Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gender Barriers In Science

Studies of women scientists show that many consider their workplace to have an u

Studies of women scientists show that many consider their workplace to have an unfriendly culture.

By Stephen Luntz

Australia is losing a huge proportion of potential scientists as women drop out of science at a disturbingly high rate.

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While similar numbers of women and men are studying science at university, women are less likely to maintain careers in science.

The obstacles to female scientists and engineers were thrashed out at Parliament House in April during the Women in Science and Engineering summit. More than a talkfest, the summit announced a number of initiatives to tackle the problem.

On the surface the position of women in Australian science looks good. Not long ago the Chief Scientist, the Chief Executive of our largest scientific research organisation, our most recent Nobel Prize Winner and the President and CEO of Australia’s peak body representing scientists were all women. Look deeper, however, and the picture is not so bright.

The Statistics
Prof Sharon Bell, now Deputy Vice Chancellor at Charles Darwin University, wrote a 2009 report for the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) on women in science. She found that only 22.3% of full-time professionals in Design, Engineering, Science and Transport were women.

While some lag might be expected from the era when most science students were male, the increase from 1996 was small enough (just 4.2%) to suggest that the problem isn’t fixing itself. In some areas, such as information and communications technology, the proportion of women had fallen from the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.