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gender equity

Gender equity through Athena SWAN

Featured image above: Dr Susan Pond speaking about gender equity at the 2016 SAGE Symposium. Credit: Australian Academy of Science

Led as a joint venture by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is conducting an Australian pilot of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter.

SAGE works towards a vision that women and men will be equally represented in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics & medicine) disciplines in our higher education and research organisations, including in leadership roles.

Despite the fact that higher education enrolments by gender in Australia reached parity in 1988, the percentage of women gaining the rank of full professor in most faculties has remained consistently below 20% to the current day.

This failure to achieve gender equity matters because the Australian higher education and research sectors are:

  • leaking female talent;
  • wasting some of their best people;
  • failing to benefit from the additional range of perspectives and backgrounds they would bring to the table; and
  • losing the opportunity to perform better.

It matters because gender equity is a moral and business imperative. It matters because of the challenge of innovation.

Key to Australia’s economic competitiveness and growth, innovation requires an increasing national proficiency in STEMM. Innovation will be driven by the ability of our higher education and research institutes to generate breakthrough ideas and produce excellent STEMM graduates. It will be driven by the ability of these graduates to translate breakthrough ideas into innovative products and services.

SAGE has adopted the Athena SWAN Charter because it provides a rigorous, system-wide process of gender equity data collection, evaluation and consultation in order to identify the gaps between policies and practices and establish detailed action plans for change.

It requires institutions to demonstrate in their Athena SWAN Award application that they have undertaken and acted upon honest self-appraisal and self-reflection, starting at the leadership level.

The process is transparent – all applications for an Athena SWAN award are made public.

To ensure integrity and rigour, and to assess how Athena SWAN might boost productivity and outcomes in the Australian STEMM landscape, the SAGE Pilot will:

  • commission an independent evaluation of the Pilot;
  • adapt and tailor the Athena SWAN framework to the Australian context;
  • focus on Australian-specific areas such as Indigenous Australians in STEMM;
  • use analytics on pooled data to design informed and evidence-based solutions;
  • identify issues in gender equity that are common across institutions and require policy change across the sector; and
  • through the peer-review process, identify and document best practices that are shown to be working in STEMM.

SAGE and the Athena SWAN pilot in Australia are good news stories.

The bad news is that the widespread resistance to women pursuing careers is longstanding. The feminist, Betty Friedan, whose 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” changed the lives of many women in the US and worldwide, framed this as “The Problem that has No Name.”

The bad news is that gender discrimination in society is not necessarily intentional or overt. It is unconscious and deeply ingrained in our societal psyche. It flourishes under the radar and is very hard to overturn.

Such discrimination emerges in strange circumstances – for example when women act in ways that aren’t considered sufficiently feminine, or when women advocate for themselves.

Men and women in large part unconsciously find these women unseemly; find them overly demanding and unlikeable.

Hillary Clinton, as an example, is suffering this curse of unlikeability. Scholars agree that it is largely because of her gender.

As Rebecca Sheehan from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney wrote recently, “Clinton’s ratings dropped significantly each time she sought political power through electoral office – whether running for US Senate or presidency.

“However, once she achieved positions of power, her approval ratings increased. As Secretary of State, she had an approval rating of 66% (a number Obama himself never reached), and was arguably the most respected politician in the US.

“Now, more than half the country can’t stand her.

“The swings in opinion and their timing suggest that her apparent likeability problem is not only – or not actually – about her. Instead, it’s more about a broader dislike of women who challenge the traditional gender order.”

In her just-released book, What Works – Gender Equality by Design, Professor Iris Bohnet addresses head on how such unconscious bias holds us back in achieving gender equity and why de-biasing each and every individual’s mind has proven to be difficult and expensive.

Bohnet’s emphasis is on de-biasing organisations instead of individuals, as is that of Athena SWAN. She demonstrates that taking this approach has great impact, often at surprisingly low cost and high speed. This is where the Athena SWAN Charter comes to the fore.

Athena SWAN seeks to call out gender inequality by providing evidence for its existence and negative impacts. Athena SWAN seeks to design out from our universities and research organisations the systems that entrench the status quo of gender inequality.

We must work together, men and women, to ensure that Australia’s universities, research organisations and innovation systems can take advantage of our full talent pool.

– Dr Susan Pond AM, FTSE FAHMS

This article is an edited extract from Dr Susan Pond’s speech presented at the 2016 Science in Australia Gender Equity Symposium.

Fast-tracking women in STEM

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

Women in STEM: Mathidle Desselle

Women in STEM: Mathilde Desselle

Featured image above by Nathan Barden

Desselle is a programme coordinator for outreach for the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD) at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. She is looking for the next antibiotic in engaging academic chemists worldwide in an open-access compound screening program and setting up international partnerships. Desselle has eight years’ experience driving engagement strategies for medical research programs and facilities. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to drive transformational change and solutions to diagnose, track and treat infectious diseases.

Desselle is a board director for the Queensland-based Women in Technology peak industry body for women in science and technology careers, and for the Tech Girls Movement foundation, promoting positive role models to encourage and raise awareness of STEM careers for girls.

Desselle completed a double Masters degree in bioengineering and business from the Catholic University of Lille and a Masters of International Economics from the University of the Littoral Opal Coast in France in 2008.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?

“I would say having a drive. It takes passion, tenacity, and a vision to lead successful research initiatives, and I believe having an articulate “why” is essential to feed them. Don’t we always go back to what drives us when celebrating successful outcomes and overcoming rejection and failures?”

What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?

“Ending the ‘manel’. I would ask the 32 Australian universities and research institutes who are part of the SAGE pilot, an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering that addresses gender equity in the science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) sectors, to make the following pledge: striving to achieve gender balance in all conferences and panel discussions they are hosting and organising.”

What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?

“I will forever be grateful to the mentors who have pushed me outside of my comfort zone. We also have world-class facilities in Australia enabling ground-breaking research and innovative collaborative projects. I am looking for the next antibiotic to combat drug-resistant infections, and it takes advanced scientific, technological and administrative systems to function.”

If at times your confidence is a little shaky, where do you turn?

“I can count on a very supportive network of women and men around me, on their experiences and their expertise. There is always someone I can turn to for addressing concerns or uncertainties. I also practice mindfulness and Harvard Business School social psychologist Professor Amy Cuddy’s “power poses”. Watch her Ted Talk on body language and challenge your inner wonder woman!”

What is your ideal holiday – and do you work on your holiday?

“My ideal holiday is being out horse riding on trails or beaches all day in New Zealand or in the USA. After I get off the saddle, I still follow up on pressing matters, and never lose an occasion to meet or connect with someone I could follow up with for professional matters, so I guess I rarely completely switch off.”

Follow Mathilde Desselle on Twitter: @mathildesselle

This article was first published by Women in Science AUSTRALIA. Read the original article here.