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Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage

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This research project was designed to contribute to understanding of a ‘wicked problem’ that appears to repeat itself in successive generations of women in science — the well-documented, entrenched patterns of disadvantage associated with women’s participation in the science research workforce. Despite the fact that outstanding women are increasingly achieving at the highest levels, obtaining advanced scientific qualifications and taking key roles in the fields of science and technology, women’s participation in the science research workforce continues to be characterised by low levels of retention and success beyond the postdoctoral career stage. The focus of the research was on the disciplinary fields of biology and chemistry, as these two disciplines have experienced significant female participation up to the doctoral level for several decades, and postgraduate female biology and chemistry graduates, particularly chemistry graduates, enter a wide range of occupations in industry and government as well as in the science research workforce. This project is distinctive in that it is cross-sectoral in two important fields of science, draws on data from both men and women across all career stages and captures information from those who have left the science research workforce.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Sharon Bell and Lyn Yates
with assistance from Robyn May and Huong Nguyen
Women in the Science
Research Workforce:
Identifying and Sustaining
the Diversity Advantage
This document must be attributed as Sharon Bell and Lyn Yates, Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying
and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage, Melbourne: L.H.Martin Institute, University of Melbourne, September 2015.
Copyright: This research was supported under an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP110200480, 2011-2014).
The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council.
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3.0 Australia license.
WOMEN IN THE SCIENCE
RESEARCH WORKFORCE:
IDENTIFYING AND SUSTAINING
THE DIVERSITY ADVANTAGE
Professor Sharon Bell and Professor Lyn Yates
with assistance from Dr Robyn May and Dr Huong Nguyen
The research described in this report was supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage
Grant (LP110200480, 2011-2014) with Industry Partners the Bio21 Cluster / Biomedical Research
Victoria, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and Science and Technology Australia. The host
institution was the University of Melbourne.
The research project CIs were Professor Sharon Bell and Professor Lyn Yates. Dr Robyn May and
Dr Huong Nguyen supported them at different stages of the project’s development. The project has
also benefitted from the statistical advice and deep interest of Dr Daniel Edwards of the Australian
Council for Educational Research.
This report is designed to be accessible to the sector and policymakers. It is a revised version of
the preliminary report supplied to participants in the Women in the Scientific Research Workforce
Workshop on 29 October 2014 at the University of Melbourne. This version of the report incorporates
feedback from participants and reinforces key themes arising from the workshop.
The researchers wish to acknowledge the lively and collaborative input of the participants at the
workshop and the keen interest and active participation of our Linkage partners throughout the
project, in particular Jan Tennent, Roger Stapleford and Dr Elizabeth Johnson. We also gratefully
acknowledge Charles Darwin University’s support of the project.
One of the delights of the project was to see both project research assistants, Robyn May and
Huong Nguyen, receive their doctorates. We hope the academy will offer them and their peers better
prospects than those described for female scientists in this report.
1Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Biomedical Research Victoria
Victorian biomedical researchers have contributed to improving the lives
of millions of people and their work is an important driver of economic
development in the State.
Biomedical Research Victoria* represents a remarkable research community
of universities, academic hospitals, medical research institutes, CSIRO and
other research organisations. Seeking to develop shared vision, long-term
plans and better links between government, industry and the health and
biomedical communities, Biomedical Research Victoria enables Members
to identify and respond to matters that are best addressed, or have a better
chance of being resolved, by collective action.
Biomedical Research Victoria’s goals are to enable Victoria’s health and
biomedical research sector to flourish and compete successfully alongside
global life sciences centres and to better use existing resources for the
creation of knowledge, new treatments and new commercial opportunities
for the benefit of Victorians and people all over the world.
* formerly the Bio21 Cluster
Royal Australian Chemistry Institute Inc.
The RACI is the voice of chemistry in Australia and advocates the importance
of chemistry to the public, educational establishments, industry and
government. The organisation exists to actively support the professional
needs, development and interests of all its members.
Founded in 1917 and granted a Royal Charter in 1932, the RACI is the
professional body for the chemical sciences in Australia. It acts both as
the qualifying body in Australia for professional chemists, and as a learned
society promoting the science and practice of chemistry.
The RACI has over 4,500 members with an extensive nationwide network. It
represents and caters for the professional needs of chemists in all walks of
life, providing targeted activities and services that encompass the profession
of chemistry in Australia.
Science & Technology Australia
Science & Technology Australia* is the peak group for the nation’s 68,000
scientists and those working in technology.
Formed in 1985, STA represents a vast array of professional interests
and disciplines across Australia, with members including the Australian
Neuroscience Society, Australian Society for Biophysics, the Royal
Australian Chemical Institute, the Australian Council of Deans of Science
and the Women in Science Enquiry Network.
STA contributes to discussions at the highest levels of government and
policymaking in Australia. STAs mission is to bring together scientists,
governments, industry and the broader community to advance the role,
reputation and impact of science and technology in Australia.
* previously the Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies
2Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Women in the Science Research Workforce:
Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage 1
Executive Summary 5
Section 1: Background to the Project 9
Section 2: Project Scope and Aims 16
Section 3: The Biology and Chemistry Postgraduate Population – the National Context 20
Section 4: The Project Survey 29
Section 5: Differences by Field 46
Biological Sciences 46
Chemistry Related Industries 56
Section 6: Focus Groups 66
Conclusion: Addressing a Wicked Problem 74
Appendix 1: Recommendations FASTS Women in Science in Australia (2009) 76
Appendix 2: Project Survey 77
Works Cited 98
3Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
4Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
WOMEN IN THE SCIENCE RESEARCH
WORKFORCE: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This research project was designed to contribute to understanding of a ‘wicked problem’ that
appears to repeat itself in successive generations of women in science – the well-documented,
entrenched patterns of disadvantage associated with women’s participation in the science research
workforce. Despite the fact that outstanding women are increasingly achieving at the highest
levels, obtaining advanced scientific qualifications and taking key roles in the fields of science and
technology, women’s participation in the science research workforce continues to be characterised
by low levels of retention and success beyond the postdoctoral career stage.
The focus of the research was on the disciplinary fields of biology and chemistry, as these two
disciplines have experienced significant female participation up to the doctoral level for several
decades, and postgraduate female biology and chemistry graduates, particularly chemistry
graduates, enter a wide range of occupations in industry and government as well as in the science
research workforce. This project is distinctive in that it is cross-sectoral in two important fields of
science, and draws on data from both men and women across all career stages.
The research strongly suggests that new employment conditions and new career pathways are
needed to reframe patterns of participation and opportunities for success for a wider range of
entrants to the scientific research workforce. This is particularly the case in universities and research
institutes, as evidenced by the differences between the fields of biology and chemistry, but to achieve
this a better understanding of what opportunities exist, for whom, and in what professional contexts
is necessary.
What Opportunities Exist?
The research tells us that significant generational differences are emerging with regards to changing
patterns of employment by sector. Most postgraduate students in the fields of biology and chemistry
aspire to academic and research roles within universities and research institutes. However, structural
change in higher education and research in Australia, characterised by extremely competitive
research funding and an increasingly pervasive casualised/fixed-term and insecure employment
environment, mean that the majority will ultimately seek work in other sectors.
There is currently a significant disjunction between postgraduate aspirations and the reality of
employment opportunities that differentially impacts on women, as education and training has
historically been the primary industry of employment for women in this sector. If the rate of growth
in the postgraduate-qualified population continues and employment practices in universities and
research institutes do not change, this disjunction will increase. This disjunction is particularly
marked for women in the biological sciences, where fewer transition to roles outside universities and
research institutes that use their scientific knowledge and skills.
Whilst opportunities exist in a wide range of occupations in the public and private sectors, and such
roles are increasingly seen as realistic alternatives to academia, these roles may require additional
specialist (non-scientific) qualifications and experience. Moreover, they are not currently part of the
professional identity formation of PhD students or the socially constructed concept of the ‘scientific
workforce’ in Australia, even though scientific knowledge and skills are essential and utilised at high
levels. There are also systemic barriers to mobility between the academy, the public sector and
industry, including very different, ‘non-transferable’ measures of attainment.
5Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
For Whom?
Opportunities exist for those who, in addition to being meticulous, hard-working and having
excellent track records have, and have been supported and mentored (Ibarra 2010, 82-85) to have
the confidence and optimism as well as the intellectual and technical ability to succeed in what
some describe as a tournament but we think of as a marathon. This includes those whose life
circumstances enable them to commit to cultures of long hours, full-time continuous employment
when available, and the political skills and resilience to negotiate a highly competitive and insecure
employment/funding environment over a career lifetime. Importantly, an intensive period of research
productivity in the postdoctoral career stage, coinciding with a critical period of family formation for
many women, is key to establishing a career as an independent researcher. These attributes may
be characterised as those, following Acker (1992), of the ‘ideal’ research worker – a scientist whose
life circumstances enable them to engage in the continuous accumulation of academic and social
capital (Morley 2013).
Women, especially those who have children, are less likely to be employed full-time than men.
