Defence boosts women’s participation in STEM programs

Australia’s Department of Defence has announced it will work towards a 50 per cent target for women’s participation applicable to Australian Public Service (APS) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) entry-level programs.

This includes Defence’s STEM Cadetship Program and the Research and Innovation Pathway of the Defence Graduate Program.

The Defence ministry has set a target that would more than double its current 20 per cent women’s participation rate, and significantly increase the number of women working in STEM.

In addition to boosting women’s participation in entry-level programs, Defence has also proposed setting a 50 per cent target for women’s participation for its pilot NAVIGATE program, based on the success of a 2022 pilot.

NAVIGATE aims to bring in more experienced STEM professionals into Defence from industry and academia and broaden the diversity of Defence’s APS workforce, particularly in complex areas of defence science and tech.

Under the program, participants typically complete two six-month rotations in different areas of Defence before securing their ongoing placement within the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG).

In 2022, the NAVIGATE program received more than 800 applications from the public and private sector STEM community.

Last year, Defence set a 40 per cent women’s participation rate target, achieving a rate of 43 per cent. It now aims to push this rate above 50 per cent.

Matt Thistlethwaite MP, Assistant Minister for Defence said that NAVIGATE was launched with explicit gender parity goals, underscoring that determined participation targets bring tangible results.

Chief defence scientist, Professor Tanya Monro added that “by setting targets for women’s participation in our STEM entry programs we draw more fully on our nation’s talent pool, allowing Defence science to deliver greater impact to the ADF”.

“Continuing to ensure the success of women requires strong leadership and a commitment to change, so I’m incredibly proud of these bold targets,” Monro said.

“Defence’s transformation agenda includes becoming an exemplar in attracting, training, retaining and providing career opportunities for women. These measures demonstrate in practical terms how we are taking steps to achieve this.”