Women in science need champions, not mentors

2 October 2014

Women in science need champions, not mentors; people who will push them forward, said Adele Holloway, panellist at the recent Women in Science dinner at ANU.

"Women tend to wait too long before asking for promotion."

Six female scientists came from all over Australia to share knowledge from their own work in gender equality.

"One great example is labs that allocate technical support for two years to women going on maternity leave. It has been shown to make a major difference," Rachel Burton, from the University of Adelaide said.

In the quest to balance the workload of an early to middle science career with a family life, things are changing, the panellists agreed.

"The NHMRC and ARC both take career disruptions such as maternity leave into serious consideration when reviewing grant applications," said Sudha Rao from University of Canberra.

As well as the administrative changes, broader changes are required, Rachel Burton said.

"There will have to be a cultural shift before people accept, for example, that men can take time off to take care of their children," she said.

The panel concluded that, in the meantime, a supportive work environment and partner remain crucial to the success of a woman's science career, especially in the absence of extended family close by.

The panellists were Margaret Barbour (University of Sydney), Rachel Burton (University of Adelaide), Adele Holloway (University of Tasmania), Helen Irving (Monash University), Martha Ludwig (University of Western Australia) and Sudha Rao (University of Canberra).

The event was held at Teatro Vivaldi and was attended by 65 people. It was co-sponsored by the ANU Gender Institute, the Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, the Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology, the University of Canberra, the Australian Society of Plant Scientists, the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Nectar (ANU's Early Career Scientists and Academics association).