The Future of Science: Women

Today I attended an event on how women are the future of science, co-hosted by the Australian Academy of Science at the National Press Club of Australia. It was a truly excellent discussion and historic: the Press Club hosts hundreds of talks every year – but only a small number of women have been invited as speakers. Even more sobering is the fact that women make up less than one percent of the scientists who’ve been invited to address this national media forum.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) of the University of South Australia Professor Tanya Monro talked about how difficult her early career was because she took time to have children and she had to “bootstrap” funding for her first research centre. She was the first woman professor ever hired in the Physics department at one of Australia’s oldest universities since the University of Adelaide was established in the 1880s. 

Professor Emma Johnston, Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program, discussed how she “did everything wrong” in terms of her career: she chose to have children (unfortunately, the “motherhood penalty” creates barriers for women researchers); she invested a lot of time in her teaching and pastoral care of students (science careers punish this important but undervalued work); and she was reticent to put herself forward for promotions and grant funds – unsurprising since peer reviewers always took the time to tell her everything that was wrong with her grant applications: too many career gaps (spent looking after family). Professor Johnston had a focus on intersectionality throughout her talk, which was truly wonderful to hear.

Professor Nalini Joshi is the first woman professor of mathematics at the University of Sydney – Australia’s oldest and most prestigious education institution. She was only the third woman mathematician elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Science. She talked about how she chose to wear a white top to today’s televised panel because when she goes to the Academy events dressed in a black suit, with her name tag clearly displaying her name and professorial title, she is mistaken for a waitress by her peers. Professor Joshi talked about how the work we’re doing in Science in Australia Gender Equity will transform science careers, by actively requiring institutions to analyse data to identify gender equity and diversity issues. 

All three scientists discussed some practical solutions – most importantly, all three supported setting institutional targets to increase gender equity.

Watch the panel discussion on ABC Australia. Image: National Press Club.  

5 thoughts on “The Future of Science: Women

  1. And how are women the future of science? The only natural science where women are more present than in others is biology (at least in my country). And this is just because they don’t want to study informatics, physics or mathematics.


  2. Where do these people come from anyway? The disparity in gender representation in any field is entirely socially constructed. No difference in brain capacity or function explains the difference.


  3. Inter Action Women are the future of science because, as noted, they outnumber men in many fields as students and in junior levels but then structural barriers push them out. Ensuring that we keep this talent in STEMM improves science and innovation. Your subjective and sexist appraisal of “your country” has no bearing on this discussion because this post is about the science sector in Australia and also because this post and the work cited is informed by scientific evidence, not biased and lazy observations.


  4. It disgusted that it is 2016 and we even need this debate still. Since the 1980’s I have witnessed how unfairly women are treated in science, everything from punishing time out for a having children to mistreatment by peer group and opportunities given to some real second rate men.

    Whilst there may be schemes to encourage women into science it makes little difference if things on the ground do not change with respect to attitudes.

    With the sex discrimination act in force since 1975 you would think things would be very different now. Problem is, the law may be on your side, but as a female researcher/post doc etc, just need to find approx £25k to defend your rights and get access to the law.

    Keep up the fight…things are a long way from even.


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