Tag Archives: Franklin Women

women's network

Women’s network supports health and medical researchers

Three years ago I did something pretty scary for a scientist with absolutely no business experience – I launched Franklin Women, a women’s network for professionals working in health and medical research.

The seed was planted on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane when I read a book I picked up at the newsagent called ‘Do cool sh*t’. It was an inspiring but quick read so I also had time to flick through a few pages of a Marie Claire magazine.

That month they had written on the value of professional networking and showcased a number of groups for women working in different sectors, from business to law. The idea of such a group immediately appealed to me.

I had just started a new job, in a new research area and in a new city, so I had a limited professional network. So after that flight I started ‘googling’ for a group for women in health research careers that I could join. But … there weren’t any! So in a moment of craziness I decided that I would start one.

After six months of researching what the needs were in the sector and getting my head around all the business bits and pieces, Franklin Women was launched – a social enterprise aimed at bringing together women working across the health and medical research sector to create opportunities for networking as well as personal and professional development.

It turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted to connect with other women in my field. Nearly 100 women turned up to our launch event ‘Let’s Meet’. Since then we have grown to over 400 professional members representing women in diverse organisations, roles and career levels within the health and medical research sector.

Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to meet many of these women and discuss why a group like Franklin Women is so valuable. The reasons that come up are varied and many, but the same three always stand out. 

What makes a women’s network so valuable?

Support and understanding 

As in other sectors, women are under-represented in leadership positions in the health and medical research sector due to a number of systemic and cultural barriers.

Meeting with a women’s network of like-minded peers who have experienced the same challenges as you can take away feelings of isolation. It also provides an opportunity to share ways to overcome any challenges as well as resources that are out there to support career progression.

But most importantly, you will always find a compassionate ear from someone who understands what you are going through. That in itself is invaluable.

Career connections outside your immediate circle 

Collaboration is something that underscores successful research. However, there are limited opportunities to connect with professionals in different research groups of the same institution let alone those in different organisations or even different roles.

One of the great things about Franklin Women is that we connect women who have a common passion of improving health but otherwise may never have connected.

At any one event we have university academics mixing with policy advisors, epidemiologists with lab scientists, and those working at hospitals with museum curators. The opportunities that come from these diverse connections are endless.

Learning new skills outside of the technical sciences

Researchers have invested in many years of study so that they are experts in their chosen technical area. With all that science to learn it leaves little room for training in non-technical career skills that are just as important for career progression.

Like other professional networks, Franklin Women provides the opportunities for learning broad professional skills, from networking and mentoring to using social media effectively. Not only can these skills be incorporated into academic careers but they are also seen as transferrable to roles outside of academia.

As we are finally entering an era where a successful career in science is moving past a single trajectory in academia, acquiring these skills is essential.

More opportunities for networking in the sciences are popping up around Australia so think about joining a women’s network. You never know what you may get out of it… a new collaboration, a new job opportunity or if nothing else just some good company! 

Dr Melina Georgousakis

women's health

Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Sydney

Founder, Franklin Women

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Connecting Women Leaders in STEM

promoting women

Not just a ‘pipeline’ problem

It is well documented that the number of women in STEM at senior levels in Australia are low. This is not a new problem, it has been reported for decades. The only thing we can be certain of is that it is not just a ‘pipeline’ problem anymore.

Women are embarking on careers in STEM at the highest rates ever seen. There is still room for improvement, but the bigger problem is that women leave STEM careers at the formative early to mid-career stage. They never get to senior levels, not because they don’t want to, but largely due to a system where opportunities aren’t  on offer.

“If we do nothing, we will be having this conversation again in another 10 years.”

Despite the assumption that the main problem is women having children, there are much bigger issues in STEM. For example, at a recent meeting of STEM academics, the moderator asked for ideas or insights into what would help women’s careers to progress. The first person to raise their hand was a senior male professor. He announced that flexible work conditions and financial support for housework and childcare are needed to support females in STEM. Perfectly reasonable suggestions many would say, but the unintended consequences of him speaking gets straight to the heart of the issue.

Firstly, he and everyone else in the room thought it was acceptable for him to speak on behalf of entire portion of the STEM workforce that he will never be a part of. Secondly, after he spoke not one female academic offered any of their own suggestions. By speaking first he immediately set the discussion to focus on carer and home responsibilities, reaffirming that women bear the burden of these activities and have no other major issues.

Why do we continue to let this happen? I wonder if he had not spoken first, would we have been given the chance to raise bigger issues women in STEM face?

Recognising and promoting women

After many workshops, symposia, conferences and focus groups for women in STEM the same theme resonates: women in STEM need to be recognised and included.

Women are rarely promoted rapidly up the ranks, do not easily promote themselves and do not feel entitled to recognition – they will not ask to be an author on a paper, to be lead investigator on a large collaboration or to apply for leadership positions. Men find all of this easier to do, therefore women continue to leave STEM careers rather than promote themselves based on ‘merit’ or ‘excellence’.

Should we attempt to change the innate, instinctive behaviours of males and females who happen to work in STEM? Or should we change the structure and systemic biases that funnel men to the top and women out of a career in STEM?

We need to do both to achieve real change.

It is exciting times in STEM in Australia as the Science and Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot aims to do this over the next two years. Organisations such as Women in STEMM Australia, Franklin Women and Male Champions of Change are giving a voice to women.

The time has come for the STEM sector to move on from just acknowledging the problem, to intentionally including women. If we do nothing, we will be having this conversation again in another 10 years.

Dr Nikola Bowden

Research Fellow, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle

Read next: Managing Director of the Dow Chemical Company Tony Frencham talks about the changing corporate culture for Women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

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