The impact of COVID-19 on women in the STEM workforce

17 May 2020

This rapid research information brief synthesises the evidence on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on women in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce.

Key findings:

  • Women are a minority in STEM professions. Based on disparities in the distribution of domestic workloads and reduced career opportunities compared to men, this pandemic is expected to disproportionately hinder women’s STEM careers.
  • Early evidence on the impact of the epidemic suggests women face disproportionate increases in caring responsibilities and disruptions to working hours, job security and paid work capacity. This is most acute for those with children under 12.
  • Job insecurity is emerging as an even more troubling issue for women in STEM than for men. High proportions of women employed in short-term contract and casual jobs are likely to be threatened by cuts to research and teaching jobs.
  • Women from diverse backgrounds face additional barriers to entry, retention and progression in the STEM workforce. Anticipated COVID-related funding cuts to equity programs would set back gains in STEM workforce diversity.
  • Evidence demonstrates the benefits of diverse research workforces and the risks of homogenous research workforces, highlighting the need to hold gains made by women in STEM in recent years.
  • Hard-won gains by women in STEM are especially at risk. This risk will be even greater if STEM employers do not closely monitor and mitigate the gender impact of their decisions.

Contributing authors
Lead author: Professor Emma Johnston AO FTSE
Lead author: Professor Emma Johnston AO FTSE UNSW Sydney
Professor Adrian Barnett
Professor Adrian Barnett Statistical Society of Australia
Professor Madhu Bhaskaran
Professor Madhu Bhaskaran Node Director and Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems
Image of Lyndelle Broadfoot CPHR GAICD
Lyndelle Broadfoot CPHR GAICD Executive Manager Human Resources, Environment, Energy and Resources, CSIRO
Dr Gunilla Burrows FTSE
Dr Gunilla Burrows FTSE Gender Matters
Dr Kathryn Evans
Dr Kathryn Evans Country Manager, Australia & New Zealand, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Australia
Dr Cathy Foley FAA FTSE
Dr Cathy Foley FAA FTSE Chief Scientist CSIRO
Associate Professor Nicola Gaston
Associate Professor Nicola Gaston Department of Physics, University of Auckland; Co-Director, MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
Professor Justin Gooding FAA FTSE
Professor Justin Gooding FAA FTSE Faculty of Science, UNSW
Kate Hannah
Kate Hannah Deputy Director, Equity and Diversity Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland
Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith
Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador
Professor Elanor Huntington
Professor Elanor Huntington Dean, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University
Isabelle Kingsley
Isabelle Kingsley Office of Women in STEM Ambassador
Professor Jane Latimer FAA
Professor Jane Latimer FAA Deputy Director, Institute for Musculoskeletal Health Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney; Director, Strategy and Engagement, Elizabeth Broderick & Co.
Professor Angela Morgan
Professor Angela Morgan NHMRC Practitioner Fellow, Speech and Language group leader, Murdoch Children's Research Institute; Professor of Speech Pathology, University of Melbourne
Associate Professor Miranda Mortlock
Associate Professor Miranda Mortlock Queensland University of Technology; President, Statistical Society of Australia (Qld)
Dr Adi Paterson ATSE
Dr Adi Paterson ATSE Chief Executive Office, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Professor Jessica S. Purcell
Professor Jessica S. Purcell Chair, Women in Mathematics Special Interest Group, Australian Mathematical Society
Lauren Sullivan
Lauren Sullivan Office of Women in STEM Ambassador
Dr Mingzhu Sun
Dr Mingzhu Sun University of Queensland
Dr Peter H Thrall
Dr Peter H Thrall Deputy Director, Organisational Development, CSIRO Agriculture and Food
Dr Mark Toner AM FTSE FIEAust FAICD
Dr Mark Toner AM FTSE FIEAust FAICD Gender Matters
Peer reviewers
Professor Jodie Bradby
Professor Jodie Bradby President, Australian Institute of Physics
Dr Anna Calkin
Dr Anna Calkin Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute
Professor Susan Coppersmith
Professor Susan Coppersmith Head of School of Physics, UNSW
Image of Marina Costelloe
Marina Costelloe Director Onshore Seismic and MT, Geoscience Australia; Director, Science & Technology Australia
Ms Michelle Durant
Ms Michelle Durant Managing Director, Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering
Professor Jock Findlay AO FSRB FSSR (USA) FAHMS
Professor Jock Findlay AO FSRB FSSR (USA) FAHMS
Professor Lisa Kewley FAA
Professor Lisa Kewley FAA Director, ARC Centre for Excellence in All-Sky Astrophysics in 3D
Professor Peter Koopman FAA
Professor Peter Koopman FAA University of Queensland; Founding Chair Australian Academy of Science Equity and Diversity Reference Group
Professor Dr Marcia Langton AM FASSA
Professor Dr Marcia Langton AM FASSA Foundation Chair of Indigenous Studies, University of Melbourne
Professor Vaughan G Macefield
Professor Vaughan G Macefield Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute
Professor Caroline McMillen FAHMS
Professor Caroline McMillen FAHMS Chief Scientist, South Australia
Casey Millward, BBus (USQ), MMgt (ANU), MPhil Public Policy (University of Cambridge)
Casey Millward, BBus (USQ), MMgt (ANU), MPhil Public Policy (University of Cambridge) Director of Research, Indigenous Culture and Heritage, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
Professor Iona Novak
Professor Iona Novak Head of Research, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Brain Mind Centre, University of SydneyHead of Research, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Brain Mind Centre, University of Sydney
Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO FRACP FAA FRS PresAHMS
Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO FRACP FAA FRS PresAHMS President, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences
Dr Georgina Such
Dr Georgina Such Associate Dean Diversity and Inclusion, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science

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