Libby Lyons announced as SAGE Inaugural Chair and says investment in gender equality and diversity is essential to our economic recovery

29 September 2020

Inaugural Chair of SAGE Ltd, Libby Lyons
Inaugural Chair of SAGE Ltd, Libby Lyons

Libby Lyons, the inaugural Chair of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Limited Board, has implored Australia’s higher education and research (HER) sector to stay the course in eliminating gender and equity bias in the face of unprecedented pressure.

Ms. Lyons made the call as she begins her role as Chair of SAGE Ltd on 30 September. The independent entity was established following the success of the Australian pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter, which saw 45 institutions sign up to eliminate gender bias, including 87% of Australia’s universities.

Ms Lyons, who is also the Director of the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, said despite the economic recession and the hardships many institutions are currently facing, now is not the time to abandon investment in gender equity and diversity.

“SAGE is all about boosting women’s leadership roles in the higher education and research (HER) sector.

“The BCEC 2020 Gender Equity Insights report found company profitability, performance and productivity improve when the representation of women in leadership roles increases. The HER sector must lead the way on this issue. As education and research institutions, they know that Australian and international research proves that improving gender equality outcomes is good for business.

“If HER institutions stay the course on gender equality and diversity, there are not only financial benefits for individual institutions but a real likelihood that our country will claw its way out of recession and recover more quickly. As a nation, we cannot afford to see a reversal of the hard-won gains by women in the HER sector, particularly when they are one of the groups most impacted by this pandemic.

“Those institutions who have already pledged to preserve gender equity as a higher education priority during the crisis and recovery period must be congratulated for their leadership and ongoing commitment.

“I am honoured to be taking on this new role and look forward to working with the Board, CEO and SAGE subscribers as we begin our national rollout,” said Ms Lyons.

The Board for SAGE Ltd has also been announced. The Non-Executive Directors of SAGE Ltd are:

  • Professor Marilyn Anderson AO FAA FTSE
  • Professor James Angus AO FAA
  • Dr Rosalind Dubs FTSE FAICD
  • Dr Bruce Godfrey FTSE
SAGE Board of Directors
The SAGE Ltd leadership team – Board and CEO – (left to right, top to bottom) Libby Lyons, Rosalind Dubs, James Angus, Marilyn Anderson, Bruce Godfrey, Wafa El-Adhami

SAGE CEO Dr Wafa El-Adhami welcomed the appointment of Ms Lyons and the new Board.

“The extensive track records and experience that our new Chair and Board members bring to SAGE Ltd speak for themselves,” said Dr El-Adhami.

“I look forward to working closely with the new leadership team to achieve our vision of reaching the entire high education and research sector. This goal remains unchanged despite the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews also welcomed the announcement of Ms Lyons as Chair.

“Ms Lyons’ considerable experience and determination to improve gender equity in Australian workplaces will be of great value to SAGE,” Minister Andrews said.

“SAGE is an important part of our vision to realise gender equity in STEM and I look forward to working with Ms Lyons in her new role.”

CEO of the Australian Academy of Science, Ms Anna-Maria Arabia, said she is proud of the critical role played by the Academy as a founding partner of SAGE.

“SAGE has been transformative for the STEMM sector and it’s easy to see why other countries are now following in Australia’s footsteps to adopt the Athena SWAN charter for themselves. The experience the new Board brings to SAGE Ltd will set the foundations for its continuing success,” said Ms Arabia.

Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering CEO Kylie Walker said as a founding partner of SAGE, the Academy is delighted that SAGE Ltd is in sound and experienced hands as it begins its next step.

“The need to ensure our skilled STEMM workforce is inclusive and equitable is more important now than ever.  I am confident that the work guided by SAGE Ltd will continue to create a thriving, diverse, skilled STEMM sector,” said Ms Walker.

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Forty-five Australian higher education and research institutions have completed the SAGE pathway to accreditation, with the majority (39 organisations/86 per cent) being awarded the Athena Swan Institutional Bronze Award. This includes approximately:

  • 87% of Australian universities
  • 40% of publicly funded science research agencies
  • 12% of Australian medical research institutes

SAGE is accepting new subscribers from Australian universities, medical research institutes and publicly funded research agencies.


A July 2020 global report by McKinsey and company, titled ‘COVID-19 and Gender Equality: Countering the regressive effects’ highlights the significant contributions by women to GDP for the global recovery from this pandemic. Their research finds that ‘the faster policy makers and business leaders act to push for greater gender equality, even as the COVID-19 crisis continues, the bigger the benefits not just for gender equality but also for economic growth.’ The report also lists the very same actions that SAGE institutions have committed to in their action plans to address gender inequity.

Australia’s Women in STEM Decadal Plan launched last year highlights the economic case for gender equity. It cites the 2017 World Economic Forum’s ‘Gender gap report’ which estimates that closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25% by 2025 could add as much as US$5.3 trillion to global gross domestic product (GDP) in the same timeframe.

A statement by UN Women and Women 20 (W20) to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in July 2020 found: deploying women’s full potential is critical to economic recovery. However, it is unclear how much the sizeable G20 (or non-G20) economic packages have invested in women’s priorities, despite evidence that the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are worse for women. The crisis will worsen economic loss, including the USD 160 trillion loss in wealth globally due to gender earning gaps.