5 Feb 2021

Working towards gender equity at CCS

Dr Jess Borger
by Dr Jess Borger
CCS GEDI committee chair

Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, has stated, and this call to action is reflected in the forthcoming International Day of Women and Girls in Science, 11 February 2021.

In recent years the global community has made a lot of effort in engaging and empowering women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. 

Within academia, the number of women completing university degrees in STEM is equivalent to male counterparts, yet it is no secret that women are poorly represented in the STEM workforce, with less than 30% of researchers worldwide being women. To achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women, it is critically important to achieve full and equal access to, and participation in science, for women and girls. For this reason, The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

In academia, women make up approximately half of junior academics in STEM, but the ‘scissor graph’ demographic identifies that women continue to be excluded from fully participating in science, with only one fifth becoming senior professors. It is essential to achieve equal opportunities in access to employment and to positions of leadership and decision-making at all levels. Successful achievement of these development goals, included within the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development require extensive legislative changes. 

To promote women’s participation in policy, the Australian government has implemented the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, to provide a 10-year roadmap to identify the barriers and enablers that affect women’s participation, retention and success in STEM from school through to careers. There is an Expert Working Group that consults with community forums and selected stakeholders but it is essential women participate in high-level processes which shape the science agenda.

Women need to be involved in those policies affecting gender equality.  The appointment of Prof Lisa Harvey-Smith as Australia’s First Women in STEM Ambassador signaled the coalition government’s efforts to encourage girls and women in STEM by providing a National advocate. Here in Victoria we have empowering role models in both Jaala Pulford, the State Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, and Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist.

In support of women’s voices on societies, boards and in governance, there is support from the Champions of Change, a group of influential male leaders that aim to redefine men’s roles in addressing gender inequality and supports them to step up besides women. Perhaps even ‘pay it forward’.

These initiatives complement the national Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, which recently piloted the successful UK Athena Swan Award, a charter with 10 key principles organisations must follow to address gender equity. It was found that women scientists employed in Athena Swan accredited organisations experienced greater career satisfaction, fairness in workload and increased opportunities.

In 2018, 15 institutions, including Monash University, were recipients of the inaugural Athena SWAN Bronze Award demonstrating the growing commitment of research to Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) in Australia.

In 2018 the Monash Athena SWAN Committee, in collaboration with STEMM (the second 'M' stands for 'Medicine') academics, action teams and other staff embarked on a reflective analysis of our staff profile, policies, procedures, practices and cultures to develop a four-year action plan to drive the advancement of women and diversity in STEMM.

Read a summary of the Monash University Athena SWAN Action Plan 2018-2021, which details the work we still need to do to drive the advancement of women and diversity in STEMM.

What are Monash University and Central Clinical School doing?

Over the past nine months, Monash University has already made significant progress towards our objectives, including:

  • A program for staff to navigate the transition from parental leave back to work
  • Senior leaders have completed unconscious bias training.
  • Academic staff surveyed on their experience of diversity and inclusion at Monash
  • Benchmarked ourselves in the Australian Workplace Equality Index, which assesses our performance in LGBTIQ inclusion.
  • Publishing an ‘Expectant and New Parents’ Guide for Monash staff to increase the visibility of support available to parents and carers
  • A program to support new fathers in the workplace
  • Introducing a Gender Affirmation/Transition in the Workplace Procedure for staff wishing to formally affirm their gender at Monash University.

Within the Central Clinical School, the Gender Equity Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) committee are continually working towards improving equality for all professional, academic and education staff. 

In 2020 we ran the ‘Mapping the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the medical research workforce’ CCS survey and implemented the Affirmative Action checklist to increase parity at all school seminars, meetings and workshops. (See separate story)

In 2021, based on survey results, we will commence a seminar series to improve researcher visibility and collaborations across the precinct for those impacted by GEDI issues, and continue to work towards parity across school meetings. The committee will continue to celebrate national and international GEDI events including LGBTI in STEM day, NAIDOC week and International Women’s Day, and watch this space for new initiatives across the GEDI space in 2021.

To be part of International Women and Girls in STEM Day

  • attend the The Convergence Science Network Women in Biomedicine series featuring Monash University Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Kylie Quinn. Details 
  • join the conversation across social media with #WomenInScience 

See more about the CCS GEDI committee on the CCS intranet:

Our members are Jess Borger (Chair), Michelle Zajac (Deputy Chair), Catherine Carmichael, Meaghan Clough, Alex Dimitropoulos, Zhoujie Ding, Sam El-Osta, Scott Kolbe, Loretta Piccenna, Min Tan, Lenka Vodstrcil

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