The Future of Science: Women

14 March

The important role of women in science will be the focus of a National Press Club panel discussion in March exploring the key issues impacting gender equality in science and the key question of “Why do women leave science?”

A panel will address this question and the rate at which women are leaving scientific careers on March 30 at the National Press Club.

veski chief executive officer Ms Julia L Page said she is very happy to see the topic getting the attention it needs with a National Press Club address and recognises that "women are underrepresented in the sciences, particularly at the post-doc and faculty levels and Australia is losing women from the science sector on a regular basis”.

The Academy of Science has worked with the National Press Club to put together a lunch-time discussion with three leading scientists and role models, all working hard to stop the science “brain drain” that is forcing out some of Australia’s best minds to leave their fields. 

Australian Academy of Science Medalist and scientist Dr Emma Johnston will join the panel along with Dr Nalini Joshi Australian Laureate Fellow in mathematics and the Chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney and Professor Tanya Monro, Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at the University of Adelaide.

More women than men major in the biological sciences at the undergraduate level and roughly equal numbers of women and men go to graduate school in the biological sciences, but then the women begin to disappear. By discussing this, we can understand the phenomenon better and in turn develop strategies to retain them in the workforce. The panel discussion will confront these brain drain issues and introduce some possible solutions.

The panel will also explore why women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but just 17% of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes. The loss of so many women scientists is a significant waste of expertise, talent and investment, and this impacts our nation’s scientific performance and productivity.

Australia needs to urgently address barriers of gender equity to:

  • retain our best scientists and innovators to ensure Australia effectively maintains research and development excellence
  • keep our best and brightest minds in the fields in which they have the most potential to deliver
  • ensure social and economic returns on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent each year on training women scientists, by supporting them.

Current approaches to tackling gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and medicine (STEMM) have been fragmented and for the most part unsuccessful. That’s why we need to talk about the issues and highlight some key changes.

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