Gender Equity Push Fails to Correct Research Grant Disparities in Australia

In 2019, Australian female scientists were less likely to win investigator grants – a major type of medical research grant – than their male colleagues, despite a recent overhaul of Australia’s science funding. Out of 17 women who applied for investigator grants through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), only five (29.4%) were selected, compared with 37 out of 75 male scientists (49.3%) with the same level of experience.

The new report suggests that the recent changes made to the Australian government’s funding mechanisms, including efforts to address gender inequity, have not yet been successful. “We’re putting millions of dollars into programs and time and effort to maintain women in STEM, but then we only fund five [senior women]. It’s a poor message,” said Marguerite Evans-Galea, PhD, molecular biologist and co-founder of the nonprofit association Women in STEMM Australia.

Last year, the Australian NHMRC released a gender strategy report with new grant programs designed to extend more funding opportunities to women and accommodate researchers who need the flexibility to work part-time because of childcare and other responsibilities.

The funding gap also may be related to the “leaky pipeline” (women dropping out of science careers), leading to fewer senior women scientists applying for grants. Application rates between women and men are more equal at early- and mid-career stages, according to data on the NHMRC website.

Source: Nature, October 22, 2019.