Could COVID-19 be making it harder for women in STEM?

What impact is the COVID-19 pandemic having on women in the STEM workforce? The Rapid Research Information Forum, chaired by the Chief Scientist, has shared its findings.
News Image
Could COVID-19 be making it harder for women in STEM?

The impacts of COVID-19 on professional women in STEM are outlined in a response prepared by the Rapid Research Information Forum, chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. 


The paper was in response to the question posed by the Hon Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology: ‘What impact is the COVID-19 pandemic having on women in the STEM workforce?’. 

While evidence is still being gathered, early signs show the pandemic will result in greater disadvantage for women than men in the sector. Some key findings from the paper include:


  • Women are a minority in STEM professions. Based on disparities in the distribution of domestic workloads and reduced career opportunities compared to men, this pandemic is expected to disproportionately hinder women’s STEM careers. 

  • Early evidence on the impact of the epidemic suggests women face disproportionate increases in caring responsibilities and disruptions to working hours, job security and paid work capacity. This is most acute for those with children under 12. 

  • Job insecurity is emerging as an even more troubling issue for women in STEM than for men. High proportions of women employed in short-term contract and casual jobs are likely to be threatened by cuts to research and teaching jobs. 

  • Women from diverse backgrounds face additional barriers to entry, retention and progression in the STEM workforce. Anticipated COVID-related funding cuts to equity programs would set back gains in STEM workforce diversity. 

  • Evidence demonstrates the benefits of diverse research workforces and the risks of homogenous research workforces, highlighting the need to hold gains made by women in STEM in recent years. 

  • Hard-won gains by women in STEM are especially at risk. This risk will be even greater if STEM employers do not closely monitor and mitigate the gender impact of their decisions. 


The response further states the pandemic appears to be compounding pre-existing gender disparity; women are under-represented across the STEM workforce, and are likely to be in roles that are less senior and less secure. An immediate threat for many women in Australia’s STEM workforce is that they are experiencing job losses at a greater rate than men. 


Engineers Australia CEO, Dr Bronwyn Evans said "This shows it is our time as a profession to ask what can we do individually and collectively. And the EA STEM strategy shows the way – through the three objectives – Build. Attract. Retain. I encourage every College committee, every Division committee to share what is working, ask what else we can do and celebrate the successes that we are seeing."  


For more commentary on this paper, check out the latest create digital article.