Women in tech criticise STEM Review

A leading women in technology advocacy group has dismissed the Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic’s recently announced Diversity in STEM review, arguing that “there was not much to review” and that the entire process would only delay “urgent action” to support women in STEM.

The consultation period for the review, which according to the Girl Geek Academy was “quietly announced” last week, was aimed at evaluating current programs that address the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

The gender equality advocacy group launched a national petition urging the Federal Government to take immediate action to stop the delay and lift its funding freeze on STEM programs.

On 3 March, the Minister announced an independent Pathway to Diversity in STEM review and launched its consultation on barriers to participation in STEM. He said the review was “part of the Government’s commitment to boost diversity and increase the participation of women and historically under-represented groups in STEM”.

An independent expert panel, chaired by Sally-Ann Williams and members Mikaela Jade, chief executive and founder of Indigital and Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur, University of Western Australia, has been announced to lead the review.

However, Girl Geek Academy’s founder and chief executive, Sarah Moran, said that the Government “was burying an equal future in a red tape present”.

“Reviews are a brake on critical funding, amounting to a funding freeze on all new initiatives to address gender inequality in STEM and Entrepreneurship until the third year of Labor’s term,” she said.

“While other parts of the industry may be able to bear that, women can’t because brakes on funding, break us.

“So there’s not much to actually review. Instead of micromanaging a tiny amount of ineffective cash, we are asking for an urgent investment to address these issues.”

Currently, the average per annum investment over eight years for all community programs supporting Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Entrepreneurship amounts to $2.5 million per year.

The group also called on the Federal Government to immediately announce a Cracking The Code Fund, following the UN theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’, and to boost support for community STEM programs by increasing funding, which is currently under review until October.

Recommendations were unlikely to be funded prior to the May 2024 budget, the third year of Labor’s term, the group stressed.

“This is completely at odds with what this Government promised in the Women’s Economic Budget Statement around putting women and gender equality at the centre of the future of the Australian economy,” Moran added.

“With an Australian delegation travelling to New York this week for IWD, we could have been leading on this issue and announcing more positive change. Instead, we will turn up saying no new action has been taken and everything is bogged down in reviews.”

Girl Geek Academy said that, through its work for change, it will call on notable women leaders to support its petition as well as its database of supporters who represent the grassroots of change.

This will then be supplied to the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP, Minister for Women and Minister for Finance, Katy Gallagher MP, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers with a letter of recommendations at the end of March.

Girl Geek Academy, which was established in 2014, is the leading social enterprise championing a brighter future for girls in STEM careers.