Tag Archives: Gender diversity

science advocacy

Dare to talk about your ideas

Featured image: Science meets Parliament delegates meet with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014

Anne-Sophie, what’s your area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

My area of expertise is in plant pathology and plant physiology. When I was a researcher, I worked on projects that aimed to improve crop production through biotechnologies. I left research in November 2015 and I am now working in science regulation.

I attended Science meets Parliament (SmP) in 2015 to talk about my advocacy efforts regarding diversity and gender balance in research. The projects I was running at that stage, such as an interview series known as The League of Remarkable Women in Science, offered a snapshot of Australian science, featuring women from all backgrounds and all areas of STEM.

These projects were a way to better understand what it means to be a woman in Australian science and what can be done to improve gender balance in research.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your pitch?

Before the event, I made sure I spoke with people who had previously attended SmP. I also sought the advice of my mentors, who helped me define (and refine) my pitch.

The first day of SmP was incredibly useful, as it allowed me to fine-tune what I wanted to say and clarify my expectations from the conference.

Did it have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

It did! I knew that attending SmP would be very productive, but I wasn’t expecting it would make such a difference. By attending SmP, I was able to initiate discussions with the Hon Karen Andrews, who went on to co-chair an event I ran for National Science Week later that year. I would have never dreamed of this happening!

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament. What did you think of the event?

SmP was a very positive, even transforming event for me. It allowed me to interact with people I would have never met otherwise, and created opportunities that would not have arisen otherwise.

On a more personal level, attending SmP felt very special; I am originally from overseas, and I would never have imagined that I would converse with members of Parliament, let alone invite them to be part of events I was organising.

I have stayed in touch with some of the attendees I met during SmP. Many of them are now good friends of mine, or people I have run events and projects with. It has been a highly positive experience indeed!

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Dare to talk about your ideas! I used to think that the projects I was running were not important enough to attract interest from members of Parliament. I thought that I would waste their time. But it turned out to be the opposite. I believe researchers often underestimate the impact that our knowledge and projects can have.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science advocacy efforts heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The issues I was focusing on turned out to be of great interest to the members of Parliament I met. They all knew women working in science or had worked in science themselves, and they were convinced that changes had to be made. So I would say that it was actually quite easy to be heard by policymakers.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I have the feeling that building relationships between science and politics is somehow easier here in Australia than, for example, in France. I would never have had the opportunity of meeting members of Parliament in France the way I did during SmP. Such meetings are limited to high-ranked, senior scientists.

What do you hope to see more of at Science meets Parliament in the future?

I am hoping to see a greater focus on the crucial issues Australian science urgently needs to address. For example, what can be done to improve diversity in research? How do we stop losing so many talented early-career scientists? How do we address the harassment and bullying issues that are so prevalent?

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

Diversity brings a competitive advantage

Experts increasingly cite diverse thinking as key to securing long-term organisational success. McKinsey and Company‘s 2015 Diversity Matters report found that across the Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the USA, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. But with women comprising a mere 20% of the Australian technology sector, a lack of gender diversity is threatening the competitive advantage of Australian organisations.

Enterprises have long preached the importance of gender diversity. But were their efforts genuine? Or could they have been a strategic guise to project false integrity across an expectant market? There were certainly individuals championing female progression. But the movement was not perceived as integral to success, and so did not become a key priority for most organisations beyond façade – until now.

Times are changing, and innovating to sustain a competitive advantage is now crucial for an enterprise’s survival. With diverse thinking increasingly perceived as a tool to cultivate innovation effectively and inexpensively – why wouldn’t organisations sincerely support female progression within the workplace? After all, it translates into business benefit.

With a more prevalent understanding that female input is essential for a prosperous future, impassive words are finally being put into action. Organisations are now examining approaches to support and progress women within the workplace, and to encourage women to consider a STEM pathway.

Unfortunately, changing business priorities do not always equate to a sudden change in mindset across an entire organisation. Yet with leadership and business strategy genuinely backing female advancement, an unprecedented opportunity presents itself for women – and should be leveraged.

These issues form some of the key themes at the 2016 Women in Tech. conference, which is bring together a group of amazing women and men to address problems in the sector and help all in attendance build their skills and careers. Click here for more information about Women in Tech.

– Yasmine Finbow