to inspire girls to study and work in the STEM fields.

Superstars of STEM proved so successful that we subsequently invested an additional $1.3 million to expand it for four more years.

I’ve also appointed Australia’s first Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.

This award-winning astrophysicist has long been a visible role model for girls and women in STEM and is now able to do so in a formal capacity.

This visibility is important. As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

So we have Lisa being a shining example, advocating STEM education and careers for girls and women.

It’s great to see her raise awareness and drive cultural and social change for gender equity across Australia.

Awareness about the diverse range of STEM careers available to girls is absolutely important.

The government is helping create this awareness by funding the development of a Girls in STEM Toolkit.

Education Services Australia is developing the toolkit, which will be delivered on a digital platform.

The toolkit will equip school-age girls with the knowledge and understanding of STEM career options.

An important part of our effort is to encourage greater participation of Indigenous girls in STEM.

The government has invested $25 million over ten years in projects such as the Indigenous Girls STEM Academy.

This is supporting up to 100 Indigenous girls in STEM annually through individual student support, mentoring, summer school programs and work placements.

For those girls who go on to take up STEM jobs, supporting them to stay in their careers is important.

As is the need to ensure the work environment allows more women like them to be attracted to a STEM career.

We’ve invested in creating Male Champions of Change for STEM to lead and influence change at the workplace.

I’m proud to say we now have 17 STEM leaders who have stepped up to the challenge.

They’ve demonstrated a deep commitment to address gender inequity in STEM within their organisations.

There are many individuals and organisations that go above and beyond in promoting STEM in our community.

Recognising and rewarding their efforts is one way to keep the momentum going.

That’s why I announced a new Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion to be awarded for the first time in 2019.

It recognises and rewards initiatives that have led to greater inclusion of under-represented groups in STEM, including girls and women.

Look out for this new award at this year’s Eureka Prizes.

Indeed, it’s not just Women in STEM initiatives where the Coalition is making significant investment, but in science more broadly. We recognise the value of our science, research and technology sectors in growing the economy and creating jobs, that’s why we’ve invested $1.5 billion more into our science agencies than Labor did when it was last in government.

Of course, the measures government supports are only a part of the collective effort and initiatives being pursued across Australia, of which many of you here are involved.

In this pursuit, the need to take a long-term view to overcoming the challenges has not been lost on us.

In last year’s Budget, the government committed $4.5 million to a new package of STEM measures.

This funding is already supporting our Women in STEM Ambassador program, which I mentioned earlier.

But this investment is also a commitment to a long term strategic approach.

One of the outcomes of this commitment is what has brought us together here today: the Decadal Plan.

This is a plan for growing STEM participation and retention from school through to careers.

I want to thank the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering for leading the development of this plan.

I also thank members of the Expert Group and everyone who contributed to the plan’s development.

The launch of the Decadal Plan for Women in STEM is an important milestone for Australia’s STEM sector.

It is a commitment to action by all.

A commitment to improve gender equity in STEM.

Gender equity in STEM is achievable.

I look forward to continuing to working with you and others in the sector to make it a reality.