Supporting Indigenous Australians









Science in Australia Gender Equity recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the traditional custodians of the lands in which Australian society has been founded. We pay our respects to the elders past and present. We acknowledge the deep cultural knowledge embedded within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Custodianship of Country.

Indigenous cultures in Australia represent ancient knowledge systems that are vital and unique to this land. Despite this deep history, and the significant and continuing contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Australian culture, Indigenous Australians experience multiple and ongoing discrimination. Gender equity issues for Indigenous Australians are rooted in historical relations which still influence present-day experiences. Indigenous Australians therefore represent a special case of intersectionality, who face ongoing challenges stemming from colonial dispossession and cultural alienation.

Indigenous Australians in STEMM

Best practice research on Indigenous inclusion in STEMM places an emphasis on:

  1. culturally meaningful research and education
  2. diverse career pathways, and
  3. active sponsorship

alongside broader strategies for cultural inclusion.

Histories of racism, social exclusion, colonialism and dispossession have placed Indigenous Australians at significant disadvantage when it comes to higher education and research. Indigenous people are substantially underrepresented in all STEMM disciplines.

Indigenous people of all genders can be specifically affected by the intersections of gender and Indigeneity. Indigenous women in STEMM can face patterns of compounded disadvantage through the combination of their gender and ethnicity. However, Indigenous men are more underrepresented than Indigenous women in non-STEMM areas and in certain STEMM disciplines, including health, owing to specific structural disadvantages for men. Indigenous gender minorities face multiple forms of exclusion and marginalisation.

In assessing institutional gender equity policies and programs, it is important to take into account the complex ways in which gender equity can be impacted by Indigenous status.

Analysis of support for Indigenous Australians for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award application asks institutions to review existing policies, practices and programs with the aim of laying a solid foundation for supporting Indigenous Australians and considering gender equity and Indigenous inclusion.

Attention to the needs of Indigenous Australians in STEMM should be incorporated throughout the application, as well as being addressed in depth in Section 8 “Indigenous Australians”.

The application does not require quantitative data on Indigenous Australian staff. If, following consultation with Indigenous staff, students and advocacy groups, the institution decides to collect data on gender and Indigenous identity, robust consideration must be given to anonymity, confidentiality, data protection and secure storage.

Institutions are asked to consider in their submission:

  1. Current policy and practice
  2. Monitoring
  3. Further work

Current policy and practice

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application asks institutions to review whether existing gender equity policies support Indigenous Australians.

Section 8(i) “Discuss how gender equity policy and programs are designed to lift the contributions of Indigenous Australians in STEMM. Discuss initiatives to provide cultural training to STEMM staff and students to increase awareness of intersectionality, unconscious gender bias, racism and other forms of discrimination faced by Indigenous Australians within STEMM.”

Engagement with Indigenous leaders and representatives
Consider building engagement with Indigenous leaders and representative groups into all stages of gender equity work. Strategies for doing this include:

  • Consulting with Indigenous leaders, staff and representative groups to understand key issues of Indigenous inclusion in STEMM and how these relate to gender equity
  • Working with Indigenous representatives to evaluate existing gender equity policies and programs in terms of relevance and accessibility for Indigenous Australians
  • Building engagement with Indigenous representatives into process of action planning for Athena SWAN
Consider needs of Indigenous Australians in gender equity policies and programs
Consider specific strategies for integrating support for Indigenous Australians into policies and programs developed under Athena SWAN. This could include:

  • Building cultural awareness training into gender equity mentoring and leadership programs
  • Sponsoring Indigenous-specific places in professional development opportunities
  • Considering the specific needs of Indigenous Australians in assessment of leave arrangements, caring responsibilities, and flexible working, such as culturally-specific leave for participation in community activities
Promote greater awareness of Indigenous inclusion among leaders and staff in STEMM
This could involve:

  • Jointly addressing Indigenous cultural awareness and gender equity in unconscious bias training initiatives
  • Promoting an understanding of intersectional issues facing Indigenous women, gender minorities, and men in underrepresented disciplines, to leaders and staff in STEMM areas
  • Promoting Indigenous activities, images and symbols throughout the institution and in STEMM areas
  • Celebrating Indigenous contributions to STEMM during events such as NAIDOC week
  • Considering how Indigenous role models and symbols are recognised in physical structures, websites, promotional material and in STEMM sites


The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application requires the development of methods that an institution will use to measure and enhance the experiences of Indigenous Australians.

Section 8(ii) “Provide details of how the institution measures the effectiveness of these policies and practices, and acts on any findings, to ensure gender equity and diversity policies will raise the recruitment, promotion, retention and contribution of Indigenous Australians within STEMM fields.”