Amongst our respondents, three times as many women as men had taken significant periods of
leave during their careers, and a significant proportion of women believe that this has affected their
career progression. Given that networks, connections and knowing the right people are seen as
equally important as being good at your work, those whose circumstances do not provide the
opportunity or time to develop supportive and influential networks are unlikely to succeed.
There are also income gaps between men and women who are employed full-time, especially
pronounced in the higher income categories. Men reach higher income categories at a younger
age and a small but stable proportion of women remain in the lower income categories for all ages,
whereas for men this group diminishes steadily.
In What Professional Contexts?
Postgraduates in the fields of biological sciences and chemistry are part of an exceptionally highly
qualified, small but rapidly growing population in Australia. The high proportion of doctoral graduates
as compared to masters’ graduates sets the biology and chemistry populations apart from graduates
in other fields and undoubtedly impacts upon patterns of employment.
Project survey respondents identified improved job security as the single factor that most increases
job satisfaction – less than half the respondents to the project survey were employed in full-time
continuing positions, with men constituting the majority in this employment category. Women
outnumbered men in the employment categories of full-time fixed-term contracts and in the part-
time and casual categories. This is partly a reflection of the career stages of respondents, but it also
reflects generational structural change, particularly in the academy (Norton & Cherastidtham 2014: 32).
Patterns of women and men’s participation are differentiated by industry, with women predominantly
employed in the education and health sectors, and men in scientific and technical industries and
manufacturing. Women are employed in a wider range of roles than men, indicative of adaptive
strategies to fit life circumstances, especially in the mid-career phase. The professional contexts of
the biological and biomedical sciences are very different to those of the chemistry-related industries.
The differences include gender profile, employment status, research funding, career aspirations, job
satisfaction and private sector employment, indicating that ‘whole of science’ strategies need to be
nuanced to ensure the most effective approach to change.
6Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Recommendations
A research project such as this is expected to generate a set of succinct recommendations. To
this end, key findings of the research, and background contextual issues, were considered by
participants in a workshop in October 2014. Discussion was organised around the following themes:
n Career paths and destinations
n Organisational cultures
n Employment practices
n Scientific skills and knowledge.
The workshop made it very clear that in presenting recommendations we face the challenge that
previous studies and reports have generated comprehensive lists of recommendations but achieved
little. In this context, a critical conclusion of the workshop and this research is that:
In short, what is needed is a move away from the ‘heroic’ science paradigm to a new scientific
workforce and career paradigm that eliminates the barriers for women, and improves opportunities
for a greater diversity of participants, addressing:
n the postdoctoral ‘tipping point’
n the impact of career breaks
n the ubiquity of short-term contracts and project-based support
n an unforgiving – and in some disciplines alienating – competitive culture, and
n disincentives to sectoral mobility and transitions.
In this context it is recommended that it is essential to review and change:
Career Paths and Destinations
1 Create mechanisms that enable women to thrive and excel, not just ‘survive’, in science and
technology careers, including supporting flexible, non-traditional career paths and periods of
significant leave, with attention to programs that support teams of researchers, the retention of
scientific and professional ‘currency’, and professional re-entry.
2 Acknowledge the rapidly changing nature of the academy and correct the increasing
disjunction in the aspirations of higher-degree research students through provision of improved
career knowledge and professional opportunities.
3 Dismantle the barriers to ‘career branching’ and mobility between the academy and industry in
keeping with changing employment patterns and the need for sectoral mobility.
7Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The patterns of women’s participation and success in the science research workforce are well documented.
Consistent and enduring patterns of vertical and horizontal segregation of women have been consistently
described over the past twenty years. The persistence of tacit, rather than explicit gendered organisational
cultures and systems that in small but cumulative ways disadvantage many women, whilst simultaneously
advantaging many men, are also well known. It is time to focus on developing clear actions and strategies to
achieve organisational and sectoral change. There is a new imperative to do this as the deterioration of research
funding and employment conditions in universities and other public research institutions, and the disjunction
between these conditions and the investment required to meet extremely high entry-level standards, presents
a significant threat to the attractiveness and sustainability of the science research workforce.
Organisational Cultures
4 Recognise that a scientific research career is a marathon, not a sprint, and those who have the
ability to succeed may not fit the stereotype of the ‘ideal research worker’ who can accumulate
academic and social capital uninterrupted.
Employment Practices
5 Change funding regimes and employment practices to improve the security of employment in
the higher education and research sectors. Longer fixed-term contracts, five years rather than
three years, would make a significant difference to career prospects and planning and help to
accommodate the pressures that accumulate with family formation.
Scientific Skills and Knowledge
6 Adopt a more inclusive understanding of the ‘scientific research workforce’ to include
emerging roles in cognate fields that demand high levels of scientific knowledge and skills, and
cultivate awareness of relevant career options and pathways in the private sector and industry.
This project confirms the need for implementation of a multifaceted strategy, as recommended by
the US National Science Foundation (NSF 2009) and FASTS (Bell et al 2009) reports, to broaden
participation in the science and technology workforce (refer Appendix 1). The research also
confirms the need for a detailed longitudinal study of the scientific research workforce to increase
understanding of workforce dynamics and the stark, emergent patterns of generational change.
8Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
SECTION 1: BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT
Over two decades ago (1993) the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science and the Minister
for Science and Small Business established the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology
Advisory Group (WISET). The Advisory Group was tasked to advise on strategies to improve women’s
participation in SET careers and education. In a discussion paper from the Advisory Group, it was
argued that:
Women remain seriously under-represented in some specific disciplines of science,
engineering and technology (SET), and furthermore, are not well-represented at the most
senior levels in all disciplines. This problem is poorly understood since statistics actually show
a significant improvement in women’s participation overall in SET-based education, training and
employment over the last decade…
Women are 51% of the nation’s population. Using their talents to the full at all levels of scientific
and technological education, training and employment is an economic necessity, and an
investment in Australia’s future national development. The Advisory Group believes that continued
under-representation and under-participation of women in SET-based education, training and
employment is not only a cause for social concern on equity grounds, it is also likely to inhibit
Australia’s capacity to develop internationally competitive research and industries. (1995, 5-6)
The Advisory Group asked ‘what it is about the environments of science, engineering and technology,
and society’s perception of them, that they do not attract and keep girls and women’ (WISET 1995:
14). The Advisory Group proposed three strategies. First, a short-term strategy to put in place
the conceptual and structural foundations. Second, a medium-term strategy aimed at providing
leverage to existing programs ‘with the specific aim of preventing the loss of existing investments
in SET education and training’. Third, a long-term strategy to address those areas requiring further
research and analysis (1995: 6). The fourteen recommendations generated from this report included:
family-friendly policies and workplaces; higher education participation in non-traditional disciplines;
re-entry schemes; attraction, selection, retention and success initiatives; identification of barriers to
the achievement of excellence; and public awareness campaigns.
Twenty years later, consistent with a global pattern of feminisation of the academy (Morley 2013:
3), in Australia women now outnumber men in many universities; over 50% of the domestic student
population in Australia is female, graphically illustrated in the Grattan Institute Report Mapping
Australian Higher Education 2014-2015 (Norton & Cherastidtham 2014) (Figure 1.1):
Figure 1.1: Proportion of higher education enrolments by gender, Australia, 1950–2013
Sources: DEEWR (2000); Department of Education (2014h)
9Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
It is important to note, however, that Figure 1.1 presents discontinuous data, as the Dawkins reforms
of the late 1980s brought the previous Colleges of Advanced Education, and the non-university
training colleges of teacher education, hospital nursing programs, schools of art and conservatoria
into the university sector. These previously independent institutions were characterised by large
proportions of female students and staff (Castleman et al 1995) concentrated in certain disciplines –
most notably education, nursing and the creative arts.
Nevertheless, the changed pattern of participation of women in tertiary education in Australia over
the past two decades is so pronounced that the original ‘A Fair Chance for All’ (DEET 1990) equity
targets to:
n increase the proportion of women in engineering courses to 15% by 1995
n increase the number of women in other non-traditional areas to at least 40% by 1995, and
n increase the number of women in postgraduate study, particularly in research, relative to the
proportion of female undergraduates in each field by 1995
have been rendered invisible in our current policy environment, even though not all have been met,
especially those that relate to engineering and non-traditional areas.
Despite the fact that outstanding women are increasingly seen achieving at the highest levels and
taking key roles in the fields of science and technology, recent international studies (NAS 2007;
OECD 2006) provide evidence of persistent patterns of horizontal segregation by discipline and
vertical segregation by level of seniority and measures of esteem of women in the science research
workforce. Research suggests that these patterns exist in Australia (Larkins 2012; Bell et al 2009; Bell
& Bentley 2006). Moreover, whilst our knowledge of women in the academy has been consistently
advancing, our knowledge of women in the science research workforce outside the academy has
remained poor. In Australia much of what we know about women in science is predominantly a
reflection of patterns of participation and success within universities and research institutes reinforced
by a narrow social construction of what we understand to constitute the science research workforce,
which fails to capture the experiences of those who leave the academy and work in the government
and private sectors. Nonetheless the evidence generated by this project indicates that many who
leave teaching and/or research roles continue to use their scientific knowledge and skills at high levels.
