Media Release: Pilot program will be game changer for women in science

Author: The Australian Academy of Science. Media contact: Bella Counihan

More than half of Australian universities, along with other science organisations, will join a pilot program being launched today to improve the promotion and retention of women and gender minorities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot – a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) – will be the first Australian trial of the successful UK Athena SWAN gender equity accreditation program. Thirty-two organisations will participate in the pilot, including universities, medical research institutes and the CSIRO.

The program rates the gender equity policies and practices of participating organisations with a gold, silver or bronze award and helps them to develop ways to promote and retain women and gender minorities in their organisations. The Athena SWAN charter began a decade ago with just 10 universities but has grown today to include as a member nearly every STEMM education and research institution in the UK.

Women scientists in lab“Most science disciplines are dominated by men in senior positions, despite the fact that roughly equal numbers of men and women study science and start science careers,” said Professor Andrew Holmes, President of the Australian Academy of Science.

“Not only is this inherently inequitable and unfair, the loss of women from science also represents a very substantial cost to Australia in training, talent and opportunities for scientific innovation,” Professor Holmes said.

“This is an important initiative of two of Australia’s learned Academies who are working together to address this long standing problem across the science sector for the first time.”

“Entrenched problems don’t right themselves without a concerted effort to make amends,” said Dr Alan Finkel, President of ATSE.

“The Athena SWAN initiative will address the fall off-in representation of women in science at senior levels. It is a critically important initiative and ATSE is keen to build on its own achievements in gender equity and looks forward to cooperating with the Academy of Science.

“The take-up by 32 institutions in the pilot program is encouraging and means it will have substantial impact in science and technology fields from the outset.

The loss of women from science also represents a very substantial cost to Australia in training, talent and opportunities for scientific innovation. - Professor Andrew Holmes
The loss of women from science also represents a very substantial cost to Australia in training, talent and opportunities for scientific innovation. – Professor Andrew Holmes

Representatives from the SAGE pilot, including SAGE steering committee co-chair Professor Nalini Joshi (0402 008 859) are available for comment.

For further information, please contact the Academy’s media officer Bella Counihan (0419 212 219).

The SAGE pilot has been made possible by the generous support of sponsors. The Academies acknowledge The Office of the Chief Scientist; Professor Brian Schmidt; Professor Nalini Joshi and Professor Tanya Monro through their ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowships; and Sally Speed and Professor Terry Speed.