Pilot program a "game changer" for women in science

Professor Elizabeth Sullivan (right) at a Women in Science Research Equity event. Picture supplied

Professor Elizabeth Sullivan (right) at a Women in Science Research Equity event. Picture supplied

In summary: 
  • UTS has been selected to participate in a national pilot program to improve the promotion and retention of women and gender minorities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine
  • The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot is the first Australian trial of the successful UK Athena SWAN gender equity accreditation program

UTS is among 32 Australian universities and research organisations selected to participate in a pilot program to improve the promotion and retention of women and gender minorities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

Launched today in Canberra, the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot is a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. It will be the first Australian trial of the successful UK Athena SWAN gender equity accreditation program.

The program rates the gender equity policies and practices of participating organisations with a gold, silver or bronze award and helps them to develop ways to promote and retain women and gender minorities in their organisations. The Athena SWAN Charter began a decade ago with just 10 universities but has grown today to include as a member nearly every STEMM education and research institution in the UK.

"We're looking forward to this opportunity to work collaboratively with like-minded and committed universities and research organisations, like the CSIRO, involved in the SAGE pilot," said UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs.

"We know that many of the more complex problems we face in gender equity are common across our institutions, so the cooperative model promoted by Athena SWAN will enable us to learn from each other and help build a much stronger and healthier and more equitable higher education sector.

UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs speaks at a Research Equity Initiative forum. Picture supplied UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs speaking at a Research Equity Initiative forum. Picture supplied

"A focus on equity has always been core to UTS. We're acknowledged as a leading higher education organisation in promoting gender equity and an inclusive work and study environment, one of only three Australian universities to have been a Gender Equality Agency Employer of Choice since the inception of the award. Also, of the 46 institutions who responded to a National Health and Medical Research Council survey of gender policies last year, UTS was one of only two organisations rated as outstanding in providing support for gender equity.

"However, we recognise that there is so much more we can be doing which is why we are delighted that the SAGE program gives us the chance to share our successes and learn from others.

"Equity is not just a matter of principle at UTS. It is part of our core business and we will continue to strive to do more in this area and support staff at all stages in their careers."

Associate Dean (Research) for the UTS Faculty of Health, Professor Elizabeth Sullivan, is head of the UTS self-assessment team for the SAGE pilot. Professor Sullivan said UTS is well above the sector average for women in senior academic positions and has one of highest representations of women professors.

"However, like institutions across the sector, we continue to be challenged by the loss of women as they move up the academic career structure, resulting in a significant underrepresentation of women at senior academic positions," Professor Sullivan said.

"We also appreciate that this is not just about women. One of the critical findings of a 2014 independent evaluation of the UK Athena SWAN program was that it had a marked positive impact on the workplace culture for all staff, not just women. We anticipate this will be the case at UTS too."

UTS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Glenn Wightwick, said the pilot offered UTS an opportunity to further engage staff and students, in particular men and women in STEMM faculties, in critically examining organisational cultures and practices.

"UTS is recognised for its award-winning UTS: Women in Engineering and IT Program, delivering outreach communications and hands-on activities for schools and leadership and mentoring initiatives for students with industry partners. The program has been inspiring and engaging young women to undertake engineering and IT study and careers since 1981 – the longest running program of its kind in Australia.

"UTS has a high-level organisational KPI for women in senior academic positions and an integrated program to improve gender equity across the organisation, including a major Research Equity Initiative supporting staff with carer responsibilities," Professor Wightwick said.

"We believe the SAGE pilot will help us build on the great work already being done to find new and innovative ways of working, including support for staff who may be further disadvantaged by factors such as race, disability, socio economic background and gender identity."