What we know
The literature suggests that patterns of representation of women in science and technology can
be separated into two broad categories (Carrington & Pratt 2003). First, horizontal segregation
of women in the technology disciplines based on perceptions regarding women’s innate ability in
science and mathematics, societal attitudes towards gender stereotypes and gender equality, and
job security and employability of graduates (Watt 2007; Whitehouse 2003; Collins et al 2000; Jones
& Young 1995). Second, in science disciplines that are characterised by high female undergraduate
and postgraduate participation, vertical segregation generated by the organisational culture of the
workplace through practices that disadvantage women such as workload, cultures of long hours,
promotions policies and practice, lack of female role models and sponsorship, lack of accommodation
of carer responsibilities, and sex discrimination (Strachan et al 2013; Hatchell & Aveling 2008; Mills
2008; APESMA 2007; Stephens-Kalceff et al 2007; Morley 2006; Probert 2005).
Data on participation in higher education graphically illustrates established patterns of low levels
of participation in engineering and information technology and low rates of retention
and success in and beyond the postdoctoral phase for all other broad fields of science.
The FASTS Women in Science in Australia (2009) report found that women were represented at
more than the 1990 equity target of 40% in only seven of the 29 ‘narrow fields’ of SET education:
agriculture, forestry studies, environmental studies, chemical sciences, earth sciences, biological
sciences and other natural and physical sciences (Bell et al 2009). This is one contributing factor to
levels of female representation amongst academic staff consistently declining with seniority. In 2007
10 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
women constituted more than 50% of natural and physical sciences bachelor degree completions
but less than 15% of level D & E academic staff (DEEWR 2008 & 2009). The most frequently cited
legacy of the FASTS report is the ‘scissors graph’ (Figure 1.2; note: this is repeated cross-sectional
not longitudinal data) (2009: 18).
Figure 1.2: Academic profiles by gender, natural and physical sciences, 2007
By 2011, in the natural and physical sciences, women made up 56% of completing students at the
bachelor level, 50% of honours completions and 51% of doctorate completions (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3: Female representation by student completions and academic level, 2011
Source: ACER DIISRTE Higher Education Statistics Collection, customised data, 2011
Between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of women at the bachelor level remained relatively constant,
at the honours level a slight decline in representation is discernible, while at the doctorate level
representation increased (Figure 1.4). There continues to be a marked difference in the proportions
of female and male staff members in senior academic positions.
11Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 1.4: Female representation by student completions and academic level,
sciences, 2001–2011
Source: ACER DIISRTE Higher Education Statistics Collection, customised data, 2001–2011
Figure 1.4 shows that over 2001–2011 there were increases in the proportions of female staff at
higher levels of employment in the sciences, especially at levels C (rising from 18% to 32.5%) and D
(12% to 20%), but the rate of change is little more than 1% per annum. At Level E the rate of change
is less than 1% per annum and from a low base (from 7% in 2001 to 14% in 2011). There were more
marked increases in other fields over this time, as Figure 1.5 shows.
Figure 1.5: Female representation by student completions and academic level,
non-sciences, 2001–2011
Source: DIISRTE Higher Education Statistics Collection, customised data, 2001–2011
12 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Reproducing the ‘scissors graph’ based on 2011 data indicates gradual change at the most senior
academic levels, but in an increasingly competitive employment environment; what is notable is
the entry of a larger proportion of men to the level A positions historically dominated by women,
pushing back the ‘tipping point’ to the doctoral phase for women. (Note: this is cross-sectional not
longitudinal data.)
Figure 1.6: Gender representation by student completions and academic level, natural
and physical sciences, 2011
Source: ACER DIISRTE Higher Education Statistics Collection, customised data, 2011
The overall sustained pattern of gender inequality in universities in Australia is consistent with the
international evidence base (NSF 2009; NAS 2007; OECD 2006). It is also increasingly recognised
that the attrition of women from the scientific professions impacts negatively on productivity and,
through the consequent failure to achieve diversity, limits innovation (Bell et al 2009; Hewlett et al
2008; NAS 2007). Our American colleagues refer to this as the ‘hidden brain drain’ (Hewlett et al
2008), graphically illustrated by the representation of ‘women who quit’ (2008: 50) (Figure 1.7):
Figure 1.7: Female ‘Quit Rates’ Across SET
13Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The HBR Athena Factor report notes that ‘women in SET fall away rapidly after age 35, whereas men
gain ground’, and that ‘in SET companies, the falling away of women (and the ascendancy of men)
is particularly steep and sharp’ (Hewlett et al 2008: 56) (Figure 1.8):
Figure 1.8: Intervening at the fight-or-flight moment
Although the FASTS report (Bell et al 2009) was cautious not to equate lack of seniority with ‘quitting’,
it was acknowledged that pressure exists at the postdoctoral career phase along with a need for
clear mapping of scientific career paths.
In 2008 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) generated a local version
of ‘the stupid curve’, a term coined by Deloitte’s Mike Cook, to illustrate a similar pattern of wastage
of talent at the senior levels of Australian companies (Figure 1.9). Whilst male and female graduates
enter the workforce in about equal numbers, men have a nine times greater chance of reaching
executive level than women (CEW, 2009: 2).
Figure 1.9: The Stupid Curve
Source: EOWA Analysis 2012 ASX500 + Mo Kinsey Women Matter Asia 2012
14 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
This Women in the Science Research Workforce project aimed to interrogate the factors behind
the apparent ‘falling away’ of women and the concomitant ‘ascendancy’ of men and produce a
coherent set of resources and approaches to solving a ‘wicked’ problem (Rittel & Webber, 1973) that
appears to repeat itself in successive generations of women in science (Bailyn,1999, 4). Professor
Lotte Bailyn, MIT, eloquently articulated the nature of the challenge in 1999 with diagnostic insight
that continues to resonate:
15Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The key conclusion that one gets from the report is that gender discrimination in the 1990s is subtle but
pervasive, and stems largely from unconscious ways of thinking that have been socialized into all of us, men
and women alike. This makes the situation better than in previous decades where blatant inequalities and sexual
assault and intimidation were endured but not spoken of. We can all be thankful for that. But the consequences
of these more subtle forms of discrimination are equally real and equally demoralizing.
The women who worked on these issues over the past five years are all gifted scientists, themselves convinced
that gender had nothing to do with their careers: if they succeeded it was on the basis of their competence,
and recognition would certainly follow, if they did not it was based on something they lacked and rewards
were not warranted. During their earlier years, this belief was continuously reinforced, but then something
seemed to change. It was only when they came together, and with persistence and ingenuity, that they saw
that as their careers advanced something else came in to play, which for them meant an accumulation of slight
disadvantages, with just the opposite for their male colleagues…This is hard work. Our first instinct is to deny
that a problem exists (if it existed it would surely have been solved by now), or to blame it on the pipeline, or
the circumstances and choices of individual women. None of these, however, explains the inequities surfaced
by the Committee.
(Chair, Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science, MIT, 1999: 3)
SECTION 2: PROJECT SCOPE AND AIMS
This Women in the Science Research Workforce project builds on existing research on women in
science in Australia to extend understanding of gendered career paths and critical career transitions
in science within and outside the academy in two strategically significant fields – biological and
biomedical research and chemistry-related industries. The project comprised four main components:
i analysis of existing large datasets (ABS Census of Population and Housing 2011; National
Research Student Survey 2010; DIISRTE Higher Education Statistics Collection 2011) to
obtain new information, especially age and gender correlations to ascertain patterns of change
and mobility over time;
ii a survey, involving a detailed questionnaire distributed through industry partners, to map and
track the nature of scientific career paths of women and men in biological and biomedical
research and chemistry-related industries. Following the comparable US Study The Athena
Factor (2008) and the National Research Council report Gender Differences at Critical
Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty (2010), the
research focuses on non-traditional career paths and patterns of mobility and transferability of
knowledge and skills between the academy, the public sector and industry;
iii focus groups with women and men working in various career phases and employment
locations to probe further into the decision-making processes and experiences flagged in the
survey; and
iv development of a Women in Science Research Workforce Diversity Advantage Toolkit for
developing and sustaining diversity, designed to be transferable across professional and
industry boundaries, and empirical and conceptual foundations for the business case for
linking diversity and innovation.
In 2012 the project commissioned the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to
analyse pertinent data from three large datasets: the ABS Census of Population and Housing (2011),
the National Research Student Survey (NRSS 2010), and the DIISRTE Higher Education Staff and
Student Data Collection for 2011.
An online survey of present and past female and male participants in the biological and biomedical
and chemistry-related research workforces was piloted by the project research team and then
conducted from November 2012 to the end of February 2013, distributed via the project’s industry
partners and participant referrals. Analysis was performed using SPSS software, and included
regression analysis of key elements of the survey data.
Eleven follow-up focus groups were held in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, involving 38
female and male survey respondents who had indicated they would like to participate. Focus group
respondents were clustered to obtain richer detail on issues flagged in the survey responses and
large data analysis, prior to work on the Toolkit. With the consent of participants discussions were
recorded, transcribed and entered into NVivo for thematic analysis.
Preliminary results were shared and discussed at a workshop at the University of Melbourne on
29 October 2014. The 35 workshop participants were drawn from project partner institutions.
Participants in the project focus groups were also invited to attend.
