The state of gender equity in STEMM

2021 Department of Industry data on girls’ and women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) shows some real improvements for girls' and women's representation and participation in STEM study and careers. However, gender inequity in STEM continues to be a significant issue.

The data shows the proportion of women working across all STEM-qualified industries has increased from 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2020.

Collective efforts being led by the education, research and business sectors, as well as by government, are having a demonstratable impact. But there is more to be done. As a leading Australian university, we seek to:

  • improve outcomes for women in STEMM
  • play a role in advancing gender equity and diversity
  • implement meaningful actions to create long-lasting change.

We’re proud to be an inaugural Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award recipient, awarded in 2018. Our original SAGE Action Plan 2019 – 2021 commenced implementation in January 2019 and has created a strong foundation for building gender equity. Our current SAGE Action Plan 2022 – 2025 continues our progress towards increasing diversity and gender equity in STEMM.  

The Athena SWAN Charter

Through our involvement in the SAGE program, Swinburne has adopted the ten principles of the Athena SWAN Charter: 

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all. 
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles. 
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). 
  4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap. 
  5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career. 
  6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women. 
  7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by transgender people. 
  8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles. 
  9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality. 
  10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

Our initiatives

We support and have developed a broad range of outreach initiatives, both nationally and as part of Victoria’s STEM Ecosystem, to increase the number of secondary school students participating in STEMM. 

Internally, we are establishing STEMM workforce and study base that is fit for the future, globally recognised, powered by a diverse and gender-balanced pipeline, and supported by an inclusive and respectful workplace culture. 

Other initiatives include:

Read more about the broad range of educational workshops, events and outreach programs Swinburne offers.


You will note the use of the acronyms STEMM and STEM throughout these pages.

This is deliberate, as the broader interpretation of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) was applied to our SAGE submission and programs – while in other instances a program may only relate to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  

SAGE in action

Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is a national program that promotes gender equity and diversity in STEMM. 

The initiative was established to pilot the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter and the accreditation framework in Australia. Launched in 2015, SAGE is a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. 

Building on the success of the UK Athena Swan Charter, SAGE adapted its accreditation framework for use in Australia in the STEMM higher education and research sector. 

Athena SWAN is a mechanism for gender equity, providing a framework in which to plan and undertake concrete work to create structural and cultural change for gender equity. It addresses the cultures, systems and structural barriers, that hinder the participation and advancement of women and minority groups in organisations – making it an effective enabling mechanism for transformational change. 

How Swinburne defines STEMM [PDF 533KB]

Swinburne was the first cohort to take part in the Australian pilot program of the successful UK Athena SWAN accreditation program. There are ten principles of the Athena SWAN charter which Swinburne has committed to adopting within its own policies, practices, action plans and culture. 

Diversity enhances innovation by offering different perspectives, which leads to more innovative solutions and better outcomes. 

By addressing workplace barriers to advancing gender equity, people of all genders across all disciplines benefit. This will help us retain our best scientists and innovators and ensure Australia’s research and development excellence is maintained. 

Organisations using the Athena SWAN framework have improved gender diversity and bolstered representation of women in leadership in STEMM.  

Scientists in these organisations have experienced greater career satisfaction and fairness in workload allocation, and increased opportunities for training and development. This has led to transformations in workplace culture.

Our proud commitment to gender equity in the workplace was recognised with an Athena SWAN International Bronze Award in 2018.

As part of our award we developed the SAGE Action Plan 2019 – 2022. This plan commenced implementation in January 2019 and included actions to improve the attraction, promotion and retention of women and increase diversity in STEMM. 

As a SAGE member, we are working to reduce gender bias to create a more inclusive culture that values all staff. 

So far, throughout the self-reflective program process we have: 

  • collected and analysed staff and student data, and reflected on our current policies and practices 
  • engaged with staff and students to identify gaps and opportunities to improve gender equity in STEMM 
  • developed and implemented the SAGE action plan 2019 – 2022 to ensure we continue building gender equity and diversity in STEMM
  • reviewed our SAGE progress to inform the next iteration of our SAGE Action Plan 2022 – 2025 to ensure we continue building gender equity and diversity in STEMM.

We have now moved into the action implementation phase of the project. Students or staff wanting to get involved in the project can contact us here to find out more! 

Become a change agent to help us implement the SAGE action plan. The Swinburne forum on the SAGE project findings, actions and next steps attracted a wide range of volunteers but we need more. We invite all members of the Swinburne community to get involved and help us create a gender-equitable, diverse and inclusive organisation. 

Please come along to future events and actively support equity at Swinburne in all the ways outlined in our SAGE action plan. 

Contact us to find out how you can get involved in SAGE at Swinburne.

In January 2021, a mid-term review of our SAGE work which involved the audit of the 132 SAGE actions was completed.

The audit identified that 89 actions (67%) were either complete or on track, 38 actions (29%) were delayed or due to commence, and 5 actions (4%) were not proceeding. Delayed SAGE actions were predominately due to the need to prioritise our COVID-19 responses.

Originally Swinburne’s Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation was for four years, from December 2018 to December 2022, with an additional year granted due to COVID-19.

The SAGE Bronze award validity period to support  our journey towards silver accreditation has since been extended from five to seven years in recognition of the impact of COVID-19. Given the extension of the validity period, the next iteration of our SAGE Action Plan is from 2022 to 2025 to support our journey towards achieving  SAGE silver accreditation.

The SAGE Action Plan 2022 – 2025 streamlined and consolidated 11 SAGE themes in our original SAGE action plan to six themes. Given SAGE has been in implementation since early 2019, the focus of this iteration of the plan is to continue to embed STEMM gender equity targets and interventions and the continuous improvement of STEMM talent attraction, recruitment, career advancement and retention strategies. 

Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, the mid-term review identified that progress has occurred.

Our implemented SAGE actions have established a solid foundation for progressing gender equity and diversity in STEMM at Swinburne. Improvements have occurred in talent attraction and recruitment practices including resources and training for hiring managers, implementing an Indigenous workforce strategy and Indigenous talent pool, establishing comprehensive SAGE metrics and targets for women in STEMM, women in leadership and gender pay gap, using affirmative measures to advertise women only roles in specific STEMM areas and offering STEMM scholarships. Our SAGE work to date has had a positive and broad impact across Swinburne benefiting both staff and students of all genders.

The following snapshot of SAGE metrics illustrates progress is occurring at Swinburne: 

  • Increased recruitment of women in STEMM roles  (2019 59%; 2020 61% and 2021 67%)
  • 5% increase in women in our STEMM workforce (30% 2017 to 35% 2020)
  • 3% increase in women in our academic workforce (38% 2017 to 41% 2020)
  • Gender gap in STEMM has reduced for most academic levels (more so for fixed term contracts), with greatest movement at the lower levels
  • 3% reduction in gender gap at academic level E (21% in 2017 to 24% in 2020)
  • Improvements in gender representation in all academic STEMM roles: research-only, teaching & research, teaching-only roles
  • Women in research only STEMM roles has increased by 36% vs 8% increase in men
  • 12% increase in women in STEMM leadership (21% in 2017 to 33% in 2020)

Our SAGE metrics show challenges persist and progress takes time

  • 1% improvement of women in STEMM in continuing roles, women comprise 43% of STEMM fixed-term contracts (2020)
  • Proportion of STEMM women leaving is disproportionately high, women are ~1.5 times more likely to leave
  • Swinburne academic gender gap is high compared to other Universities (39% at Swinburne vs 49% Vic average and 46% ATN)
  • Low Swinburne STEMM student enrolments

Although women’s representation in the STEMM workforce at Swinburne has improved, there is still a long way to go until our STEMM fields are equitable and inclusive for all staff and students.

The gender gap for our academic staff is the worst in Victoria. More women are enrolling in Swinburne STEMM courses; however, Swinburne has consistently had the lowest percentage of women in STEMM enrolments among Victorian universities (29% women in STEMM courses at Swinburne vs 48% Victorian average).   

Increasing Swinburne’s student enrolment and completion rates of women in STEMM courses are critical for building the STEMM pipeline. A comprehensive STEMM student attraction strategy, KPIs on increasing women in STEMM enrolments and more focused effort in creating supportive pathways for diverse students to complete STEMM studies, as well as targeted talent attraction, recruitment and retention employment strategies are actions in our SAGE 2022-2025 Action Plan.

For more SAGE metrics see the appendix of the SAGE Action Plan 2022-2025.

In 2021 whilst reviewing our SAGE progress and refreshing our SAGE plan, Swinburne undertook a comprehensive gender equity workforce audit and staff consultation to develop Swinburne’s Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) as part of our obligations under the Victorian Gender Equality Act 2020. Swinburne’s four-year GEAP 2022 – 2025 contains enterprise wide strategies, whilst our SAGE Action Plan is focused on gender equity in STEMM. Both plans have been designed to align and maximise our gender equity efforts and are inclusive of all genders.

Gender equity in action

Swinburne has taken a number of practical actions to support gender equity in science. We are proud to be an inaugural Athena SWAN Bronze Award recipient and to implement a four-year action plan to drive the advancement of women and diversity in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM). 

We are an equal opportunity employer and have been recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality many times. 

Swinburne is working to develop cohesive gender equity strategies. From our outreach programs to the provision of employee resources and support, including encouraging fathers to consider taking parental and carers leave. We are also setting targets around our gender pay gap and increasing the number of women in STEMM.

Full copy of Swinburne SAGE submission

Full copy of Swinburne SAGE submission

View our SAGE Action Plan (2019 – 2022) and original full submission.
Swinburne Science Australia Gender Equity Action Plan 2022 – 2025

Swinburne Science Australia Gender Equity Action Plan 2022 – 2025

View our revised SAGE Action Plan (2022 – 2025)

Swinburne is always seeking ways to enhance inclusive services and facilities for students and staff. 

We endeavour to remove any barriers that may prevent parents of all genders being present at Swinburne.

  • We have parents' rooms available at our Hawthorn, Wantirna and Croydon campuses. 
  • There is also access to childcare facilities (availability of childcare depends on demand and waitlists).
  • Our inclusive campus spaces include dedicated safe campus women and queer spaces, multi faith facilities and accessible all gender bathrooms.

In October 2016, Swinburne offered a suite of five ongoing prestigious Vice Chancellor's Research Fellowships for women applicants in STEM. Four women were appointed in July 2017, and a fifth in October 2019. 

The fellowships provide women with the opportunity to fully focus on research early in their careers. Having the security of ongoing research and a teaching position is crucial in ensuring we retain our excellent women in STEM. 

In October 2016, we extended current parental leave entitlements (staff login) to primary carers (of all gender identities). In particular, we encourage fathers to take parental leave and support a variety of flexible work options.

We offer various scholarships for female students

We've established a Women in STEMM networking group for undergraduate students, and have Women in Engineering and Women in ICT groups. See our STEM student groups.

We’ve established diversity targets for different areas of the university and we’ve also recruited for women-only senior leadership and academic roles.

Looking for scholarships for women?

We offer a number of scholarships for female students to study at Swinburne. Learn more about our scholarships for women.  

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If you have any feedback or questions about our gender equity and diversity approach, please email us at

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