25 October 2019

Driving change to advance women in the research sector is a priority for the Australian Research Council (ARC). The underrepresentation of women, across almost all disciplines and the consequent impact on achieving Australia’s research and innovation goals is widely recognised. The recently released Gender and the Research Workforce report provides a range of information on gender representation across the disciplines in the university research sector. The discrepancy in the workforce is reflected in the participation of women and men in the ARC’s research grants processes.

In collaboration with key stakeholders, the ARC has an important role in continuing to support and increase participation by women across all research disciplines. The Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan MP recently announced that the ARC will consult on three initiatives, outlined below, with the aim of addressing this disparity. 

50:50 applications for the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme
Establishing a diverse early-career research workforce is crucial to keeping women in the research sector and providing a platform for promotion to integrate more women into senior positions. The goal of ensuring equal number of applications submitted by women and men to the ARC’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme would address a significant deficit. The aim will be to ensure equal applications for women and men from each research institution by 2023. With the support of Australian universities, this initiative has the potential to empower women to increase their presence in the research workforce. 

Gender parity for ARC College of Experts and Selection Advisory Committees
The ARC is committed to achieving gender balance on all committees. Under the National Competitive Grants Program, funding for all proposals is predicated on excellence, determined through a rigorous peer review process. The ARC College of Experts (the College) and Selection Advisory Committees are essential components of this process. The ARC has worked consistently to increase the participation of women on these committees, despite the small number of women occupying the senior positions appropriate for these roles, achieving 42 per cent representation on the College in 2019. To further advance this commitment, the ARC will consult on achieving a gender balance on the College by 2023 and the Selection Advisory Committees by 2025. This goal will align with the Australian Government’s gender diversity target for Government board positions and will bring the recognised benefits, including better representation and broader perspectives to the College. 

Reporting publicly by institution on the proportion of women included in applications for ARC funding
The ARC has been working with Australian universities to build the participation of women in the research workforce. The ARC reports annually to each organisation on the proportion of women named on their applications submitted for ARC funding. To date, this information has not been made public. Under this initiative, data about female representation on grants by institution will be published on the ARC website, while ensuring that privacy mandates are followed. Universities already demonstrating leadership in supporting female researchers will benefit from the increased visibility, including potentially being identified as employers of choice. This process will also provide a benchmark for organisations still building gender participation in their organisation.

These initiatives, if implemented, would form part of the ARC’s strong commitment to supporting women in the research workforce, including through targeted fellowships under the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme, incorporating mentoring for early career researchers, maternity and carer’s leave, part-time work options and extending eligibility for researchers who have experienced career interruptions.

The ARC will be consulting key stakeholders on these three initiatives by the end of the year.