The Women in the Science Research Workforce Gender Diversity Toolkit womeninscienceresearch.
org.au is designed to address key audiences: those in leadership positions at executive level, at
team level/lab head level, and individual female scientists. It is also designed to provide access to
resources for professional associations and funding agencies.
16 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Why Biology and Chemistry?
The disciplinary focus for this study was prompted by the National Research Council (NRC) report
Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics
Faculty (2010), which clearly identifies biology and chemistry as two critical target disciplines for such
a study (2010: 28). In the US these fields of science have the largest representation of women with
doctoral qualifications, but the percentage of PhDs awarded to women (1999-2003) was found to
be almost double the percentage of applications for tenure track positions in the research-intensive
(RI) universities surveyed (2010: 47–48).
Not only have biology and chemistry experienced significant female participation up to the doctoral
level for several decades, but also the NRC study concluded that female biology and chemistry
doctorates take up a wide range of occupations in industry and government and as teachers
outside RI institutions (2010:48). Moreover, these disciplines are in a dynamic state of interaction
and change, especially given the increasing demand for computational competence. This change
offers challenges but also significant potential in terms of configuration of the future workforce. As
the NRC report authors observed:
Many of the “whys’’ of the findings included here are buried in factors that the committee was
unable to explore. We do not know, for example, what happens to the significant percentage
of female PhDs in science and engineering who do not apply for regular faculty positions at
RI institutions, or what happens to women faculty members who are hired and subsequently
leave the university. (2010: 3)
It is important to note that the NRC study did not capture the experiences of PhDs who have
never applied for academic positions, female faculty members who have left the academy at various
points in their academic careers, or non-tenure-track, part-time scientists (2010: 13). In fact, the
study acknowledges the ‘significant limitation of the focus only on full-time tenure-track and tenured
faculty’ (2010:168). This significant limitation, and the consequent potentially misleading findings
from an influential source, were strong motivations behind this research project. This is particularly
relevant in the Australian context, where not only has the gap between available university positions
relative to number of PhD graduates been increasing, but also significantly more of those university
opportunities are now casual or fixed-term rather than ‘tenure track’ (May, 2011). There has also
been significant growth in medical research institutes outside universities, where a lot of researchers
are congregated and where there is even less job security.
The research imperative in these fields was also informed by studies undertaken in the UK,
particularly by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the UK Resource Centre for Women in
Science Engineering and Technology (UKRC). The RSC became interested in ‘the leaky pipeline’
when analysis of Higher Education Statistics (HESA) data showed that ‘female attrition’ in chemistry
is significantly higher than in other science disciplines (Newsome, 2008: 10). In their 2008 report The
chemistry PhD: the impact on women’s retention, researchers found that the decision by women not
to pursue a research career is the result of challenging and frustrating doctoral experiences together
with concerns regarding postdoctoral employment conditions, the fiercely competitive research
environment and the challenges of balancing family and career aspirations, together with the lack of
female role models in their field who seem to have achieved such a balance. The report concludes
that ‘the chemistry PhD program and academic careers are based on masculine ways of thinking
and doing, which leaves women neither supported as PhD students nor enthused to remain in
research in the longer term’ (2008: 7). Their findings about young male and female scientists’ career
intentions are illustrated in Figure 2.1:
17Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 2.1: Proportion of respondents intending to pursue research on completing
doctoral study in Chemistry by gender and stage (UK)
Source: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2008, 11.
Key Research Questions
Like much of the international research, existing Australian research on the patterns of participation
and attrition of women in science is characterised by a predominantly single-disciplinary or institutional
focus due to high levels of professional interest and sponsorship (de Vries & Todd 2012; Sheil 2010;
Mills et al 2008; Stevens-Kalceff et al 2007); a focus on specific cohorts such as recent PhDs (Dever
et al 2008) or new female professors (Diezmann & Grieshaber 2009); and, as indicated previously, a
focus on the academy (Bell et al 2009). Thus research to date has failed to fully capture the range of
occupations that female scientists assume and the issues that arise at differing stages of women’s
career trajectories.
Female scientists working in industry have been largely ignored and their professional circumstances
and capacity to contribute are less well understood than those of women in universities and research
institutes. We also know very little about mobility between the academy, public sector and industry.
This is an omission readily acknowledged in international research on women in science (NRS 2010;
Hewlett et al 2008; NAS 2007). The absence of reliable data tracking the mobility of the science
workforce between the academy, the public sector and industry means it is much harder to evaluate
whether there is net attrition or simply a wide range of graduate and postgraduate outcomes at
different career stages. The Women in the Science Research Workforce project was designed to
address some of these knowledge gaps. What is distinctive about this project is its focus across
sectors in two important fields of science, and that it draws on data from both men and women
across all career stages.
18 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The premise of this project is that if we do not address academic and professional career structures overall
equity participation in higher education might increase but professional success will remain limited, potential
for the ‘attrition’ of women will remain high, and diversity and concomitant innovation will not be achieved.
New employment conditions and new career paradigms have the potential to reframe patterns of
participation and opportunities for success for a wider range of entrants to the scientific research
workforce. This raises questions regarding the social construction of science and occupations that
are reflective of ‘branches’ of science but are not included in the dominant paradigms of STEM and
data relevant to the STEM workforce (Metcalf, 2010).
19Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The critical questions are:
What opportunities exist? For whom? In what professional contexts?
There is a pressing need, which this research addresses, for a more nuanced understanding of critical decision-
making processes, including:
n the demand for flexible and less linear career options;
n the push-pull factors of organisational cultures;
n the diversity of career destinations and evidence as to whether skills and knowledge gained in professional
education and training are utilised; and
n career mobility between the academy, the public sector and industry.
SECTION 3: THE BIOLOGY AND CHEMISTRY
POSTGRADUATE POPULATION –
THE NATIONAL CONTEXT
Data from the 2011 ABS Census of Population and Housing and the 2006 census was analysed to
establish the career patterns of the target population over time in basic demographics, employment
and income. The data reveals that the population of people with postgraduate qualifications in either
biology or chemistry in Australia is growing significantly and is predominantly qualified at the doctoral
level. In 2006 this postgraduate population was 17,599, but grew to 22,315 in 2011 – an increase
of 27%. Nearly half (48%, 10,622 people) of this postgraduate population were female. Two-thirds
(67%, 14,987 people) held a PhD qualification (compared to only 19% in the general population of
postgraduates). Of this sub-group of those qualified at the doctoral level, women comprised 43%,
compared to 37% in 2006. The high proportion of doctoral graduates as compared to masters’
graduates sets the chemistry and biology population apart from graduates in other fields and
undoubtedly impacts upon graduate expectations and patterns of employment.
Eighty-six per cent of women and 83% of men with a postgraduate qualification in biology or chemistry
live in capital cities. Together, Sydney and Melbourne are home to 50% of women and 45% of men
with postgraduate qualifications in these fields. This geographical concentration probably increases
competition for employment opportunities.
Of all Australian residents aged 20 to 64 in 2011, 65% were born in Australia, but only 44% of all
postgraduates. In the populations of biology and chemistry postgraduates, 44% and 40% respectively
were Australian-born; older graduates were more likely to be born in Australia. The fact that younger
graduates are more often from overseas explains the age distribution differences between 2006 and
2011: it is possible that a relatively large number of young international students or skilled migrants
has contributed to the growth in the biology and chemistry postgraduate population, which is mainly
concentrated in the younger age brackets.
Census data reveals that most women qualified in biological sciences or chemical sciences are under
40 years of age. In contrast, most men with these qualifications are over 40 years of age. Women are
more highly concentrated amongst those with qualifications in the biological sciences and men are
highly concentrated amongst those with qualifications in the chemical sciences (Figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1: Doctoral degree holders in biology or chemistry, by age and gender, 2011
20 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The census data indicates that the overwhelming majority of women with doctorates do not have
children until after age 30. The proportion of female doctoral graduates with one or more children
exceeds 50% from the 35-39 age category onwards, whereas this occurs five years earlier for masters’
graduates. This fact is likely to be related to the varying ages at which women in these categories
enter the labour force, which is in turn linked to the length of time taken to gain qualifications.
Employment
In 2011 the participation rate in the workforce was 76% for female and 77% for male biology or
chemistry postgraduates, lower than for the postgraduate population as a whole (82% and 86%
respectively). In both populations, the overwhelming majority of men work full-time. While most
women also work full-time, women are more likely to work part-time or self-identify as not being part
of the labour force. In both populations the proportion of women out of the professional workforce
peaked in the 30-39 age groups, which for many is the critical postdoctoral career stage. This peak
is less pronounced for the broader population of postgraduate degree holders.
Most Australian women without children were in paid employment in 2011. Interestingly, the
employment status of women with children varied little by number of children. Women who had
children, whether one or more were more likely than women without children to work part-time or
be outside the labour force. The 2006 and 2011 census data show little change in the labour force
distribution patterns of women by number of children. Women with one child were slightly less likely
to work full-time in 2011 and more likely to work part-time than in 2006. Women who had three or
more children in 2011 were slightly less likely to be outside the labour force than five years previously.