Evaluation of policies and programs

Consider working with Indigenous representatives to develop of effective evaluation strategies and methodologies to ensure that policies, practices and programs meet the needs of Indigenous Australians. This includes:

  • Targeted policies and programs for Indigenous Australians and gender equity in STEMM
  • The cultural relevance and accessibility of broader policies and programs on gender equity in STEMM
Recruitment, retention and career development of Indigenous Australians in STEMM
Consider specific strategies for recruiting, retaining and developing Indigenous staff, with a focus on women, gender minorities and men in underrepresented disciplines. This could include:

  • Indigenous-specific recruitment initiatives, including a focus on gender-equity
  • Developing recruitment strategies that emphasise diverse career pathways
  • Investing in culturally appropriate mentoring
  • Developing Indigenous-specific scholarships and awards, including targeted initiatives for women, gender minorities and/or men in underrepresented disciplines
Prominence of Indigenous leaders and role models
Consider the prominence given to Indigenous leaders and role models when addressing gender equity initiatives for STEMM. This could include:

  • Considering how Indigenous staff are valued and promoted in speaking and media opportunities, awards, publicity and other honours, with specific attention to Indigenous women, gender minorities and men in underrepresented disciplines
  • Considering intersections of Indigenous representation and gender equity in senior committees, along with addressing potential challenges of committee overload

Further work

Athena SWAN requires an evaluation of how institutions will boost the career and leadership opportunities of Indigenous Australians.

Section 8(iii) “Provide details of further initiatives that have been identified as necessary to ensure Indigenous Australians do not experience unconscious gender bias, racism, and other forms of discrimination at the institution. Also consider how the institution will elevate the knowledge and contributions of Indigenous Australian faculty, staff and students within STEMM.”
Sponsoring Indigenous Australians in STEMM
Research highlights the need for active sponsorship of Indigenous Australians and for leaders to take responsibility for recruitment and career development of Indigenous researchers. Strategies could include:

  • Pro-actively assisting with applications for new positions, promotions and grants
  • Actively fostering networks and systems of support
  • Developing and evaluating targeted culturally relevant professional development initiatives such as leadership courses
  • Considering opportunities for leadership and how these are balanced with research opportunities and other aspects of workload
Centrality of Indigenous knowledge to curriculum and research
Best practice in Indigenous engagement with STEMM points to the importance of considering Indigenous cultural knowledge in STEMM research.

  • Considering how Indigenous knowledge is embedded in STEMM curricula and research
  • Integrating best practice in Indigenous research and teaching methodology, including principles of reciprocity and cultural relevance
Perhaps the difference between me and other Indigenous students who don’t study science is that I can see the connection between what I’m studying and its application to the community. If you can see a need and try to work on it, it’s a big factor.
– Indigenous B.Psych. student, quoted in Black and White Science (2004), p.26.


Inspiring Australia Indigenous Engagement With Science: Towards Deeper Understandings, Expert Working Group Report, August 2013.

This report from the Inspiring Australia Expert Working Group on Indigenous Engagement with Science includes a series of recommendations aimed at increasing the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in science, through placing recognition and valuing of Indigenous knowledge systems at the centre of this strategy.

Universities Australia, Indigenous Cultural Competency Framework, 2014.

This framework jointly developed by Universities Australia and the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council reviews best practice from Australia and worldwide on creating Indigenous cultural competence in Australian Universities. It includes a review of the history and current status of Indigenous Australians engaged in education and employment in the Higher Education sector.

Cultural competence extends practices aimed at cultural awareness and cultural safety for Indigenous Australians to include institutional reflexivity, capacity building of skills and decolonisation of organisational processes. It encompasses valuing diversity,  a capacity for cultural self-assessment, being conscious of the dynamics inherent in cross-cultural interactions, institutionalising the importance of cultural knowledge and making adaptations to service delivery that reflect cultural understanding.

Claire McLisky and Diana Day, Black and White Science: Encouraging Indigenous Australian Students into University Science and Technology, University of Sydney, 2004.

This report is aimed at developing a deeper understanding of the reasons and context for Indigenous under-representation in science and technology within Australian universities, including qualitative research with Indigenous students and staff highlighting a range of barriers to their involvement and engagement with STEMM. The research focused on one particular university (the University of Sydney), but many of its findings are applicable to other higher education institutions and research institutes.

Living Knowledge Project, Living Knowledge: Indigenous Knowledge in Science Education, 2008.

This website was developed as part of an ARC funded project Indigenous knowledge and Western science pedagogy: a comparative approach. While the focus is on secondary education, it includes a wide range of resources, materials and links of broader relevance.

Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies, 2002.

The Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies were created by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to ensure that research with and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples follows a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity. While the report touches only tangentially on Indigenous Australians as researchers (for example, in “Principle 10: Indigenous people have the right to full participation appropriate to their skills and experiences in research projects and processes”), consideration of ethical research principles and of the relevance of STEMM research for Indigenous Australian communities are central to creating and fostering an inclusive institutional culture.