AAMRI’s five priority areas for action: advancing gender equality in medical research

AAMRI’s five priority areas for action: advancing gender equality in medical research

The AAMRI GEDI Committee is developing a strategy to advance gender equality in the medical research sector in consultation with AAMRI’s member institutes. The strategy will focus on actions in five priority areas.

AAMRI’s five priority areas for action are:

  1. Redefining measures of success and merit for greater diversity & inclusion
  2. Enabling mechanisms for gender equality in advancement and promotion
  3. Addressing sexual harassment and promoting safe workplaces
  4. Addressing inequities in health research
  5. The impact of COVID-19 – continuing positive practices and mitigating negative impacts

 

Priority area 1: Redefining measures of success and merit for greater diversity & inclusion

Evidence from a broad range of fields shows that a diverse workforce and leadership produces better organisational outcomes. However, traditional measures of success tend to neglect important attributes such as teamwork and mentoring, and discourage risk-taking, multi-disciplinary research and diverse career pathways. While some grant programs have taken steps in the right direction, a culture of assessing success using diverse measures is far from mainstream practice.

How can we broaden measures of success in research and academia to be more inclusive and better recognise different models of leadership?

 

Priority area 2: Enabling mechanisms for gender equality in advancement and promotion

While 60% of the medical research institute workforce are women, only 25% of Institute Directors and 33% of highest seniority research staff are women. Organisational policies and decision-making processes can contain inherant biases and discrimination. These biases create barriers for the advancement and promotion of women and other groups underrepresented at senior levels.

Removing gender biases in organisational processes and implementing target initiatives provides an effective path to increasing balanced gender representation in senior leadership positions.

 

Priority area 3: Addressing sexual harassment and promoting safe workplaces

In recent years there has been a significant national effort to shift to a prevention-based approach to addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission has led the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and released their report, Respect@Work, in March 2020. The recommendations from this report set out a new framework that is focussed on creating a culture of prevention and a network of support for victims in all levels of the organisation.

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, has called for each industry to lead their own response to the Respect@Work report and set a new precedent for safe workplaces across Australia.

AAMRI aims to work with the sector to develop an industry-led response to this work that would be fit for purpose in the medical research sector.

 

Priority area 4: Addressing inequities in health research

How can we promote a culture of equity in the health research design and practice?

Inequities in design of health research have led to underrepresentation in research participant cohorts of women and other groups such as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, Indigenous communities, people who are differently abled. This inequity can severely affect the health outcomes of these groups when best practice medical care is based on studies in an all-male cohort, or a cohort lacking in diversity.

Research in health areas that specifically affect women and underrepresented groups are often vastly underfunded compared to research on conditions that affect men. With this imbalance in funding, research advances on treatments, prevention and risk factors in women and underrepresented groups will not progress, several impacting health outcomes in these populations.

 

Priority area 5: The impact of COVID-19 – mitigating negative impacts and continuing positive practices

In 2020, COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we all work and live. However, COVID-19 has not affected everyone in the same way. COVID-19 has indirectly affected the careers of women and other underrepresented groups which in many cases has cut across and exacerbated existing equality issues. On the other hand, new ways of working have brought positive changes in both culture and practice for many others.

There is an opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ in how people approach and interact with the workplace rather than ‘snapping back’ to previous ways of working. With a strategic approach, we can maintain positive practices established during COVID and mitigate the negative impacts to create a more inclusive and productive work environment for everyone.