The Australian National Commission for UNESCO, the Australian National Committee for UN Women and the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) held the Women in Science and Engineering Summit (WiSE) at Parliament House in Canberra on 11 April 2011. The Summit brought together science and industry leaders, advocates, and high-achieving young women in science and engineering to discussed how to keep women in science and encourage more young women into engineering in order to boost productivity and equity.
The summit was opened with addresses from Ms Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia, and Dr Cathy Foley, President FASTS. The program included a series of panel discussions and roundtables that generated debate and practical suggestions for addressing the complex issues contributing to the under representation of women in science and engineering.
Stories from the frontline
Chair: Ms Kathy Hirschfeld FTSE, Non-executive Director, Snowy Hydro Ltd
Prof Carola Vinuesa, Viertel Senior Research Fellow and Head, Dept of Pathogens and Immunity, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU
Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, SKA Project Scientist, CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science
Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat, Group Leader, Stem Cells and Cancer Division, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Ms Monica Colzato, New Product Industrialisation Manager, Cochlear Ltd
Ms Susan Denk, Chair, Women In Mining and Resources Queensland
Dr Susan Pond AM, Director, ANSTO and ATSE.
Dr Margaret Sheil on behalf of Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.
Roundtable 1: Improving the workplace – gender equity in action
Facilitator: Geraldine Chin Moody, Board Member, UN Women Australia
Prof Bryan Gaensler, Australian Laureate Fellow/CAASTRO Director, University of Sydney
Prof Caroline Crosthwaite, Associate Dean (Academic), Faculty of Engineering, Architecture & Information Technology, The University of Queensland
Dr Stella Clark, CEO, Bio21 Cluster
Dr Renate Egan, Chief Technology Officer, CSG Solar AG WiSEsummit
Roundtable 2: Attracting school and university students to the physical sciences, engineering and maths
Facilitator: Ms Donelle Wheeler, Board Member, UN Women Australia
Dr Naomi Mathers, Program Developer, Victorian Space Science Education Centre
Dr Marlene Kanga, National Councillor, Engineers Australia
Assoc Prof Iwona Miliszewska, Head, School of Engineering and Science, Victoria University
Ms Alicia Hurkmans, President of the Adelaide Chapter of Young Scientists of Australia
Roundtable 3: Changing the system–leaders of science and engineering agencies in discussion with the Hon Kate Ellis MP
- CSIRO, Australia’s largest employer of researchers, committed to remove barriers to the promotion of highly skilled women and to increase incentives to encourage women to return to the workforce after maternity leave. It also agreed to increase the number of Payne-Scott awards—designed to bring women back to the workforce after maternity leave; report on gender participation within the CSIRO; and remove cultural barriers, and build greater trust and respect within the CSIRO.
- The nation’s leading research funders, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC), agreed to changes in how they assess research publications in the grant applications of those with interrupted careers.
- The ARC committed to extending the research period taken into account. The NHMRC this year will consider any nominated five years of an applicant’s career rather than simply the previous five years. It has also agreed to monitor gender issues in general.
- The Australian Technology Network universities have set a performance target that the number of female staff who teach science, engineering and technology (STE) subjects will be in the same proportion as women employed in STE industries (about 16 per cent);
- IBM, a significant employer of scientists and technologists, has agreed to support CSIRO’s Science in Schools program;
- The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), Australia’s peak body for science and technology, has undertaken to work with scientific societies Australia-wide to conduct an audit of practices with a view to increasing the participation of women through best practice;
- FASTS will also gather examples of existing practices, programs and policies which have been successful and develop a toolkit to guide the science and technology sector;
- All research leaders agreed to take the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles back to their organisations with a view to adopting them
VSSEC Program Developer, Dr Naomi Mathers, participated in the Summit as a panelist in the Roundtable 2 discussions. "It was an honour to join so many inspirational women scientists and engineers with the common goal of improving the opportunities for future generations of women researchers. The students moving through the education system have so much potential, it would be a great loss to the economy if we don't embrace and support all they have to offer".
The Summit was supported by lead sponsors CSIRO, Telstra Foundation, ANSTO and Cochlear Ltd, as well as support from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research (WEHI) , National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Research Council, Australian Academy of Science, CSL, Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Bio21 Cluster, and the Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation (VESKI).