18 December 2023

In its first year, the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) new gender equity initiative has led to women receiving more overall funding than men in its Investigator Grant scheme.

The Investigator Grant scheme plays a critical role in the Australian health and medical research sector by providing a significant research support package, and a salary if required, over 5 years for the highest-performing researchers across all career stages.

The initiative included the introduction of a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, that extends targets to award an equal number of grants to women and men across the senior Leadership levels of the Investigator Grant scheme. 

At the early and mid-career levels of the scheme, the existing special measure was applied to the extent necessary to achieve equal funded rates by gender.

This is the first year, since the launch of the scheme in 2019, where overall more funding has been awarded to women than men. This follows from the application of new gender equity special measures under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

NHMRC funds high-quality health and medical research and builds research capability. With these special measures NHMRC will continue only to fund applicants that have been assessed as at least ‘excellent’ through NHMRC’s independent scientific peer review process.

The new approach is addressing gender disparities for women by:

  • maintaining a strong pipeline of women in the early and mid-career stages
  • ensuring that women continue to be funded at later career stages in sufficient numbers to be visible
  • making it attractive to recruit, retain and support women so that they may achieve the level of success that makes intervention unnecessary.

Funded researchers have flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise, adjust resources accordingly, and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project.

The additional special measures were implemented following a national consultation in 2022 on options to reach gender equity in NHMRC’s Investigator Grant scheme.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, this initiative is set to address systemic disadvantage faced by women and non-binary applicants to this scheme.

More details can be found on the gender equity page on NHMRC’s website.

Quotes attributable to NHMRC CEO Professor Steve Wesselingh:

  • 'As Australia’s largest funder of health and medical research, NHMRC has a responsibility to support a gender diverse and inclusive workforce through the research it funds.'
  • 'The outcome of this initiative was to see more women and non-binary researchers apply for and win these significant grants.'
  • 'We look forward to seeing more gender diversity at the most senior levels of Australian health and medical research in the years ahead, and reduced need for intervention.'