What is SAGE? Driving Gender Equity in Australian Science

On the 15 September 2015, the SAGE Pilot was officially launched at Parliament House. The event was attended by Ministers, funding and policy stakeholders, and representatives from the 32 institutions who are participating in the Pilot. This video provides highlights of the event, where leaders discuss the importance of the SAGE Pilot in transforming gender equity and diversity in Australian science.

The video features Ministers who convene the Parliamentary Friends of Science and Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, who hosted our event. The video also includes interviews with members of the SAGE Steering Committee who explain the benefits of improving equity and diversity.

The SAGE Pilot launch was officiated by Professor Andrew Holmes, President of the Australian Academy of Science, who noted:

This pilot will change the landscape of science and technology in Australia by breaking down the many barriers to full and equal participation of women and of minority groups.

Other key comments from the launch include The Hon Karen Andrews MP, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry & Science and Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Science:

“As we are all aware, women are under-represented in Australia’s academic workforce in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM fields.  This is especially true at senior levels were figures sit at about 17%, which is extraordinarily low.  The establishment of the SAGE Committee and the Athena SWAN Pilot, is the best practice approach to tackling this problem.”

The Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and Federal Member for Higgins, spoke in her role as Co-Convenor Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics & Engineering:

We now have a solution ahead of us and the SAGE pilot project will be the key to unlocking the participation and the advancements of women, particularly in science, maths and engineering, over the years ahead.

Benefits of the SAGE Pilot

The strategic vision for SAGE is the outcome of the SAGE Steering Committee, which is comprised of leading figures driving equity in STEMM. Most of the current Committee was also involved in leading the SAGE Forum in 2014, a workshop where over 140 of Australia’s senior scientists explored issues of gender equity. The Forum recommended that SAGE trial the UK program of Athena SWAN in Australia. 

The SAGE Steering Committee was founded by Professor Nalini Joshi and Professor Brian Schmidt. Professor Joshi remains in the role of Co-Chair, along with Dr Susan Pond who took over from Professor Schmidt as Co-Chair at the end of 2015.

SAGE is led by STEMM professionals for STEMM professionals, giving our program an unique insight on the challenges and opportunities in improving the STEMM sector.

Changing the culture

“The Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative, or SAGE for short, is aimed at changing the culture that has so far kept the numbers of senior women quite low.”- Professor Nalini Joshi FAA (SAGE Co-Chair)—University of Sydney, Academy Council member, and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow

Not a “box-ticking” exercise

“SAGE is unique and different because it’s not a box-ticking exercise.  It’s about finding out where the pinch-points are.  Where women are leaving, why they’re leaving and then develop an action plan to address those issues.” – Professor Jenny Martin—NHMRC Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland

Meaningful change

“It’s really getting universities and research organisations to think about the problems and measure them, come up with ways to fix those problems and then act upon those problems.  And then re-measure and see how we’ve done.  So from my perspective I think it’s the best chance of making meaningful change in our sector.” – Professor Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS —Australian National University, Academy Council member, and Nobel Laureate

Creativity & diversity

“I don’t think there’s any question anymore that diversity brings benefits, but I also think it brings excellence.  So if we want more excellence, and we want something more creative and more diverse, then women are going to bring that.” – Dr Roslyn Prinsley—Office of the Chief Scientist, National Adviser—Maths and Science Education and Industry


“In an area like medical research, more than half of our PhD students and post-doctoral scientists are women but women drop out of the system when it comes to taking up leadership positions – laboratory heads and professorship.  That’s a huge waste in productivity, a huge challenge to productivity and a huge waste to training.” – Professor Douglas Hilton, PhD FAA FTSE FAHMS—Director Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Adapting the system

“It’s not a pipeline problem, it’s a system problem.  We’ve asked women to adapt to the scientific career path that has been laid out for quite some time.  Well perhaps, it’s now time to ask the system to adapt to women so that we don’t lose half of the scientific talent in the country.” – Professor Caroline McMillen, University of Newcastle, Vice-Chancellor and President

Working together

“I see the power of having both halves of the population working together is going to enable us to get into that future more quickly and in a better way.” – Dr Susan Pond AM FTSE (SAGE Co-Chair), Vice President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE); United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Adjunct Professor

Decent society

“If we disenfranchise half of our population, then I think we live in a society that’s not as decent as it should be.”

Professor Douglas Hilton, PhD FAA FTSE FAHMS—Director Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Producing great talent

“We’re already producing people of great talent at the younger end of the career spectrum.  If we can keep them for longer, the sky is the limit.” – Professor Nalini Joshi FAA (SAGE Co-Chair)—University of Sydney, Academy Council member, and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow