Featured image above: Jane Elith from the University of Melbourne is an early career researcher, yet in the field of environment and ecology, she is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years, and is the only Australian woman on the highly cited list. Women in STEM represent just 18% of academic positions in Australia.
Advocacy for gender equity in science is changing, with men as likely as women to make the case for increased participation for women in STEM, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says.
And there’s a simple business case as to why: “No one of us can ever be as good as all of us acting together,” says Broderick, who served as Sex Discrimination Commission from 2007–2015 and in 2010 founded the Male Champions of Change group, which brings together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons.
“Women represent such a small percentage of [staff at the] professorial level and organisation leading level, and yet 50% of our talent resides in women,” Broderick told 320 delegates at the SAGE symposium on Friday 24 June.
SAGE is Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity for women in STEM. Broderick will chair the program, which with the Male Champions of Change group will receive the bulk of the $13 million National Innovation and Science Agenda funding to support women in STEM careers.
Practical initiatives for women in STEM
SAGE runs the Athena Swan Charter, which takes a data analysis approach to effect change in organisations, which then work towards a series of awards based on the success of their gender equity programs.
On Friday SAGE announced that another eight organisations including the Burnet Institute, Federation University Australia, James Cook University, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Bond University, Macquarie University, University of the Sunshine Coast, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory had signed on for the charter, bringing total participation in Australia to 40 research and academic institutions.
Women make up just 16% of the STEM-qualified workforce, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.
“At a turning point”
“We are at a conscious turning point for enabling equity for women scientists. We need role models that can unconsciously change perceptions,” says Dr Susan Pond AM, Co-Chair of SAGE and Interim Chief Operating Officer and Adjunct Professor in Sustainability at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
Broderick adds that while women comprise more than half of graduates and postgrads in STEM, they comprise just 18% of academic positions. “The absence of women perpetuates the absence of women.”
“If we don’t actively and intentionally include women, the system will unintentionally exclude them.”
The gender pay gap also sits at around 18%, Broderick says.
Two practical ways the Male Champions of Change addresses gender equity for women in STEM is through the ’50:50, if not why not’ and the panel pledge, says Broderick.
In the panel pledge, males commit to speaking at events only if there is equal representation by women in STEM, and reserve the right to pull out even at the last minute if this isn’t happening. The Male Champions of Change developed the ’50:50, if not why not’ slogan in response to gender inequity.
“In our DNA”
Seeking out and addressing gender imbalance “ought to be in our institutional DNA”, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, told the symposium.
Fewer than one-third of graduates in 2011 (the latest figures available from the Australian census) were women in STEM, says Finkel.
“I look to universities to not just reflect society today, but to model the society of tomorrow.”
– Heather Catchpole