IHMRI researcher shares her personal experience

A report from the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, and Science and Technology found that women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are more likely to face COVID-19-related job losses than men in the sector.

The data shows that jobs STEM are down 6.3% for women, compared to 4.8% for men.

Dean of Science at UNSW, and lead author of the report, Dr. Emma Johnston, said that women in STEM are already more likely in roles that could see higher job cuts.

“It’s true that women in stem tend to be in more junior levels. They’re also more likely to be part-time and in casual roles. Those are the positions that are more vulnerable and more likely to be cut,” she told the ABC.

Associate Professor Martina Sanderson-Smith is a molecular microbiologist at IHMRI whose work-life balance has shifted as a result of the pandemic. She said that the consequences of COVID-19 could contribute to already existing inequities in the STEM sector.

“I think there are a lot of people and a lot of organisations trying to really drive change, but there are just as many people who either don’t believe change is necessary, or who are trying to prevent change. Cultural change is needed to improve society for everyone, and we need to focus on Equity and Diversity on multiple levels to achieve that. We also need to do more to address issues of intersectionality, and support those who face inequity on multiple fronts.”

The report also found that women in STEM who have children are more likely to take on extra home duties during the pandemic.

“From my own perspective, increased carer responsibilities due to having school-aged children at home has made things very challenging,” she said.

 The disruption to her research program came soon after Professor Sanderson-Smith returned to work full-time – a time when gaining momentum is critical. She said she is grateful to be where she is, and is worried about women in more junior roles.

“I have a fantastic team and very supportive colleagues, and networks, and this puts me in a very privileged position. I am concerned about how COVID-19 will impact others who are not as well established in their careers or as well supported,” she said.

Associate Professor Sanderson-Smith also explained that the findings of the report should mean further change isn’t ignored, and highlights the need for organisations to persist with equity and diversity initiatives, despite the pandemic.

“It will be essential to ensure that workplace change that results from COVID-19 is managed in a way that does not unfairly impact groups who already face inequity. Ensuring access to childcare and supporting job security and flexible working conditions are essential strategies, but we also need to think beyond this and change the culture that created the inequity in the first place.”


Media contact

Lizzie Jack, Social Media Coordinator

t: 4221 5432

e: ejack@uow.edu.au

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