What is the SAGE Pilot?

electrical engineer woman STEM

Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is national program promoting gender equity and gender diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

SAGE is run by the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

Australia needs women in science

In November 2014, the SAGE Forum was attended by 140 leaders and policy representatives from Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). Experts identified a need to address the under-representation of women in STEMM. The SAGE Forum recommended the development of a program based on the Athena SWAN Charter, an evaluation and accreditation framework from the UK that addresses the improvement of gender equity policies and practices in STEMM. Athena SWAN has been operating for 10 years and it has shown significant results in improving gender diversity, and bolstering women’s leadership roles within STEMM institutions.

Athena SWAN offers Bronze, Silver and Gold awards in recognition of institutional capacity to eliminate gender inequity and a demonstrated commitment to bolster the hiring, promotion and retention of women, while also improving the workplace environment for people of all genders. Since 2011, medical research institutes in the UK have been required to achieve a minimum Silver Award to receive research funds.

SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia

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In June 2015 and May 2016, SAGE released a call for applications for institutions to participate in the SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia. Applications were competitively judged to ensure a wide range of institutional types and sizes are able to test the implementation of Athena SWAN in Australia.

SAGE was overwhelmed by the response from the sector and has accepted applications from a total of 40 institutions. This includes over half the university sector, with representation across the five university types (from Group of Eight to Unaligned), as well as medical research institutions and government research agencies. The pilot includes 30 (of 43) Australian universities, six medical research institutes and four government science organisations.

Commencing in September 2015, the pilot requires participants to collect, analyse and present data on gender equity policies and practices in STEMM departments, as well as identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. Participants will work towards an Athena SWAN Award at the Institutional Bronze level, which is a mandatory requirement for future Silver and Gold awards at the institutional and departmental levels.

SAGE Pilot participants have signed up to the Athena SWAN principles and are now recognised as members of the SAGE Athena SWAN Charter in Australia.

Athena SWAN Awards in Australia

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Athena SWAN has an international reputation for creating a gender inclusive workplace, with accredited institutions demonstrating a competitive edge in attracting the best scientists. The Athena SWAN Charter provides a gender equity accreditation process that requires institutions to:

  • collect comprehensive data on their current gender equity standards, policies and practices
  • identify weaknesses and shortcomings
  • develop and implement plans to improve gender equity at all levels of seniority, for casual, full-time and part-time staff, as well as for students
  • submit an application for institutional and/or departmental accreditation with Athena SWAN at Bronze, Silver or Gold level, based on demonstrated improvements in gender equity over the course of two years.

Organisations are required to qualify for an institutional Bronze award before they become eligible to receive further Bronze, Silver or Gold awards at organisational and/or departmental level. There is also the potential to receive no award if the application does not meet the requirements.

Athena SWAN accreditation will be subject to rigorous peer-review from mid-2017, and qualifying organisations will receive Athena SWAN awards in early 2018. Accreditation is valid for four years (subject to annual administration fees).

Does it work?

A recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report in the UK, Women in Scientific Careers, found that the Athena SWAN Charter is the most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity. Another independent evaluation found that women scientists employed in organisations participating in the Athena SWAN Charter experienced greater career satisfaction and fairness in the workload allocation, and increased opportunities for training and development.

In the last few years [of Athena SWAN participation] I have overseen a significant increase in the progression of gender equality, with visible engagement from senior colleagues and individuals across all staff and student groups.

– Prof Sir Lesek Borysewicz, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge