Academia has a checkered history of elevating women in science. While many leading women scientists to-date have acted as truly innovative researchers – Marie Curie for example – much of the way science is celebrated has innate bias.
Scientists are ranked by academic achievement – promotions and grants, recognition and awards – all emphasising papers published and cited, fellowships received and so on.
Enabling women in science
Australia needs to clearly develop a new platform of scientific achievement – in which, according to the $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), innovation is “critical to improving Australia’s competitiveness, standard of living, high wages and generous social welfare net”.
NISA notes several important factors, but fails to clearly set an agenda for women in science to succeed within the new innovation framework. For instance, it cites:
“We will introduce, for the first time, clear and transparent measures of non-academic impact and industry engagement when assessing university research performance.”
These factors are also critical in removing barriers to career advancement for women in science who have taken a career break, and whose academic output is less than men in equivalent positions as a result.
It also notes that women hold “around a quarter of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] and ICT [information and communications technology] related jobs and are significantly underrepresented in high-level research positions. We need to engage more girls in STEM and computing, and provide pathways to progress their interest across the education system and into careers.”
To address this NISA has earmarked $13 million to improve opportunities for women in science and STEM more broadly. How this money will be spent is unclear.
There is a strong and clear need to alter the way that scientific achievements are acknowledged when looking at scientists’ track records, grants eligibility and promotional opportunities. We need to reward collaboration, to allow other career achievements along with citations and impact factor to be part of the recognition process.
We need to alter many things about the way scientists are recognised to promote women in science, from looking for bias in the language we use to valuing the mentorship provided by scientists in a more inclusive and meaningful way.
There needs to be flexibility, appropriate leave and allowances for travel factored into work in science. Education around bias is important, and much could be learned from the corporate sector here.
This is not the time to take baby steps in addressing gender equity for women in science. We need to take great strides, and look to the government for greater leadership in addressing this sooner rather than later.
– Heather Catchpole, Editor, KnowHow magazine
Science Meets Business women’s success stories
Science Meets Business profiles celebrate the women in science today.