Gender Equity at AIBN

4 December 2017

According to the World Economic Forum, we are currently entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technological upheaval that is already profoundly changing the way we live, work and interact. In terms of scope and complexity, this will be a global change unlike anything human society has previously experienced.  Our response, they urge, must be one of widespread collaboration across all sectors, coupled with the cultivation of expertise.

Indeed, humanity’s ability to address a wide range of global problems — from climate change and resource sustainability to food security and disease — will require advances in scientific knowledge and applied technology. We will also need the wisdom and capacity to effectively use those advances.

Yet due to gender inequality, a tremendous amount of intellectual talent is underused and inadequately cultivated. This is the case across all sectors, including STEM.  Given the critical role that STEM plays and will continue to play in humanity’s future, this presents a very serious problem. 

In STEM, specifically, the current situation is this:

Around 50% of PhD science graduates in Australia are female 
(source: Office of Chief Scientist)

Yet only 40% of junior STEM academics are female 
(source: Office of the Chief Scientist)

Just 17% of senior academic positions in Australia are held by women 
(source:  Office of the Chief Scientist)


Women are underrepresented in R&D in every region of the world 
(source: UNESCO)


Only around 30% of researchers around the world are women
 (source: UNESCO)

Globally, only 10 – 15% of high level managers in the tech sector are women 
(source: UN Women)

Only 20% of jobs in the world-wide energy sector are held by women 
(source: UN Women)

Globally, less than 10% of employees in innovation hubs are women
(source: UN Women)


In 2016, women in scientific fields in Australia earned 23.5% less than their male colleagues 
(source: Office of Chief Scientist

The percentage of female STEM graduates in the highest income bracket in Australia (above $104,000) was 12%, compared with 32% for male STEM graduates 
(source: Office of Chief Scientist)

This is just a snapshot, but a troubling one. According to the Office of the Chief Scientist, “Australia loses female talent at every stage of the STEM pipeline despite no innate cognitive gender differences.”

Indeed, Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, explains “We must ensure that women’s participation in innovation is not the exception, but becomes the norm.”

This is not just because women and men are equal in terms of intellectual merit, but there is also overwhelming evidence for the societal and economic benefits of gender parity.

AIBN intends to be part of the global concerted effort to achieve gender equality. To this end, we have established a number of initiatives that align with national and international recommendations to achieve parity as soon as possible.

In 2016, AIBN established the Gender Equity Commission to address gender imbalance in scientific research. The GEC is a panel of AIBN staff, chaired by Associate Professor Linda Lua, which aims to develop and monitor gender equity initiatives and provide a forum for communication relating to gender issues in our workplace. 

A wonderful range of initiatives have already been implemented by the GEC, including a commitment that 50% of all new senior academic leadership roles will be female, as well as budgeting for improved parental support to facilitate research, grant writing and conference attendance. The establishment of a new child friendly workspace also represents a positive, family-friendly step forward for the Institute.

The GEC also hosts presentations that address important gender-related issues associated with career advancement and has developed a range of brochures to promote funding opportunities for female academics and educate supervisors on parental leave support. In 2017, the GEC is currently expanding these efforts to facilitate AIBN’s participation in UQ’s SAGE Pilot of the Athena program.

Our new strategy ensures that career development for early and mid-career researchers is a priority at AIBN. We have taken steps to formalise this in our internal structure while continuing to offer broader and more sustainable career options for our internationally emerging researchers. These initiatives include access to teaching opportunities and mentoring programs, as well as continued career development support from the AIBN professional staff. 

AIBN was proud to host the International Conference for BioNano Innovation in 2017, which featured twenty-five leading female researchers from around the world, including Nobel Laureate Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, US National Medal of Science recipient Professor Geraldine Richmond, as well as multiple-award winners Professor Melissa Little and Professor Heather Maynard.

Concurrently, AIBN also hosted a workshop by Professor Geraldine Richmond on the Art of Negotiation in Science, as well as an additional presentation by Professor Richmond titled "The Importance of Diversity and Inclusive Leadership in Science and Innovation”. 

Initiatives such as these are demonstrations of AIBN’s dedication to advancing the careers of all our researchers. Our Institute is dedicated to finding solutions to society’s problems; facilitating achievement of gender equality in STEM is an important and necessary part of that vision. 


AIBN Women in Science Series home page

Gender and Diversity at AIBN