A survey conducted as part of the report by the Australian Academy of Science found almost half the women surveyed with caring responsibilities do not have access to flexible work, despite 60% of them saying flexible arrangements could better support their working conditions.
The survey included responses from 1109 individuals, including 865 women, from 31 Asia-Pacific countries and economies. This survey provides new evidence of the extent and impact that COVID-19 has had on the STEM workforce across the region.
The report calls for STEM-related organisations across the Asia-Pacific to embed more flexible workplace cultures and to recognise that for those working in STEM research, flexible measures of work productivity are needed, especially in terms of publication records.
WOB member and Women in STEMM Co-founder and co-Chair, Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea AM, said she has seen the impact COVID has been having on women in the industry in Australia.
“Absolutely women in STEM in Australia are really being impacted - in academia and also in industry,” she said. “This is particularly challenging for women who are having to work from home, especially when they have caring and home-schooling responsibilities.”
Dr Evans-Galea said women who have been particularly hard-hit are those on short-term contracts and projects and women who normally do research in the field or a laboratory.
“These delays in being able to do this type of research are also imposing a significant lag-phase on productivity.”
She said the disruption has also impacted the ability to write grants and continue research. “A lot of energy levels have been hit and people are fatigued.”
“Also STEM is a particularly competitive field. Women in STEMM have to be constantly performing at an elite level and we are seeing this affect a lot of women because their track records have been hit.”
She welcomed the report, and the fact the issue has been looked into in-depth. “It is now critical the momentum continues, and the hard-fought gains so far are not all for nothing and that the issue is kept front-of-mind.”
The report found the pandemic has also impeded work productivity, increased precarious and insecure work arrangements, and reduced access to research facilities and workplaces due to lockdown arrangements.
These new conditions have had a significant impact on individual wellbeing, with the survey finding half of survey respondents reporting negative mental health impacts in relation to work or home life.
Despite the impacts of the pandemic the survey found personal passion for their work (59%) and work fulfilment (46%) are the main reasons why women are likely to remain in STEM. 72% reported that their short-term career expectations were to remain in the STEM workforce.
Chair of the report’s Steering Committee, Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, said the report has revealed that the pandemic continues to profoundly affect the lives and day-to-day activities of women in the STEM workforce at every level.
“Different parts of the Asia-Pacific region have different capacities to respond to these negative impacts. Regional collaboration, together with supportive workplaces and communities, can minimise gendered impacts of the pandemic on the STEM workforce.
“Solutions are offered in the report for all parts of STEM particularly the need for flexibility in workplaces for all genders, and flexibility in grant applications and delivery,” Emeritus Professor Praeger said.
The report also highlights 20 personal stories from nine Asia-Pacific countries and looks at ways the region can future-proof and enhance a diverse STEM workforce in the Asia-Pacific. This project was funded by the Regional Collaborations Programme, administered by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER).
About the survey
A wide range of STEM disciplines and all career stages were represented in the survey responses. Women in chemistry were the biggest group (13%), followed by women in physics and mathematics (12%), biology (11%), engineering (10%) and medical sciences (9%). More than 80% of all respondents had attained post-graduate qualification. Women aged 35 to 44 years (37%) were the main age group who completed the survey. Just over 25% of the survey respondents were from Australia.