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UC joins program to improve gender equality in STEMM sector

The University of Canberra has joined a pilot program aimed at addressing gender inequity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) education and careers.

Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is a national program run by the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Academy of Technology and Engineering, which focuses on promoting gender equity and gender diversity in STEMM.

The University of Canberra was awarded membership to the SAGE Athena SWAN Charter in Australia in September last year, and is one of 32 organisations, including 25 universities Australia-wide participating in the program.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Frances Shannon, who has championed the University's involvement in the pilot program, said there was a real need for more women to consider a career in STEMM.

"The University is already an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, recognising our commitment to gender equity in the workplace, an award we have received each year since 2007. While we are immensely proud of this achievement, we recognise the need to do even more to encourage and support women to pursue a career in STEMM." Professor Shannon said.

" In Australia, fewer than one in four positions in STEMM fields are held by women, that means that there is little diversity of perspectives when addressing the kinds of problems we expect our scientists, engineers, designers and doctors to take on," she said.

As part of the program, the University will collect and analyse data on its gender equity policies and practices in STEMM and identify areas with room for improvement. The University hopes to receive an Athena SWAN bronze award by the end of the pilot in 2018.

A working group of 17 faculty and professional staff members will act as the University's self-assessment team, including Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Nick Klomp, cancer researcher Professor Sudha Rao and the head of the physiotherapy discipline Professor Jennie Scarvell.

Professor Klomp said the group will be analysing data from across the University to gauge the number of women working in STEMM related fields compared to non-STEMM fields.

"An action plan will be created in the coming months, which will aim to increase gender equity at the University, with policy approaches on recruitment, promotion and retention of women-identified STEMM researchers and with a focus on improving gender diversity in senior positions," Professor Klomp said.

Other organisations participating in the pilot program include the CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

The Athena SWAN Charter process is based on ten key principles. 

By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including: * the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
  4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
  5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
  6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
  7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by transgender people.
  8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
  9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
  10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

The University of Canberra has joined forces with a number of other leading universities and organisations to ensure the talents of women are better represented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) education and careers. Over eight months, UC and its partners contributed energy, ideas, and action to ensure STEMM-related fields benefit from diverse minds, diverse knowledge and skill-sets, and diverse human networks to respond quickly, intelligently and in impactful ways.

This project resulted in the cross-institutional video ‘STEMM’s got talent, but nearly lost it’, which captures the stories of successful individuals who have pursued careers in science; how at times, they nearly turned away from STEMM, and how a range of obstacles were overcome along the way.

It also explores their institutions’ role in unlocking and harnessing the potential of the human mind, regardless of gender. The participating institutions are the University of Canberra (UC), The Australian National University (ANU), CSIRO, University of South Australia (UniSA), University of Sydney, and Cambridge.

Our leaders are committed to this effort:

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini: “The University of Canberra has long been committed to developing and fostering an environment that promotes gender equality. Through this culture, we have seen first-hand the positive impact a diverse workforce has on our capacity to facilitate transformative learning and research, particularly in STEMM. It’s important that we continue to unlock and harness the potential of the human mind for the benefit of our community and beyond, and gender should not stand in the way of this. Not now, not ever.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC: “For ANU, the SAGE initiative is a program that will help the University both think about the problems around gender equity, and then find ways to fix those problems. We are delighted to be working with other research institutions in our region to break down barriers and inspire more women to have rewarding careers in STEMM.”

CSIRO Deputy Chief Executive Craig Roy: “It takes billions of grains of sand to make a beach but it only takes a small number of inspirational stories to change the world – ‘STEMMS’s got talent, but nearly lost it’ shows us that it is possible to change the future of science and humanity. We need all the talent we can harness – let’s do it, grain by grain, story by story, step by step.”

Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann: “Equality of opportunity is a core part of our organisational DNA at Charles Sturt University - we think of ourselves as fundamentally an access university.  STEMM has particular issues and we have been very pleased to work with the SAGE program to address gender equity issues in these disciplines - we cannot afford to discard so much talent if we are to solve our issues as a nation and as a planet.”

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence: “We stand firm in our commitment to advancing gender equity, promoting women in leadership and furthering women’s education. Through the SAGE and other University initiatives, we are fostering the careers of outstanding women in STEMM and seeking to remove the obstacles that prevent women from achieving their full potential. By working together with our partners across higher education, we can continue to drive change and open the way for more women to succeed in Australian science and technology.”

The film features physicist Professor Tanya Monro (University of South Australia), early-career researcher and biochemist Dr Anna El-Tahchy (CSIRO Agriculture and Food), mathematician Professor Nalini Joshi (University of Sydney), Dr John Rolley researcher in nursing and clinical medicine (University of Canberra), Professor Emily Banks epidemiologist and public health physician (ANU), Professor Frances Shannon epigenetics and immunology scientist (University of Canberra), and Dame Ottoline Leyser, Plant developmental biologist and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory (Cambridge).

As an individual, you can share your own story and reach out to hear those of others. Contact Shubhra Roy: + 61 401064014  or Shubhra.Roy@canberra.edu.au