Celebrating cultural diversity

March 31, 2022

“Don’t speak about yourself.” This was the advice given to incoming Academy President, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, growing up.

“I was taught that it is for the rest of the world to judge how good or bad you are. That is challenging when to succeed you must market yourself or promote your own research,” Professor Jagadish says.

“Culturally, it's a quite different way of looking at life.”


Each year, March 21 marks the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, highlighting the importance of meaningful participation and representation in all areas of decision-making to combat racial discrimination.

Building from this, Harmony Week not only celebrates Australian cultural diversity*, but also aims to increase awareness of the ongoing mistreatment and lack of representation of culturally diverse people, particularly in workplaces.  

With dedicated and persistent effort needed to achieve meaningful reconciliation, Australia has additional and unique complexity to discussions on cultural diversity. The Academy recognises and respects the diversity of cultures, languages, kinship structures and ways of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and is committed to playing its part.

This year, Harmony Week had a focus was on inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.

Important for science

Although the STEM-qualified population in Australia has a larger migrant representation than the general population, there is still a long way to go to support increased cultural diversity in the workforce. There is also a need for more research into cultural identity within the Australian STEM workforce.

The Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM report found that girls and women face multiple barriers to STEM participation, especially if they were from minority groups, rural and remote areas and disadvantaged backgrounds.

There has been growing awareness of the lack of representation in STEM, especially of culturally diverse people and in particular culturally diverse women. According to STEM Sisters, less than 40% of the STEM workforce are women, and of this, only a small fraction is culturally diverse.

“We need to include and sustain more STEM women of colour in the Australian STEM workforce by promoting a career in STEM as attractive and attainable as any other,” says STEM Sisters.

Photo of smiling woman
Kudzai Dune is a medical laboratory scientist in Townsville, QLD. Image supplied.

“I think finding a mentor or someone who can relate to my story and experiences as a black, immigrant woman in STEM has been hard,” says Kudzai Dune in a recent interview on the Academy’s STEM Women directory, a platform which seeks to make women in STEM and other under-represented groups more visible.

“There aren’t a lot of us out there. I’m finding that there are more people who fit this category coming through now, but not so many who have been doing it for a while,” said Kudzai Dune.

I think finding a mentor or someone who can relate to my story and experiences as a black, immigrant woman in STEM has been hard.Kudzai Dune

We all have a role to play

As a leader in the STEM ecosystem, the Academy recognises it has a role in advancing the discussion, in improving our own practices to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms, and in ensuring that STEM workplaces are safe and inclusive for everyone.

Under-representation and underutilisation of the workforce are threats to Australia’s prosperity. Women in STEM Decadal Plan

As a nation we can ill afford to under-utilise all the available STEM talent.

We must work together to ensure that every Australian is able to access the transformational opportunities STEM offers and be able to thrive and contribute to Australia’s STEM sector.

Myriad reports outline gender disparities within the STEM sector, but further research on intersectional identities and the bias and barriers that culturally diverse people experience would help the sector take evidence-informed action.

As part of Harmony Week 2022, the Academy spoke with Academy Fellows, early- and mid-career researchers, industry representatives and staff, to capture their valuable stories and experiences on cultural diversity. You can read their interviews on the STEM Women blog.

Organisations can support development and increased participation of culturally diverse individuals in STEM by centring the voices and lived experiences of staff and ensuring that language and practices reflect everyone within their workforce.

There is incredible work being done by many organisations within the STEM sector to continue to address the challenges and barriers faced by culturally diverse individuals. Some organisations working to remove barriers experienced by people from culturally diverse backgrounds include:

  • STEM Sisters, which supports women of colour (WOC) to challenge and overcome intersectional, gender and racial barriers in STEM education and employment. It achieves this by addressing all stages of the STEM pipeline, through engagement with STEM students and cohorts of recent STEM graduates, early-career STEM professionals, STEM returners and STEM experts.
  • DeadlyScience, which aims to relieve educational poverty for remote and Indigenous students in Australia. It resources schools with STEM learning materials and equipment, connects them to STEM professionals, and runs programs that target systemic sources of educational disadvantage. It hopes to establish lasting change to disrupt cycles of educational poverty in Indigenous communities.
  • QueersInScience, an Australian initiative that is building community and improving support for LGBTQIA+ people in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine). It embraces LGBTQIA+ people of diverse ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, disabilities, religions, ages and gender identities, and acknowledges the unique place in the community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, placing intersectionality at the forefront of its decision-making.

More on the Academy’s commitment to promoting and sustaining diversity and inclusion in the STEM sector is covered in our Diversity Strategic Statement.

*The term cultural diversity refers to the differences between cultures which are associated with race, ethnicity, national or geographical origin. You can find more information on the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia fact sheets.

© 2024 Australian Academy of Science