Last Wednesday was a historic day – so remember it: September 16th, 2015. This was the day the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Pilot of the Athena SWAN program was launched at Parliament House in Canberra.

The SAGE Pilot

– A historic document

The SAGE Pilot will recognise research organisations that support the progression and professional development of women in science with a Gold, Silver or Bronze award. Thirty-two of Australia’s leading research organisations will participate in the SAGE Pilot including 25 universities, five medical research institutes and two publicly funded research organisations.

These organisations commit to the 10 principles of the Athena SWAN charter and will examine their statistics related to women in science: gender pay gaps, part-time employment, leadership/decision-making roles, contracts, committee service and teaching loads. They will develop and introduce initiatives like mentoring programs, unconscious bias training and technical support during parental leave to improve these stats. The level of improvement and its sustainability determine the award.

The SAGE initiative is led by Georgina Sweet Fellow Professor Nalini Joshi FAA, mathematician, University of Sydney and Nobel laureate Professor Brian Schmidt FAA FTSE, astrophysicist and incoming Vice-Chancellor, Australian National University. It is jointly supported by the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) with representatives of both organisations serving on the steering committee. Initial funding for the SAGE Pilot has been generously donated by Professor Joshi, Professor Schmidt, Professor Terry Speed and Professor Tanya Monro.

Canberra – where change happens

A warm and sunny day lit the gardens and halls of Parliament House for the launch of the SAGE Pilot. The energy in the room was palpable and filled with excitement. Delegates and speakers at the launch included Members of Parliament from the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering and the Parliamentary Friends of Science groups, representatives from the 32 organisations participating, members of the SAGE steering committee, Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and executive members of Women in Science AUSTRALIA.

– Canberra, city where change happens!
– View from Parliament House, Canberra


History over 30 years in the making

Professor Andrew Holmes, President of the Academy of Science opened proceedings and officially launched the SAGE Pilot initiative. The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry & Science, Federal Member for McPherson and co-convenor Parliamentary Friends of Science, spoke of her own experience in engineering and on the importance of women in science to innovation; quoting SAGE co-chair Professor Joshi: “diversity underlies innovation”.

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Professor Andrew Holmes
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The Hon. Karen Andrews, MP

The Hon. Amanda Rishworth MP, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education, Federal Member for Kingston and co-convenor Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering emphasised this was an initiative over 30 years in the making, recognising all who have advocated gender equity in science. SAGE co-chair Professor Schmidt joined the event by video to say the SAGE Pilot is the number one thing Australia can do to address gender equity in science, reiterating it will get us to “think, measure and act”.

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The Hon. Amanda Rishworth, MP
Professor Brian Schmidt, Nobel laureate


Australia needs more women in science leadership

Award-winning political journalist Lyndal Curtis facilitated a panel forum with SAGE steering committee co-chair Professor Joshi and committee members Professor Sharon Bell Deputy Vice Chancellor, Charles Darwin University and Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea Scientist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Co-Founder, Women in Science AUSTRALIA.

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Political journalist Lyndal Curtis with Prof. Nalini Joshi, Prof. Sharon Bell and Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea

The discussion introduced the Athena SWAN program and how it could provide a framework for Australian research organisations, highlighted the key benefits of the SAGE initiative and what organisations could do to address gender equity – including examining the metrics used to evaluate successful scientists, unconscious bias training and the provision of technical support for early- and mid-career researchers on parental leave to reduce the impact of career disruptions. The importance of having women in science as role models for school students and how brave conversations about gender can be a catalyst for change to increase diversity more broadly, were also discussed.


A bright future for women in STEMM

David Ruebain, Chief Executive Equity Challenge Unit in the United Kingdom wished the SAGE Pilot well saying he looked forward to working with the SAGE team in Australia.  The Hon. Kelly O’Dwyer MP. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Federal Member for Higgins and co-convenor Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering reminded everyone that scientists like data and that data drives change.

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David Ruebain
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The Hon. Kelly O’Dwyer, MP

The Hon Richard Marles MP. Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Federal Member for Corio and co-convenor Parliamentary Friends of Science confessed it was the first time he had been ‘out-numbered’ by women at a Parliamentary Friends of Science event and purposefully declared science remains the number one driver of future economic reform in Australia. SAGE committee member and Vice-President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Dr Susan Pond, brought the event to a close reiterating that SAGE is an idea that will change lives.

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The Hon. Richard Marles, MP
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Professor Susan Pond

Women in Science AUSTRALIA says congratulations to all women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, including health and medicine! Transformational times have arrived and history has been made. Celebrate the moment and look ahead with optimism. The gender landscape of science is going to change, so dream big and go for it!

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The women and men celebrating the launch of the SAGE Pilot


Photographs of this event are provided thanks to the Australian Academy of Science and Women in Science AUSTRALIA.

About the author:

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Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea is an investigator at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. She leads international collaborations that examine disease mechanism and develop novel therapies for repeat-associated neurodegenerative diseases. In an NHMRC-funded project, she is developing cell and gene therapies for Friedreich ataxia. Maggie has received young investigator awards from the USA and Australia, and travel awards to present her research internationally. Committed to empowering early career researchers, Maggie was founding chair of the EMCR Forum with the Australian Academy of Science. She currently serves on the American Society for Gene and Cell Therapy Immune Responses Committee, the Australasian Gene and Cell Therapy Society Executive and the Australian Science and Innovation Forum, a partner of ATSE. She also serves on the SAGE steering committee and is co-founder of Women in Science AUSTRALIA. Maggie has won an Australian Leadership Award and communicates regularly via social and mainstream media.

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