Academy leads initiative to address gender imbalance in science

Large group of people, smiling at camera
The SAGE Forum wants to see gender equity programs that address female under-representation in STEM careers.

The following is feedback from an international female congress speaker, as reported to Frances Separovic, organising committee member for the IUPAB Biophysics congress held in Brisbane in August.

It was a great honour to give a lecture at the IUPAB Biophysics congress. It was one of the best biophysics meetings that I have ever attended not only because how well it was organised, scientifically and socially, but also because it was the first time that I could see as many top female scientists as males giving plenary and other lectures. And this equal distribution was ‘normal’, as it should be, and not a privilege. Many thanks for this excellent event!

The Science in Gender Equity (SAGE) Forum has challenged the Australian research sector to trial a gender equity program to address female under-representation and retention in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The forum, an initiative led by the Academy, has called for engagement from universities, medical research institutions and research agencies to ‘beta test’ a successful program that was originally developed in the UK. The forum wants to start on a scheme next year that the research community owns, beginning with a few institutions and building the take-up of the program towards a nation-wide scheme.

The call was made during an Academy-convened workshop in Canberra last month to help address the underrepresentation of women in science. Over two days, representatives from the science and research sector discussed how best to address the decline in women at senior levels in Australian science, and explored successful overseas initiatives including the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter.

Representatives from the UK Equality Challenge Unit, who administer the Athena SWAN Charter, briefed attendees about their experience with the scheme.

The Athena SWAN Charter requires participating universities and research institutions to develop and implement an action plan to address their specific circumstances. Some UK research funding bodies now tie grant funding to participation in such programs.

The Chief Executive of the National Health and Medical Research Council, Professor Warwick Anderson AO, and Charles Darwin University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Bell, made presentations at the workshop on the challenges of addressing gender equity issues in Australian science.

The leaders of the SAGE Forum steering committee, Professors Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS and Nalini Joshi FAA, chaired the event.

More about the SAGE Forum Workshop

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