The National Health and Medical Research Council today announced a new gender equity policy to support the retention and progression of women in health and medical research. See its media release and more details below.
It said the revised Administering Institution Policy aims to address the underrepresentation of women in senior research positions across Australia and applies to all institutions that receive NHMRC funding.
Outgoing NHMRC CEO Warwick Anderson announced the move today in a broad interview on Radio National’s Life Matters, that’s worth a listen.
In it, Anderson talked about his regrets on research into Indigenous health. He conceded he had taken an “activist” role in putting out targeted calls for research on suicide prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island young people and on foetal alcohol syndrome in Indigenous communties, but said:
“At my farewell to the Council a couple of weeks ago I said I did really feel, despite my personal commitment to it and the funding we’ve committed, we hadn’t done as much in Indigenous health as we would like to.”
He said in most main areas, such as cancer and cardiovascular issues, Australia research was crucial but represented only 3-4 per cent of world effort.
“But there are some areas where it has to be us, it has to be Australian research and the obvious one is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.”
The Council’s current strategic plan says it will continue to commit “at least five per cent” of funding of research, capacity building and translation to Indigenous Health research.
Anderson said he had asked the Cochrane Collaboration to do a survey of all the peer-reviewed literature in Indigenous health, not just that funded by the NHMRC, “so we can learn the policy implications out of the research”.
“This is often the other gap, between what we know and what we do…that goes generally in health, and certainly goes in Indigenous health,” he said. (Indigenous health leader Kerry Arabena explored that in 2013 at the Closing the Credibility Gap conference in Melbourne, covered by Croakey.)
Anderson said that in 2014, women accounted for 63 per cent of all applications for NHMRC’s early career fellowships, but the figure fell to just 11 per cent for NHMRC’s most senior and experienced fellowships.
Under the new policy, research institutions will have until the end of 2015 to update their gender equity policies – the NHMRC will look for:
- A strategy that addresses the underrepresentation of women in senior positions in health and medical research;
- Mentoring and skills training strategies that promote and seek to increase women’s participation;
- The provision of parental/maternity leave and carers leave, and transitional support to encourage return to work;
- Working arrangements that cater for individuals with caring responsibilities;
- Remuneration equity between men and women with the same responsibilities;
- Employment strategies that encourage the recruitment, retention and progression of women in health and medical research; and
- Strategies to address the need for the provision of support for childcare.
The announcement of the NHMRC’s new gender equity policy comes amid growing concern about the treatment of women in the health sector, with a number of senior women professionals blowing the whistle on sexism and harassment in the medical profession, particularly in hospitals.
In a front page interview with The Age, neurosurgeon Dr Caroline Tan outlined the cost to her career of taking sexual harassment action against a colleague.
The following day the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) announced it was establishing an expert advisory group “to deal with concerns of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the health sector”. It will be chaired by former Victorian Health Minister and current Royal Children’s Hospital chair Rob Knowles, with Dr Helen Szoke, current Oxfam Australia CEO and former Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, as deputy.
RACS President Michael Grigg said there was “no denying that bullying and harassment occurred within the health workforce” and the College of Surgeons had zero tolerance for this behaviour.