Fund women in STEM equitably: support for an overhaul of NHMRC funding

Men were disproportionately awarded a staggering 23% more grants than women, corresponding to an extra $95 million in funding.

Australia needs a diverse and equitable research landscape to tackle our current and future global health challenges. A new petition regarding the gender inequalities in the current National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding scheme is seeking your support.

NHMRC is awarding women significantly less funding than their male counterparts in a broken system, one which requires an urgent strategic overhaul to provide equitable outcomes for all researchers.

Career success in research depends on key metrics including: (1) research publications; (2) conference presentations and (3) the successful award of grants. Government funded grants and fellowships enable researchers to continue their long-term research contributions to enhance Australian’s knowledge economy and provide essential career development through addressing the three key metrics to retain their competitiveness. For many researchers, government funded grants and fellowships are the sole source of their salaries and those of the early career researchers they supervise, and ensure the provision of laboratory consumables, tools and technology to perform their research. Lack of funding is the main driver of the loss of highly qualified and experienced researchers from academia, and also a major promotion hurdle. These researchers continue to be disproportionately women.

“In academia, women make up approximately half of early-career researchers (ECRs), consisting of junior investigators with a PhD or equivalent in STEMM, but the ‘scissor graph’ demographic shows that women continue to be excluded from fully participating in science, with a striking loss of women as seniority increases.”

The largest contributing factor to this lack of retention of women in Science Technology Engineering Maths and Medicine (STEMM) is that women receive fewer grants, or, if funded, are awarded less money, due to gender bias in the peer-review system, which is clearly demonstrated by the recent NHMRC Investigator Grant outcomes. These grants comprise approximately 40% of the NHMRC annual funding and are awarded to single investigators, provide funding that supports the salaries and consumable expenses in the investigator’s laboratory. The gendered loss of funding significantly impacts the ability of women investigators to conduct research and hence the ability of women to produce the key metrics required for promotion and retention.

“Although an equivalent number of grant applications were received from female and male researchers, men were disproportionately awarded a staggering 23% more grants, corresponding to an extra $95 million in funding awarded to men each year.”  

Gendered funding outcomes are not a new issue, but it is one that requires urgent change.  The NHMRC needs to take responsibility and act now to support and improve the retention of women in STEMM.

We are calling on the NHMRC to improve equity for women in STEMM by allocating the same amount of funding to each gender (including a separate pot for non-binary applicants) and to set quotas at each of the Investigator Grant (fellowship) levels for each gender to ensure that all academic levels are supported with equity. Please sign with your support for equitable funding for women in STEMM.

Sign the Petition