Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Women in Science: A New Frontier in Australia

Credit: Bahudhara / CC by 4.0

Emma Johnston is a leading marine ecologist at the University of New South Wales and an ardent public advocate for women in science. She is a recipient of the Nancy Millis Medal. Credit: Bahudhara / CC by 4.0 wiki/File:Emma_Johnston.JPG

By Ann Moyal

The role of women in Australian science has been a contested arena, a place of major contributions yet of cultural disparity. The recent adoption of the SAGE initiative offers a route to greater gender equity in an innovative nation.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Women have played a significant role in Australian science for almost two centuries. From their period as colonial botanical and natural history illustrators and cultural educators, through their penetration in the early universities as science students, through wartime research and their spread into a maze of new laboratory and institutional positions, they have been essential contributors to scientific knowledge.

Yet despite being high achievers and the fact that by the late 1970s they constituted more than half the students studying for a science degree, the percentage of women in science has declined the higher up the professional ranks they climbed. As a Senate Committee of 1982 reported, there was a high attrition rate among women between the completion of an Honours degree and a higher degree, while promotion from tutor to lecturer was a key obstacle in their academic careers. Across the academic board, in 1983 only 16.1% of all university appointments were held by women.

What had happened? The reasons stacked up in the field of science. Women interested in academic careers encountered greater teaching burdens, faced disadvantageous peer review of prepublished papers and grant applications, published fewer papers from their PhD research than male colleagues, lacked mentoring, were frequently excluded from informal information networks, and were...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.