Virus puts STEM women careers at risk

Women are under-represented in STEM research. COVID-19 will reduce their opportunities

Jobs for women in professional, scientific and technical services were down 6.3 per cent in the month from mid-March, according to ABS numbers. This was way worse than for blokes (4.8 per cent) and the outcome for women in STEM will deteriorate, according to research by lead-author Emma Johnston (UNSW) and colleagues, in a report for Industry, Science and Technology Minister, Karen Andrews.

“The pandemic appears to be compounding pre-existing gender disparity; women are under-represented across the STEM workforce, and weighted in roles that are typically less senior and less secure, the report for the multi-agency Rapid Response Multi Agency Forum warns. The report points to the prevalence of casual employment for women in university STEM employment –64 per cent in maths.

It also suggests that women working from home will take-up more family-care and more of the tasks for on-line teaching preparation at work. If so, this will reduce research-time, leading to lower publication rates, which drive funding applications and in the longer term, promotions.

A reduction in the quality or quantity of women’s research publications is likely to harm job and funding prospects now and for years to come,” the report states.