To provide a richer picture of the household arrangements of our population and patterns of ‘private
work’, Figure 3.2 displays the proportion of biology and chemistry postgraduates who spent 15
hours or more doing household duties, by labour force status, in 2011. Large gender differences
existed between male and female contributions across all labour force categories.
Figure 3.2: Proportion of biology and chemistry postgraduate degree holders spending
15 hours or more per week doing household duties, by labour force status and gender,
2011
There was little gender difference in the distribution of employed persons in the overall population
of biology and chemistry postgraduates between the public and the private sector; of all such
persons in employment in 2011, 47% of women and men were in private employment. However, the
patterns for chemistry and biology graduates differed. Of all biology postgraduates in employment
43% worked in the private sector, whereas most chemistry graduates (56%) worked in this sector.
21Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Biology and chemistry graduates in employment differed in employment status across the public and
private sectors. In the public sector, 27% of women but only 10% of men worked part-time in 2011.
In the private sector, 33% of women and 18% of men worked part-time.
The census allows us to look at fields of employment in two distinct ways: by industry and by
occupation. Industry of employment is coded using the Australian and New Zealand Standard
Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006. Occupation is coded using the Australian and New
Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), First Edition, Revision 1. In the census,
occupation code is based on the occupation title and tasks of the main job held during the week
prior to census night.
Figure 3.3 below displays the major industry groups in which the population of biology and chemistry
postgraduate degree holders were employed, by gender, in 2011. A large proportion of doctoral
graduates were employed in the education and training industry (44%), followed by the professional,
scientific and technical services industry (ANZSIC Divisions P and M). Women were more likely to go
into education and health care and social services, and less likely to go into the professional, scientific
and technical services, or manufacturing industries. Interestingly, detailed analysis of occupations
(ANZSCO 2 digit) indicates that women were employed in a more diverse range of occupations than
men. Graduates in the 50–59 age group were more likely to be employed in the education sector
than those in the 30–39 age group – possibly an indication both of diminished opportunities in higher
education and of a changing generational pattern of employment.
Figure 3.3: Industries of employment of biology and chemistry doctoral degree holders
by gender, 2011
The census data on employment provides confirmation of several issues critical to this analysis. Firstly,
participation rates for biology and chemistry postgraduates were lower than for the postgraduate
population as a whole. This is likely to be due to a combination of the over-representation of women in
these fields and the increasingly large, and growing, PhD-qualified population. Secondly, almost half
the population of postgraduate qualified men and women were employed in the private sector, even
though the National Research Student Survey (2010) showed that this was seen as the ideal career
path for only about one third of postgraduates in these fields. The private sector offers employment
opportunities not currently available in the academy, and women in particular are found to be in a
more diverse range of occupations than their male counterparts. This points to a disjunction
between postgraduate aspirations and the reality of employment opportunities, and if the
rate of growth in this population continues and employment practices in universities and
research institutes do not change, this disjunction will increase.
22 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Income
While the census provides some information on the income of individuals, the degree of detail in this
data is restricted, since it is categorical. In order to make comparisons as accurately as possible, all
data used in this section is based on persons in full-time employment.
The average income of science postgraduates is similar to that of postgraduates in other fields, but
the income range is high amongst science graduates, as opposed to that for health, management
and commerce, and engineering graduates, who are overwhelmingly in higher income brackets.
Figure 3.4 below provides an initial view of gender differences in income amongst the specific fields
of chemistry, biology and other sciences in 2011. Gender differences occurred similarly across the
science fields. Female postgraduates were mostly in the lower and middle income groups;
substantially fewer were in the highest income category used here.
Figure 3.4: Weekly (and annual) income distribution of chemistry, biology and other
science postgraduate degree holders employed full-time, by gender, 2011
Although some of the patterns in Figure 3.4 may reflect age distributional differences between men
and women in the census cohort of those with chemistry and biology postgraduate qualifications,
there are also indications of a persistent gendered differential. Differences in income between men
and women are most pronounced in the higher age brackets across graduates from all fields of
science.
The census data indicates that men reach higher income categories at a younger age
and that a small but stable proportion of women remain in the lower income categories
for all ages, whereas for males this group diminishes steadily. This latter effect is especially
pronounced amongst chemistry postgraduates.
Key Findings from the Census Data
This rich data source revealed that more than 20,000 Australians had a biology or chemistry
postgraduate qualification in 2011 and that this number has grown markedly since 2006. Women
are in the majority in this population in the younger age categories, while men dominate the older
age categories. The postgraduate population is getting younger, as numbers in the lower age groups
are much larger than in the higher age groups. A large proportion of this young population was born
outside Australia.
23Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Most science postgraduates work in the education and training or professional, science and technical
services industries, but women are more likely to work in the ‘caring’ professions of education, health
and social services. Women in this population are less likely to be employed full-time than men; in the
public sector, women are three times more likely to be working part-time, and in the private sector
almost twice as likely to be working part-time than men. Women who have had children are much
less likely to be employed full-time, but the number of children a woman has does not influence labour
force status. Although the capacity to work full-time is a contingent rather than causal relationship,
this pattern of participation has the potential to impede women’s competitiveness in achieving senior
roles or achieving a place in the highest income brackets. It should be emphasised that there are
income gaps between postgraduate men and women employed full-time, and these are especially
pronounced in the higher income categories.
This contextual data provides a valuable comparative framework within which to consider data
generated by the project survey. Significant generational differences emerged, particularly
with regards to changing patterns of employment by sector, with diminishing opportunities
for continuing employment in higher education. This differentially impacts on women, as
historically the ANZSIC Division ‘education and training’ has been the primary industry of
employment for women in this postgraduate population, particularly those qualified in the
biological sciences.
Consistent with the international literature, there is evidence that women at the critical postdoctoral
career stage engage in what Case and Richley (2013) describe as ‘organic branching’ associated
with family formation, as women occupy a more diverse range of occupations than their male
counterparts. In addition, women’s ability to work full-time is differentially reduced compared to men
due to child-bearing, childcare and assuming responsibility for other household duties.
The Next Generation
In 2010 ACER, in conjunction with the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, conducted the
National Research Student Survey (NRSS), surveying higher degree research (HDR) students in
38 of the (then) 39 Australian universities. We used the NRSS to explore the ‘pipeline’ of the core
population of interest in this study. Whilst the project was primarily directed at the career outcomes
of postgraduate women and men in the biological and biomedical sciences and chemistry-related
industries, the analysis of NRSS data provided some insight into the career aspirations of those in this
population undertaking the advanced qualifications required for employment in the research sector.
Responses from almost 12,000 students enrolled in PhD or Masters by Research degrees were
collected (a 25.5% response rate). Of this sample, 695 respondents were women undertaking study
in the chemical or biological sciences. This group is the focus of the analysis in this section. The
responses of these women were compared with a range of benchmark groups. The focus of the
analysis here was on the career intentions of this group of students, although the data available
through the NRSS does also allow exploration of university experience, engagement and involvement
in training for university teaching. (The full project report on the NRSS can be found at http://www.
cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/bexley_docs/RAW_Combined.pdf).
Of the 695 female respondents, 137 were studying chemical sciences and 558 biological sciences.
More than half were aged between 23 and 27, the vast majority were from an English-speaking
background (although one quarter were not Australian citizens), and more than half were based
in New South Wales or Victoria. They were similar to the whole population of research students
(male/female and across all fields) on most demographic characteristics, but women in chemical or
biological sciences were in general younger on average, and less likely to come from a home where
English was not the first language.
When compared with all candidates who were part of the NRSS, the 695 women were more likely to
be enrolled in a PhD, more likely to be enrolled full-time, less likely to be international students and
more likely to be in the later stages of their candidature.
24 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
HDR students were asked about their career intentions based on three considerations: (1) what they
would ideally like to do in the year after completing their degree; (2) what they realistically expect they
would do in the year following completion, and (3) what career they planned to pursue in the medium
to long term (five to seven years after completion of their research degree).
Responses from the 695 female NRSS respondents studying chemical (137) or biological sciences
(558) showed that while expecting or hoping to begin their post-HDR career in a university, a large
minority saw themselves moving away from the university sector. While 64% ideally wanted to go
directly into an academic position (including a postdoc), only 56% saw this as a realistic option. Just
over half (55%) intended to pursue such a career in the medium to long term (see Figure 3.5). These
findings are similar to those for participants studying in other fields.
However, in the medium to long term overall, few participants planned to work in non-research
professional employment (15.5%). Again, these findings were similar to results for the whole HDR
candidate population regardless of gender or field. It should be noted, however, that views change
significantly with stage of candidacy (see Figure 3.8 below).
Figure 3.5: Career intentions of female biological or chemical science HDR students (%)
The proportion of women in this population who intend to pursue an academic career over the
medium to long term (55.2%) is only slightly lower than men in the same field (56.2%) and slightly
higher than women in other sciences (52.1 %). (Figure 3.6) Our population is close to the figure for the
entire cohort of HDR students in this respect, with 54.5 per cent overall responding that an academic
career is their goal over the medium to long term. Female HDR students in biological or chemical
sciences are slightly more likely to intend to pursue a career in research outside a university. As noted
above, more than a quarter (25.6 per cent) of this group indicated this ambition. By comparison, the
other groups examined here are slightly less interest in this avenue, with 23.6 per cent among both
the men in these fields and 23.9 per cent among women in other sciences indicating interest in these
occupations. However, the proportion of female HDR students in biological or chemical sciences
intending to do non-research professional work was much lower. On average, 22.5% of all research
students planned to do non-research professional work in the medium to long term, but only 15.5%
of female HDR students in biological and 15.7% in chemical sciences.
25Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 3.6: Medium- to long-term career intentions of HDR students (%)
The NRSS revealed some stark differences in female Chemical Science and Biological Science HDR
students’ medium- to long-term career intentions. Female HDR students specialised in biological
science were more interested in pursuing an academic career and less likely to envisage non-
research professional work than those in chemical sciences. In terms of research work outside a
university, the differences between women in biological and chemical sciences were only minor, as
illustrated in Figure 3.7.
Figure 3.7: Medium- to long-term career intentions of women in chemical or biological
sciences (%)
Figure 3.8 depicts the differences in the medium- to long-term career intentions of women in
biological and chemical sciences when the period of their candidature is taken into account. Only
questions with more than 100 responses are included, eliminating the small numbers of students
26 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
who were about to submit or had submitted their thesis. Figure 3.8 shows that the proportion of
new HDR entrants with long-term ambitions for academic careers was higher than among
students further into their degrees. Consistent with the data from the RSC cited above, it also
shows a consistent rise in respondents indicating their plans to enter a non-research professional
occupation as the end of their research degree approaches. Whether this indicates a refocusing of
career goals based on pragmatic decisions (essentially a more pessimistic or realistic assessment of
job opportunities), a change in interest as candidates traverse the HDR, or poor HDR experiences
is unknown.
Figure 3.8: Medium-long term career intentions of women in chemical or biological
sciences (%)
Key Findings from the NRSS
This brief analysis provides insight into the career aspirations of students undertaking postgraduate
research degrees in the biological or chemical sciences. Its value to the wider project lies in illuminating
the views and expectations of the next generation of women who plan to join the scientific research
workforce.
The data here indicates that despite rapidly changing employment patterns in higher education and
research most research students hope to work in traditional research fields, but those expectations
do not match the available opportunities. Only about one quarter of the women in these fields intend
to pursue a research career outside universities in the medium to long term. Interestingly, among
this group of students, far fewer have this career in mind as their immediate occupation following
completion of their research degree – research work outside a university only becomes an ambition
when thinking further ahead than graduation. It is unknown why this is the case: perhaps students
anticipate non-academic work will accommodate family formation more easily, or that a start inside
academia is required to break into this sector. It should also be noted that Australian universities have
historically had more structured family leave provisions and flexible work arrangements than research
institutes. While those aiming for a non-university-based research career are in the minority compared
with those with ambitions of an academic career when viewed within the target population, they are
actually overrepresented when compared to other relevant reference groups – specifically men in the
same fields, women in other science fields, and the cohort of all HDR students. This anomaly in our
target population deserves further investigation.
27Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Another interesting finding from this analysis is that as these students progress through their
research degree, more of them intend to pursue a professional career outside research.
While only about 19% of finishing students indicated that they intended to follow this career in the
medium to long term, the fact that this figure rises consistently suggests that some students become
more disillusioned with their career prospects in research as they progress through their degrees. As
noted above this pattern is consistent with the UK RSC (2008) data.
These findings also show that in biological or chemical research there are far too few positions
available for the postgraduate students who aspire to continue in research careers in
universities and research institutes and there are potential implications for the career
ambitions and career knowledge that are formed during doctoral study. This reinforces the
need to improve understanding of patterns of mobility between sectors and knowledge of alternative
career paths, a key objective of the project survey.
28 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
SECTION 4: THE PROJECT SURVEY
In the last quarter of 2012 the Careers in the Scientific Research Workforce Survey (CSRWS), was
broadly promoted with the following announcement through the project’s industry partner newsletters:
Between mid-November 2012 and the end of February 2013, the industry partners distributed a link
to the online CSRWS questionnaire to their members and related organisations. The link was also
distributed amongst staff at CSIRO. Recipients were asked to forward the link to colleagues qualified
in the biological sciences and chemical sciences but no longer working in the field: ‘Whilst we are
interested in the experiences of those currently working in the scientific research field, we are also
interested in the experiences of those who are qualified but no longer working in the field. If you have
colleagues who fit this description, would you please forward the survey to them.’
The use of a ‘snowball selection’ method, a non-random technique that provides access to difficult-
to-reach or ‘hidden’ populations (Atkinson & Flint, 2001), could have resulted in bias either towards
those who remain engaged with science or towards those who feel disenfranchised and may be
motivated to complete such a questionnaire, even though they no longer work in the field. However,
as described above, census data was analysed to describe the population of qualified individuals in
the relevant fields of biological sciences and chemical sciences and to test the representativeness
of the survey data. This generated confidence in the range of respondents reached by the survey
29Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I just hope this survey gets to some of those people that have already been squeezed out of their science career.
I can give plenty of anecdotes of highly qualified, capable scientists that wish to be doing research but can’t
get jobs. I will try and forward this survey to a few friends including one working in the deli at Coles. She has
a PhD in cell biology. I wish I did medicine. At least those researchers can fall back on their 6-figure day jobs.
Pure scientists are pretty screwed in terms of fallback career options. Try planning to have a family or taking a
loan for a house in this environment!
Survey Respondent
Careers in the Scientific Research Workforce survey – coming soon!
You will be invited to participate in an important survey examining careers, career mobility and patterns of
retention and attrition in the Scientific Research Workforce. Led by researchers at the University of Melbourne,
and with The Bio21 Cluster, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) and Science and Technology Australia
(STA) as industry partners, the survey will seek to gather new data about the workforce, and inform workforce
planning and policy making.
There has been a lot of discussion recently in the popular media about careers in science and about the
sustainability of the scientific research workforce. Australia’s scientific research workforce, and the sustainability
of that workforce, is critical to the nation’s future. However we know little about career mobility within and
between government, industry and academia, and in particular whether skills are transferred between these
sectors. Further, not enough is known about why highly trained scientific researchers leave the workforce, in
particular why this is sometimes the case with women. Are the experiences of men and women different, and
are the experiences of early career researchers different from those already in the field?
We are asking all those currently in, or formerly associated with, the scientific research workforce, whether you
work in industry, government, in a university or a small research laboratory, to have your say and contribute to
filling the gaps in knowledge about your profession.
Your participation in this survey is voluntary and is anonymous. Results will be collected by the researchers and
results reported in aggregate form only.
and its findings, but care must be taken in generalising across the full population of this particular
workforce and those who have left the science research workforce. In the case of the latter, the reach
of the CSRWS was biased towards individuals with continuing inter-relationships – those who have
maintained connections with members of the community of research scientists, and perhaps retain
a heightened interest in and engagement with their scientific field, or had a negative experience that
they were motivated to share.
The CSRWS questionnaire consisted of 72 multiple-choice questions about respondents’
demographics, qualifications, conditions of work (including hours of work), contract of employment,
career profile, career decisions, job and career satisfaction, career impediments and work/life
balance issues. It gave opportunities for comment and to opt-in to follow-up focus groups.
The CSRWS received 1298 usable responses. We were keen to capture responses from male and
female scientists to enable comparison, and this goal was achieved: 52% of respondents were
female and 48% male. Consistent with the census data for postgraduates in the fields of biology and
chemistry, most female respondents were under 40 years of age and most male respondents over
40. Mirroring the census data, women were found to be highly concentrated amongst those qualified
and working in biological sciences, and men were highly concentrated amongst those qualified and
working in chemical sciences.
The CSRWS respondents differed by gender. Male respondents were older on average, less likely
to be working in research roles and more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts than female
respondents. These differences need to be taken into account in reading responses on career
satisfaction and like issues and are flagged at relevant points in the following analysis.
The survey provided a great deal of detailed data that was analysed using SPSS software. In this
section of the report, analysis of the overall survey population is presented and compared against
census data. In Section 5, the data from respondents qualified in biological sciences (n=519) and
chemical sciences (n=445) is analysed separately. Data relevant to the population as a whole and
data on the key themes of employment, organisational cultures, career paths and destinations, and
scientific skills and knowledge are discussed. Key findings are proposed in the context of recent and
relevant literature.
Respondent Demographics
Just under a third (29%, n=298) of CSRWS respondents were working at a university and a further
27% (n=280) were working in a research institute. Eighteen per cent (n=181) were working in the
private sector/industry, 9% in government, 8% in a hospital and 7% at CSIRO (72 respondents).
Most respondents (72%) were working in organisations of more than 100 employees but close to a
third (28%, n=289) were working in organisations of fewer than 100 employees, and 12% (n=121) in
organisations of fewer than 20 employees, reflecting the diversity of the sector and underlining the
range of strategies that might be needed to improve gender equity and diversity.
As indicated above, most female respondents were working in biological sciences whilst most men
were working in chemical sciences. Twenty-nine per cent (n=382) of respondents (33% of men
and 26% of women) were not working in a research role at the time of the survey – an important
target group to inform understanding of career decisions and career mobility. Thirty-six respondents
indicated they were retired/not working, and most of these respondents were male.
