In recent decades women in Australia have made significant progress towards achieving equality with men but at a recent Energy and Minerals roundtable discussion on ‘Women in Energy’, one very clear message was that organisations needed strong leadership to further advance women in a male dominated sector.

While changes have occurred in universities, workplaces, boardrooms and government, with a growing number of women taking on leadership roles, sadly, women‘s participation in technology and engineering academia is declining.

EMI Director Mark Stickells said universities were not immune to challenges with culture, diversity and change.

“The diversity roundtable offered a constructive forum for reflection and debate on an important social and economic issue, for which we gained valuable insights to improve UWA’s performance,” he said.

One program that UWA has been participating in over the last year is the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot of the Athena SWAN charter in Australia.

The SAGE Athena SWAN program was established to provide national accreditation to research institutions that actively support gender equity in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) disciplines. For accreditation, UWA is developing an action plan to boost women’s participation in the traditionally male-dominated disciplines.

Professor Carolyn Oldham from UWA Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, is leading UWA’s Athena SWAN project and said that recent analysis of staff data highlighted the decline in academic women involved in engineering and technology, from 22 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2016. 

“At the same time there has also been a decline in the proportion of high-performing girls choosing to study engineering in UWA. In a state that is dominated by engineering industries, the lack of girls going into technology and engineering is a real concern.

“The Athena SWAN accreditation program has been operating in the United Kingdom for 15 years, and by linking research funding to gender accreditation, has improved gender equity in universities and research institutes.   

“The program has achieved excellent results in the UK; there are no concrete plans in Australia to link research funding to accreditation, but it will ensure equitable access to resources, promote the visibility of women role models in STEMM, and ultimately improve the student experience in the university. Hopefully it will help girls (and their parents) to see the exciting opportunities for careers in technology, engineering and maths.

“We want to empower young women to reach their full potential in STEMM, so by delivering workshops, forums and network meetings we will collect, analyse and present data on gender policies enabling us to develop initiatives for gender equity across staff and student bodies,” she said.

The application for Athena SWAN accreditation will be submitted in early 2018.   

In Australia SAGE includes 25 universities, five medical research institutes and two government agencies. 

Media reference

EMI Communications Coordinator Nicola Holman +61 439 906 200