Women in Health Science

Gender equity in NHMRC funding schemes

Professor Anne Kelso AO, NHMRC CEO

Gender Equity – A Priority for NHMRC

For most Australian women today, whatever our age, our opportunities and choices have been far greater than those of our mothers and grandmothers – thanks to education, reproductive choice, relative affluence and social change.

And yet, for a number of years, success rates for women in most NHMRC schemes have been below those of men. As I consider possible changes to our grant program following the Structural Review, I look for opportunities to redress this imbalance.

Women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, yet only 17% of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes are women.1 Women are also a minority among NHMRC Research Fellows. NHMRC is deeply concerned about the loss of female talent from health and medical research and the impact this has on Australia’s contribution to global health and medical research.

NHMRC’s initiatives to advance gender equity

NHMRC has implemented a number of initiatives to advance gender equity which include:

Leading by example:

  • introducing gender equity policy requirements for all NHMRC Administering Institutions
  • drawing on expert advice through the NHMRC Women in Health Science Working Committee
  • introducing the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship, awarded to outstanding women Research Fellows

Challenging bias and ensuring fair and inclusive funding processes:

  • engaging the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling to analyse NHMRC funding data to get a more sophisticated understanding of issues affecting women’s success rates
  • introducing policies to take career disruption and ‘relative to opportunity’ considerations into account during peer review
  • offering part-time opportunities across all NHMRC schemes
  • introducing operational improvements to support those with carer responsibilities e.g. not sending out emails with deadlines attached on Friday afternoons or after 2pm
  • introducing videoconferencing to facilitate the participation of people with carer responsibilities on NHMRC peer review panels

Supporting change in Australia’s research community:

  • supporting the Australian Academy of Science’s Athena SWAN pilot
  • aligning NHMRC’s gender equity work with the Australian Research Council, the National Innovation and Science Agenda, including the Women in STEM Entrepreneurship project, and other government initiatives

The issues facing women researchers are complex. We will continue to work with the sector to promote gender equity in access to NHMRC funding and in the wider health and medical research sector.

[1] Australian Academy of Science, 21 February 2017, https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/gender-equity.

Further information

Leading by example

Challenging bias and ensuring fair and inclusive funding processes

Supporting change in Australia’s research community