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Promoting and improving gender equality in research – a work in progress

Promoting and improving gender equality in research – a work in progress


The ARC is committed to research workforce diversity and aims to contribute to a strong and sustainable Australian research workforce through our policies and programs. In particular, we are committed to ensuring all eligible researchers, irrespective of gender, have a fair opportunity to participate in the funding schemes of the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP).

While the success rates of male and female researchers awarded funding across most NCGP schemes are comparable, the ARC acknowledges the overall underrepresentation of women in the Australian research sector. We also recognise our leadership role in Australia to improve gender diversity in academia and improve the participation rate of women in the NCGP.  

To support the ARC’s efforts to promote and improve gender equality, the ARC has an ARC Statement of Support and Expectations for Gender Equality and annual ARC Gender Equality Action Plan. The Statement outlines the ARC’s approach to gender equality in the NCGP and the expectations the ARC has for administering organisations (mainly Australian universities) to support gender equality. The Action Plan outlines the ARC’s commitment to gender equality, and the plan is reviewed and updated on an annual basis.

Progress so far

Since the Statement and Action Plan were first released in 2015, the ARC has taken significant steps to:

  • improve the gender balance on ARC committees, with the proportion of female members on the ARC’s College of Experts increasing from 29 per cent in 2016 to 43 per cent in 2018
  • provide annual reports to each Australian university on the gender profile of researchers applying from their organisation, to improve awareness across universities of the gender balance of researchers applying for NCGP grants
  • provide an opportunity for some of Australia’s leading female researchers to network and discuss gender equality issues and initiatives by holding forums for Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellows
  • strengthen the profile of female researchers on the ARC website, helping to promote the outstanding work by female NCGP-funded researchers
  • equip ARC assessors with tools to identify and manage unconscious bias by introducing unconscious bias training as part of the induction for all new College of Experts members
  • ensure that the ARC Research and Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) Statement is continuing to provide an equitable assessment of a researcher’s academic achievement compared to their career stage and the research opportunities that have been available to them
  • continually monitor the participation and success rates for female researchers for the NCGP, sharing this information with our stakeholders and feeding it into policy development.

Georgina Sweet and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowships

 In addition to these activities, since 2011 a total of 16 esteemed female researchers have been awarded our highly prestigious Georgina Sweet and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowships to undertake an additional ambassadorial role to promote and support women in research.

To be considered for these named Australian Laureate Fellowships, candidates must first be selected as an Australian Laureate Fellow and only candidates who can clearly demonstrate their capacity to promote women in research, mentor early career researchers, particularly women, and encourage them to enter and establish careers in research in Australia are awarded an ARC Georgina Sweet or Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship.

These Fellows have used the role and accompanying funding support to establish and lead a range of positive initiatives, including:

ARC support for researchers who have had academic interruptions

The ARC also has a range of policies and mechanisms in place to further support gender equality. These include maternity/parental/partner leave and part-time arrangements for fellowship and awards; extension of eligibility requirements for some fellowships and awards; and eligibility criteria that take into consideration career interruptions for parental and caring responsibilities.

The ARC accommodates family or carer responsibilities by including entitlements and the ability to convert Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards, Discovery Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards, and Future Fellowships to or from part-time.

Irrespective of gender and/or carer responsibilities, these measures are in place to support flexible working arrangements and parental leave entitlements for the award or fellowship recipient. Mechanisms are in place to support new parents across all ARC award and fellowship schemes to include up to 14 weeks paid maternity leave and two weeks paid partner/parental leave at the time of birth or adoption.

Looking ahead

The latest Gender Equality Action Plan for 2018 has now been published and, in addition to building upon our work so far, commencing in 2018 the ARC will:

  • investigate ways to increase the number of female assessors on ARC committees where there is a gender imbalance
  • identify initiatives to further improve the diversity of researchers in ARC Centres of Excellence commencing in 2020
  • undertake a review of the provisions, requirements and management of maternity leave and parental/partner leave under the NCGP.

All these policies and initiatives emphasise the ARC’s ongoing commitment to gender equality in the research workforce. We will continue to work together with Australian universities to monitor the mechanisms we have in place to increase the participation of female researchers in our granting schemes and ensure that all outstanding researchers have the best possible opportunity to contribute to Australia’s research and innovation goals.

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