Taking action on gender equality

Ophthalmology Professor Justine Smith, left, and Professor Rob Saint, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), from Flinders’ SAGE initiative, with guest speakers Dr Wafa El-Adhami and Professor Bob Williamson at the official launch of the Athena SWAN @ Flinders project.

Gender equity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and medicine (STEMM) is in the spotlight at Flinders this week.

Flinders University is one of 40 Australian organisations supporting the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot project which aims to promote and retain more women in senior STEMM positions.

Over the next two years, Flinders will assess and address structural and other barriers to gender equality in order to apply for accreditation under the progressive Athena SWAN charter.

The SAGE pilot is introducing the principles of the UK-based Athena SWAN charter to promote equity and inclusion through an evaluation and accreditation framework to identify and address gender inequity in science and research organisations.

SAGE national leader Dr Wafa El-Adhami, officially launching Athena SWAN @ Flinders, said the program is making a real difference in many sectors of higher education, research and government in the UK where it now covers STEMM along with the humanities, arts, business, law and other sectors.

Dr El-Adhami, the Executive Director of SAGE at the Australian Academy of Science, welcomed Flinders into the group of 30 universities and 10 research organisations in Australia where the pilot program for bronze accreditation has commenced.

Led by some of the most eminent scientists, she says the program is gathering “real momentum for change” in Australia.

“The time to take action is now, and there are no excuses not to make systemic and positive changes,” Dr El-Adhami said.

“The Athena SWAN program is not just a checklist to implement change. It involves considerable introspective analysis to collect data and take action to address issues of gender inequity within higher education and research organisations.”

While approximately as many women graduate in science as men, considerably fewer women progress to senior and professional and academic including professorial positions, with many leaving STEMM research and professions in their early or mid-careers.

The SAGE project in Australia seeks to remove inequalities and barriers which underpin the loss of women from the sciences which in turn causes a substantial economic and social cost in training, talent and opportunities for scientific innovation.

A more detailed information session will be given on Tuesday 20 September at 10am in Lecture Theatre 1.01 in the Health Sciences lecture Theatre Complex. All staff and students are welcome to attend.

Dr El-Adhami, who has a research background in molecular biology and microbiology, has held a number of senior management positions in the Australian Government, including the Department of Health and Ageing, the Office of Chemical Safety and the Occupational Health and Safety Commission. She has also worked as an international consultant in health policy, regulation and clinical solutions.

Professor Bob Williamson, a former director and Honorary Senior Principal Fellow of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, will also speak at the forum, along with Dr Saraid Billiards, Athena SWAN Manager of Strategy and Engagement at the Australian Academy of Science.

Professor Williamson, who is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences and the Royal Society, has been a member of the NHMRC Women in Health Science Working Committee since 2014.

The event will also be recorded and will be available for live streaming via: http://video.flinders.edu.au/events/SAGE2016.cfm

The Athena Project started in 1999 and one of its branches, the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), later proposed a National Charter for Women and Science (2005). By May 2015, the UK charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for transgender staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.


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