Dr Marlene Kanga

Boosting the numbers of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is the aim of a new strategy launched this week in Canberra.

Industry associations Engineers Australia, Consult Australia and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering are supporting the strategy designed to push gender diversity and inclusiveness. It was launched at Parliament House on Wednesday by Senator Michaela Cash.

Dr Marlene Kanga, who developed the strategy for inclusiveness, wellbeing and diversity in engineering workplaces was 2013 president of Engineers Australia, one of only two women to hold the top job in the organisation’s 96-year history.

Dr Kanga said the STEM sector needed “clever people with an interest in building a better world – this ability is independent of age, gender or cultural background”.

“Diversity is important for innovation and to create our future industries,” she said.

“The Australian government has recognised science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills are important to Australia’s future workforce, as industries increasingly rely on new and emerging technologies. Yet the numbers of young people studying science and mathematics continues to be low.

“Of further concern is female engineers continue to leave STEM professions in large numbers, many about 10 years after university graduation, a critical time for career formation.”

Dr Kanga said the strategy has drawn on lessons learned in improving the safety performance of Australian organisations.

Some of these practices include the use of both lagging and leading indicators to measure what has been happening and also to set clear benchmarks for future improvement. The strategy suggests these should be integrated into diversity reporting that is aligned with the approach recommended by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to achieve Employer of Choice status.

“This is a leadership issue. Our leaders have achieved significant cultural change in safety; they know how it can be done. They now need the will and the courage to make the cultural changes needed in our engineering and technology workplaces to make them more inclusive,” Dr Kanga said.

The strategy includes research carried out by Engineers Australia that outlines the dimensions of current issues around diversity. They include lower rates of retention of female engineers compared to male engineers, along with lower pay, lower rates of promotion, and higher percentages of women experiencing toxic workplace behaviours including discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

The key elements of a successful change strategy outlined in the framework are:

  • Corporate commitment from the chief executive and board with a clear policy statement.
  • Corporate enablers including mandatory practices and procedures, with management at every level assigned responsibility for implementing policies.
  • Corporate monitoring and review.The full strategy can be downloaded here.

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