30 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I am about to retire. I feel that the opportunities and conditions for scientists are worse now than when I started,
although the opportunities for women have improved a lot.
Survey Respondent
Figure 4.1: Gender profile by field of work
Seventy-four per cent of respondents’ had their highest academic qualification in the biological
or chemical sciences; others reported highest qualifications in cognate fields such as medical
studies (10%), natural and physical sciences (6%), engineering and related technologies (5%)
and mathematical sciences (1%). Field and gender distributions were very similar: 52% of female
respondents were qualified in biological sciences, and 48% of men in chemical sciences. Nearly twice
as many women as men were qualified in medical studies (13% vs 7%); the remaining respondents
self-identified as working in the biological and biomedical sciences or chemistry-related industries.
We were keen to include these responses as the focus of the research was to capture the nature
of the scientific workforces in biological sciences and chemistry-related industries rather than rigidly
defined disciplinary fields.
Consistent with the target population, 60% of respondents described their current role as ‘research
scientist’ (Figure 4.2). A further 20.5% were either research-focused or teaching/research academics.
Figure 4.2: Gender profile by current position/primary role
Q7: Which of the following best describes the field in which you currently work?
Q13: How would you describe your current position/primary role?
31Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Consistent with the 2011 census, the highest qualification of most survey respondents was a PhD
(63%) and a further 5% had a Masters by Research degree (Figure 4.3). There was no significant
difference in degree type proportions between men and women within the postgraduate-qualified
group.
Figure 4.3: Gender profile by highest qualification
As Figure 4.4 indicates, there was a distinct difference in gender profile by age and career stage, with
women constituting 64% of respondents in the under-40 age group and men 64% of the over-40
age group. This is consistent with the 2011 census data.
Figure 4.4: Gender profile by age of respondents
Q4: What is your age?
32 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Q1: What is the highest level of education you have completed?
Career Stage and Employment
Consistent with the age profile of respondents, 49% of respondents described their career stage
as early career, with women making up 70% of this group; 35% described their career stage as
mid-career, with women making up 48% of this group; and 16% of respondents described their
career stage as late career, with women making up only 23% of this group of respondents (Figure
4.5). Career stage is very closely associated with age, with only small proportions in the early and
mid-career researcher categories falling outside the expected age ranges. Three quarters of early-
career researchers were under 35 years of age, although 12% are 36–40 years of age. Those who
described themselves as mid-career researchers were typically aged 36–50 (75% fall into this age
category), and late career researchers were overwhelmingly in the 50+ age group category.
Figure 4.5: Gender profile by career stage
This reflects the demographics of the biological and chemical sciences: they are characterised by a
growing number of young, female entrants (particularly the biological sciences), as evidenced in the
2006 and 2011 census data.
Only 55% of respondents indicated that their career path had been a traditional linear one
(undergraduate study followed by postgraduate study, doctorate and postdoctoral research) but
this may have been skewed by the large percentage of self-described early career female research
respondents whose career trajectory had not had time to evolve. More men (n=127) than women
(n=111) classified their career path as a ‘non-traditional’ career path that included work in other
sectors.
Less than half the respondents who identified as currently in the research workforce
(n=499/1095) were employed in full-time continuing positions, with men making up the
majority of this employment category (57%) (Figure 4.6). Women outnumbered men in the
second-largest employment category, full-time, fixed-term contracts, and in the part-time and casual
categories.
33Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
It is a difficult time to be a scientist – and while there were lots of questions about job satisfaction and career
progression and prospects, to be honest I, and many of my peers, are just so grateful to have a job in science
that career advancement really comes so secondary to that.
Survey Respondent
Q15: How would you describe your career stage?
Figure 4.6: Gender profile by employment type
There are critical differences between employment patterns in the biological sciences and chemical
sciences. The percentage of respondents directly employed in chemistry-related fields was
substantially higher (69% compared to 34.5% in the biological sciences), suggesting that there
are risks associated with generalised ‘whole of science’ conclusions. Consistent with the above,
and noting differences between the biological sciences and chemistry-related industries, a higher
proportion of men than women (56%) were direct employees; women were more likely than men
to be employed on someone else’s research grant (29%), and a smaller percentage had their own
grant (16%).
Almost three times as many women (n=209) as men (n=73) indicated that they had taken leave from
the research workforce for six months or longer (Figure 4.7).
Figure 4.7: Leave from the research workforce by gender
Time away from the workforce is a major factor warranting further analysis in terms of Bailyn’s
‘accumulated disadvantage’; such periods of leave were reported by 52% of late-career women,
compared to 12% of late-career men; 37% of mid-career women, compared to 10% of mid-career
men; and 24% of early-career women compared to 12% of early-career men. Thus, a significant
Q36: Have you have ever taken a period of 6 months or longer away from work anytime during your career?
34 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Q28: Are you employed?
proportion of women in the science research workforce, at least 36% of the survey population (and
that is likely to be an underestimate due to the higher proportion of early career female researchers
in the respondent population) have had to develop career strategies to accommodate long periods
of leave. Interestingly, only 19% of survey respondents indicated they had taken paid parental
leave, even though such leave was available to most respondents; 12% (15% of women) had taken
unpaid parental leave. Very few (10 men and 30 women) indicated they had received return-to-work
assistance after parental leave. Moreover, when asked whether time out for family reasons had
hindered their career progress, 34% of women strongly agreed compared to 7% of men.
The survey data (Q24) confirms that on a rating scale (very important, somewhat important, neutral,
not important) the overwhelming majority (> 80%) of the survey population was motivated to pursue
a career in science primarily by ‘intellectually stimulating work’ and the scientists’ ‘genuine passion
for field of study’, with no significant differences between men and women. Financial rewards (36%)
and status of profession (37%) were only ‘somewhat important’ or ‘neutral’ to respondents’ decision
to pursue a career in science. This is consistent with the large salary and career survey of scientists
Nature undertook in 2010 (Russo, 2010, 1104–1107). The least important factors in scientists’
decisions to pursue a career in science were family influence (36%); ‘inspired by a university lecturer’
(32% rated this as neutral and 24% as not important); and inspired by a school teacher (34% neutral
and 32% not important).
In this context, it is not surprising that a large minority (over 30%) of respondents identified improved
job security – meaning the security to pursue your passion – as the single factor that would improve
their job satisfaction (Figure 4.8). Almost twice as many women (n=200) thought this was significantly
more important than the men (n=109) who also chose this factor. This is even more strongly apparent
for current researchers (not shown in Figure 4.8): 40% said job security was the one factor that would
improve their job satisfaction. This included 30% of male and 48% of female current researchers,
reflecting the much higher proportion of women in fixed-term positions. Twice as many men (n= 97)
as women (n=49) indicated that they were very satisfied with their current job, and indicated that
none of the listed factors that might improve their job satisfaction were relevant for them.
Figure 4.8: The most critical factor for job satisfaction by gender
The second most important factor in improving job satisfaction for survey respondents was improved
institutional/organisational culture; this was important for women and men. The well-documented
importance of organisational culture (Bailyn 2003; OECD 2006; Hewlett et al 2008) was also reflected
in responses to other survey questions, but the importance of this may be partially masked by the
overriding issue of employment security.
Q52: If there was one factor you could change that would make a major difference to your levels of job satisfaction
what would it be?
35Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Organisational Cultures
The survey data confirms that the demands of the science research workforce are akin to those of
‘greedy’ organisations, a term coined by Coser (1967) to describe institutions based on the concept
of a ‘vocation’ such as the church and the armed forces. Coser (1974) noted that certain institutions
make ‘total claims on their members’ and ‘attempt to reduce the claims of competing roles and
status positions’ (1974: 6). This concept has regained currency more recently in the gendered
workplace (Currie et al 2000) and work-family balance literature (Bartram 2007).
The data confirms the well-documented fact that scientific research roles demand high levels of
commitment from those working full-time and part-time. Figure 4.9, which includes all CSRWS
respondents in research roles, indicates that over 60% (n=494) of the survey population currently in
the science research workforce estimate that they work, including in field or clinical settings, over 40
hours per week, with 22% (n=172) working over 50 hours per week and 6% (n=50) over 60 hours
per week. With the exception of those working part-time and those working 31–40 hours per week,
men on average work longer hours than women. Women dominate (n=137) the 31–40 category, that
is, the ‘normal’ work week, but it should be noted that less than a third of respondents (215/783)
nominated this category.
Figure 4.9: Estimated work hours per week by gender
High levels of competition and paucity of funding are important drivers for hours spent at work.
Research institutes and universities are highly competitive environments and individual researchers
are usually responsible for their own professional survival, meaning the next grant is vital. Even if
employed on someone else’s grant, it is in the researcher’s interest to work as hard as possible to
ensure the next grant is successful. If continuous external funding is not achieved, it is difficult to
maintain a research position. Many research institutes don’t provide bridging funding, and those that
do may only provide short-term support for selected cases they deem worthwhile – another context
in which gender can come into play.
Q17: On average, how many hours per week do you work in your workplace, including in field or clinical settings?
