The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is acutely aware of the difficulties, especially for women, to make the transition from post-doctoral scientist to laboratory head and, from there, to more senior roles.
As at April 2011:
- nearly 60 per cent of our undergraduate and PhD students are women
- about half of our post-doctoral scientists are women
- 25 per cent of our lab heads are women but only one of our 15 division heads and only two of our 21 professors are women.
This situation is not unique to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute nor is it a recent phenomenon. Indeed, women have made up the majority of biology undergraduates for decades, yet progress toward parity at senior levels has been glacial.
As an institute, if we are to maximise our chances of making discoveries that change the way scientists think about the world and improve the treatment of patients, we must use our entire talent pool. As an attempt to redress the gender imbalance, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is piloting a number of initiatives.
Support for outstanding women researchers
• Cory Fellowship. To celebrate the contribution of the institute’s 5th director, Professor Suzanne Cory, we have created a $1.25 million, five-year fellowship for new women laboratory heads. The fellowship will be available every five years, with 2009 being the first time it was offered; Associate Professor Clare Scott was the recipient. In years when the Cory Fellowship is available, all women applicants for laboratory head positions will automatically be considered.
• Childcare support. Outstanding female postdoctoral fellows striving for career independence and female laboratory heads with pre-school-age children are invited to apply for a limited number of support packages of up to $15,000 per annum to assist with the out-of-pocket cost of childcare for pre-school-age children. Applications can be made to the director at any time and should include a one-page career plan, a full CV and a letter of support from the division head. A small group made up of senior faculty will consider applications and recommend awarding of available packages.
• Family rooms. A family room is available in Parkville and Bundoora in which to breast-feed infants and express and store milk, and can be used by parents while caring for their infants and children.
• Meeting and travel support. The institute invites outstanding female postdoctoral fellows striving for independence and female laboratory heads, with pre-school-age children to apply to their division heads for support to enable them, as far as possible, to join peer-review committees, speak at scientific conferences and accept invitations to participate in other academic activities.
• Technical support while on maternity leave. One of the greatest impediments to making the transition from post-doctoral fellow to laboratory head is a period of potentially-reduced productivity while on maternity leave. Female post-doctoral researchers confronting this challenge are invited to discuss with their division head and the director arrangements for additional technical support while on maternity leave.
• Additional time for contract renewal. The period between an initial five-year appointment as a laboratory head and renewal of this position often coincides with bearing and raising children. Recognising this, the institute will afford such women an additional 12 months (per child) before they will be assessed for renewal of their appointment.
• Women In Science lectures and mentoring. Three times a year from 2010 the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute will hold Women in Science lectures to showcase the performance of outstanding female scientists. One of these lecturers will be chosen and hosted by the Honours and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, one will be chosen and hosted by the faculty and one will be chosen and hosted by the director. After each lecture, we will host a reception to which we invite scientific leaders from around Melbourne and at which our female post-docs and laboratory heads can build mentoring networks.
General support for staff
• Leadership and skills training. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is developing a comprehensive program to broaden the skills of all postdoctoral fellows and junior laboratory heads. These programs currently include regular leadership workshops, presentation workshops and management workshops, as well as our business and communication intern programs.
• Family-friendly meeting times. We aim to schedule institute meetings to begin after 9.15am and conclude prior to 4.30pm, to allow all staff with family responsibilities better opportunity to attend while still honouring their personal commitments.
• Flexible working hours. The institute recognises the importance of affording parents maximum flexibility in setting working hours and invites parents to propose working hours that strike a reasonable balance between attending key laboratory events such as seminars and group meetings, yet catering to personal needs.
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute also offers a 46/52 working year, in which staff work for 46 weeks, with payment spread over 52 weeks. Staff can therefore take an additional six weeks of annual leave, which proves useful to parents of school-age children, allowing them to be at home during the school holidays.