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.