Working Towards Gender Equity in Health & Medical Research in Australia

20th October 2022

Posted In: International Focus

From 2023, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia will set targets to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men in a new commitment to address gender inequities in research funding. The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC’s largest funding scheme and a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce. The scheme awards around $370 million in research funding each year.

The grants provide a 5-year fellowship and research support for outstanding researchers at all career stages.

Setting targets has previously helped address gender inequities in grant funding at junior levels of the scheme, but the same success has not been replicated at senior levels of the scheme where barriers are leading to attrition of women from the research workforce.

The result is that, between 2019 and 2021, men applicants received about 35% more grants and 67% more total funding (about $95 million extra per year) than women applicants.

The new initiative will see NHMRC introduce a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that extends targets to fund an equal number of Leadership grants for women and men in the senior Investigator Grant scheme.

Minister For Women, Senator Katy Gallagher said: “There is a significant gender gap at the highest career levels of our health and medical research sector, and we are taking action to address this.”

“This initiative will play a role in driving gender equality at the highest levels of the sector by recognising and rewarding the outstanding work of women in health and medical research.”

“These new funding targets will ensure that more women have the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of human health through their research and will inspire a new generation of researchers.”

This approach to the Investigator Grant funding framework is expected to address gender disparities for women by:

•maintaining a strong pipeline of female researchers in the early and mid-career stages

•ensuring that women continue to be funded at later career stages in sufficient numbers to be visible

•making it attractive to recruit, retain and support women so that they may achieve the level of success that makes intervention unnecessary.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler said: “The structural barriers that prevent women from contributing fully and advancing careers in medical research are many.”

“A 50:50 funding target for senior researchers will directly tackle this loss of talent and give more women the opportunity to take their research forward for the benefit of us all.”

It also makes support available for non-binary health and medical researchers to help realise the NHMRC Gender Equity Strategy 2022-2025 vision for a gender diverse and inclusive health and medical research workforce to take advantage of the full range of talent needed to address Australia’s current and future health challenges.

NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO said: “An Investigator Grant can make all the difference to a researcher’s career. This is one of the reasons that gender equity in this scheme is so important if we are to build a diverse research sector.”

“The changes announced will provide more encouragement and opportunities for women and non-binary researchers to apply for, and win, these significant grants. With this support, we look forward to seeing better gender diversity at the most senior levels of Australian health and medical research in the years ahead.”