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Championing women in STEM: Leaders from Gilead, Roche Diagnostics, Noxopharm, SpeeDx and Research Australia speak up on bridging the gender gap

Health Industry Hub | February 13, 2023 |

Medical: Solving the biggest challenges of the 21st century requires the greatest scientific minds harnessing their full potential. And to do that, the world must address the gender inequities in the STEM sector.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, on 11 February, recognised the significant contribution that women make to the fields of science and technology.

In Australia, only 15% of the STEM qualified workforce are women despite the broader workforce having close to 50% female participation. According to Monash University, women are also underrepresented in STEM leadership roles with women making up approximately 17% of senior scientists in Australia.

There is overwhelming evidence that women face systemic challenges in the workforce in STEM and beyond, which negatively impacts their engagement, experiences and opportunities for career progression. Factors such as biased employment practices, lack of workplace flexibility, a concentration of women in industries that have lower than average incomes, and the propensity for women to have more time out of the workforce, all contribute to the pay gap where women earn less than men.

Jaime McCoy, General Manager of Gilead Australian & New Zealand, told Health Industry Hub “We recognise the incredible work of women and girls in science. Across the world, women are still underrepresented in sciences and are less likely to be promoted, receive smaller research grants than their male colleagues, and have shorter, less well paid careers.

“At Gilead ANZ we have such strong female representation across our organisation with two thirds of our ANZ leadership team identifying as women, and across our ANZ business, women make up 70% of our employees. We are committed to our corporate value of Inclusion with the work of ‘Women at Gilead’ employee resource group that ensure women have access to mentoring and networking to ensure strong and continued development. There is always more to do and but I am proud of what we have achieved, not just for the Gilead team but also striving to support the incredible Australian women across clinical, academia and public health.”

Between 2019 and 2021, male applicants received about 35% more investigator grants from the NHMRC and 67% more total funding (about $95 million extra per year) than female applicants. A new initiative being introduced this year will see NHMRC introduce a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and set targets to fund an equal number of leadership grants for women and men in the Investigator Grant scheme. 

Nadia Levin, CEO and Managing Director of Research Australia said “As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Research Australia is delighted to recognise the strong, vibrant and meaningful contribution that women and girls make in science. From Rosalind Franklin contributing to the discovery of the structure of DNA to Dorothy Hodgkin discovering the structure of insulin, we salute them all!

“However, we must acknowledge that there is significant evidence demonstrating that women are significantly underrepresented in Australia’s STEM skilled workforce, compared to other industries. We encourage all stakeholders from across the entire STEM ecosystem to review their funding, employment and access and equity practices to ensure that all Australians, including women and girls have equal access to the marvellous opportunities in STEM.”

We need the modern workforce to be reflective of our communities. This is a collective obligation which requires strategic actions to advance equity.

Dr Gisela Mautner, CEO of Australian clinical stage drug development company Noxopharm, commented “As a female scientist, head of a listed biotech company and a member of several boards, I am acutely aware of how much needs to be done to boost female representation in STEM. While it is a good sign that more young women are interested in these subjects at university, the higher they go from there in academia or corporate life, the bigger the attrition rate becomes.

“As priorities, we must continue to give young women the opportunity to study and become proficient in STEM subjects, increasing overall numbers in this age group. Additionally, we need to provide them with career opportunities that can take them all the way to the top. Too many women get derailed at the lower and medium career levels, and we must find specific ways to prevent this from happening and let them realise their enormous potential.”

Chief Scientific Officer and Founder of Australian company SpeeDx, Adj Professor Alison Todd, said “With over 60% females on staff, we are taking important steps towards reducing gender biases and promoting equal representation in the STEM-skilled workforce. Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, and hiring the best employees regardless of gender, is important for creating a productive and innovative work environment.”

In 2021, the gap between women’s and men’s pay in STEM industries was $26,784 or 18% – higher than the average pay gap of 14.2% across all industries in Australia.

Allison Rossiter, Managing Director of Roche Diagnostics, told Health Industry Hub “As the leader of a company with science at its heart and one that embraces and celebrates diversity, I am shocked and saddened that we are still seeing such gender disparity in 2023. I have studied and worked in computing, engineering and science for almost 30 years, and while I see more women working in STEM than in years gone by, we are still not where we should be.”

Ms Rossiter added “Let’s challenge ourselves and the girls and women in our lives to follow their dreams and believe in themselves and their talents. She believed she could, so she did.”

In reimagining healthcare across the entire patient journey, Health Industry HubTM is the only one-stop-hub bringing the diversity of Pharma, MedTech, Diagnostics & Biotech sectors together to inspire meaningful change.

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