36 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I am sick and tired of short-term contracts based entirely on limited industry/ARC funding, and the expectations
that you will put in ‘whatever hours it takes’ to get things done.
Survey Respondent
Individuals highly committed to science populate these ‘greedy’ organisations. When asked ‘what
do you value most in your current role?’ (Q25), passion for field of study, intellectual stimulation
and autonomy and control were the most highly valued factors for most respondents (all >60%),
closely followed by the opportunity to contribute to new knowledge. These responses suggest that
the high levels of commitment and motivation of research scientists are important contributors to
cultures of long hours and may in part be driven by the scientists themselves. It should also be noted
that workplace flexibility was highly valued and reported by many respondents, to a certain degree
mitigating the impact of the ‘crazy hours’.
In the decision to pursue a career in science, job security was very important for 21% of respondents
and somewhat important for 35% of respondents, with only 12% indicating that this was not a
primary factor. However, job security was identified as ‘highly valued’ by 40% of women and 29% of
men and ‘valued’ by 36% of men and 34% of women, suggesting that job security becomes more
important once employment has been secured or that the disadvantages of non-secure employment
become more evident.
In response to the question ‘What factors do you rank as being most important for having a successful
career in science research?’ (Q54), 97% of respondents ranked the accumulation of social and
political capital (networks, connections and knowing the right people) as highly as academic capital
(good track record and being good at their work). Projecting a positive image at work and working
long hours were also highly ranked factors for success.
Given the patterns of attrition of women from the science workforce, we were keen to explore
whether respondents perceived gender to be an issue in their workplace. In describing ‘attitudes
in my workplace to people of my gender’ (Q51) most respondents were neutral, but women gave
a wider variety of responses than men: 20% of women reported a positive attitude (helpful or
very helpful), 55% were neutral, but 25% (n=134) responded that gender was a problem or major
problem. For the majority of men, ‘attitudes towards people of my gender’ were positive or neutral
(96%), with fewer than 4% indicating that this was a problem (n=12) or a major problem (n=4). These
responses raise the question of whether, as suggested by the UK RSC, some organisations
retain a normative organisational culture in which ‘masculine ways of thinking and doing’
remain dominant and the majority of men experience organisational ‘fit’, in contrast to the
dissonance experienced by a substantial proportion of women.
Given some of the factors relating to cumulative female disadvantage identified in previous studies,
it is interesting that men and women differed only slightly in their perception of the importance of
some factors in career advancement, such as geographic mobility; level of support from supervisors/
managers in applying for promotion; opportunities for professional development; access to research
funding; and access to equipment and resources. However, as Marion Stevens-Kalceff and
colleagues at the University of New South Wales (Stevens-Kalceff et al 2007) showed, such factors
are most likely to be identified through micro-organisational studies that document the fine detail of
male and female experiences in specific organizational contexts.
Career Paths and Destinations
One of the assumptions that initially drove this research project was that the targeted research
workforce population, those with postgraduate qualifications (generally doctorates) in biological
sciences or chemical sciences, would be amongst the ‘best and the brightest’ in our target
37Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The further up the ladder you move, the more demoralising a career in science seems to become, with continual
fights for funding, pressure from employers to do research with ‘public appeal’ and an overload of administrative
responsibility.
Survey Respondent
community. Survey responses to the question of identification with this category present a stark
pattern (Figure 4.10) that is undoubtedly important to understanding women’s career trajectories in
the scientific research workforce and patterns of generational change.
Figure 4.10: Self-assessment by gender and career stage
This was a question that not all survey respondents answered and those who did answer (n=845,
455 female and 390 male) were able to choose more than one career stage. This generated 1422
total responses (727 from women and 695 from men). While female respondents tended to describe
themselves as ‘best and brightest’ as an undergraduate applicability of this descriptor clearly declines
with career stage for women. We conducted regression analysis to identify the factors significantly
and independently associated with this self-perception. (Note that the question did not require a
response, therefore we cannot be sure if those who did not complete this item considered they had
never been amongst the best and brightest or thought the question irrelevant.) The 11 independent
variables we evaluated are listed below, with dummy variables shown in parentheses:
n ‘Gender’ (M/F)
n ‘Age’ (U30/30-35, 36-40, 41-45, 46-50, 51-55, 56-60, 61-65, 66+)
n ‘PhD qualified’ (yes/no)
n ‘Studying’ (yes/no)
n ‘Research Role’ (in a research role/not in a research role)
n ‘Contract’ (Employment type is fixed-term contract/employment is continuing)
n ‘Casual/self’ (employment type casual or self-employed/employment is continuing)
n ‘Direct employee’ (employment is direct/employment is on a grant)
n ‘Self-employed’ (respondent is self-employed/respondent is direct employed)
n ‘Combination of other employment types’ (respondent is self-employed or casual or fixed-
term/direct employed)
n ‘Career break’ (has taken a career break of longer than 6 months/has not taken a career break
of longer than 6 months)
Controlling for gender, discipline, age, qualification and employment characteristics, the regression
confirmed the earlier finding that women were more likely than men to have considered
themselves as among the best and brightest at undergraduate level (the coefficient is not
especially large, but it is statistically significant). Notably, the older cohorts of survey respondents were
less likely to have considered themselves among the best and brightest at the undergraduate level.
Q19: Would you have described yourself to be amonst the ‘best and brightest’ at any/all of the relevant stages
of your career?
38 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
At the postgraduate level, those currently studying and those with a PhD qualification were significantly
more likely to say they were among the best and brightest, but this did not differ by gender.
At the early career stage, respondents in the younger age cohorts (i.e., those likely to be at this stage
at the time of the survey) were significantly less likely than others to indicate they were among the best
and brightest. Again, gender was not significant. At mid-career, the older the respondent, the more
likely they were to say they were among the best and brightest. Those employed in research roles
were also more likely to offer this response in relation to mid-career. Again, gender was not significant.
Late-career researchers who were self-employed or in research roles were significantly more likely to
indicate they were among the best and brightest at this stage. Gender was not significant.
The data indicates some interesting dynamics, with more women than men having confidence in
their abilities at the undergraduate level, but at all later career stages age and employment in a
research role being more significant factors than gender. The regression analysis suggests that in the
later career phases both male and female respondents were reflecting their experience of the ‘funnel’
of scientific employment. In the early-career phase they are aware of sharp competition with many
other very bright people. At mid- and late-career stages, those who sustain employment recognise
their relative success. But given that more men than women in the survey sample were in the late
career stage, this can also be interpreted as those who are successful seeing their own success as
a result of their own innate qualities, and the lack of success of others (e.g., women) as a result of
lack of these qualities rather than the conditions in which they compete. This dynamic is reinforced
with the emerging disjunction in career opportunities for younger generations discussed earlier, and
documented in the NRSS (2010) data. It also reflects the influence of circumstance that impacts on
understanding of meritocratic and structural factors in gender inequality documented by Cech and
Blair-Loy (2010: 371)
Related questions on factors that have influenced career success reinforce a differentiated pattern
of perception of achievement on the part of men and women: a higher proportion of men (37%,
compared to 24% of women) indicated that they progressed more quickly than those with whom
they had completed their studies and a higher proportion of women (38% compared with 31% of
men) indicated that they had progressed more slowly than others with whom they had completed
their studies (Q45). A much higher proportion of women (34%, compared to 7% of men) felt that time
out of their career for family reasons was a major factor in their slower career progress, and more
women (43%) than men (25%) reported feeling unprepared or unready to apply for promotion (Q46).
These results make it unsurprising that men reported higher levels of confidence in their ability as
helpful to their career advancement (Figure 4.11).
Figure 4.11: Confidence and career advancement by gender
39Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Q51: To what extent have the following been helpful or problematic to your career advancement?
Career Change and Satisfaction
One important aim of the survey was to understand the career paths of respondents who had left the
research workforce. Three hundred and eighty-two respondents were not working in a research role
at the time of the survey. These respondents were asked questions about their satisfaction with their
career change, the reasons for that change and their assessment of how their skills and experience
gained through their formal qualification were used in their current role. Male and female respondents
gave different responses to the question about why they made a career change (Figure 4.12). Large
proportions of female respondents cited ‘lack of positions in my field’ and ‘could not see a future’,
while male respondents gave a greater variety of responses, including ‘lack of positions’, ‘could not
see a future’ and that they had ‘always planned to move out of research’. More men than women
reported planning career changes, whereas more women had responded to lack of opportunities in
their field, but overall the responses indicate a lack of prospects in a research career (64%)
rather than a lack of continuing interest in research (23%), implying that the workforce is
losing scientists who would prefer to remain in research roles.
Figure 4.12: Reasons for career change by gender
As evidenced in Figure 4.13 below, whilst there are some differences between men and women and
between the biological and chemical sciences, most respondents reported being satisfied or very
satisfied with their career change.
40 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
There is something generally disheartening about a profession which provides so much constant, negative
feedback to hardworking, intelligent, highly skilled individuals.
Survey Respondent
Q10: Which of the following best describes the reasons for your career change away from research?
Figure 4.13: Satisfaction with career change by gender
Nevertheless, conclusions drawn from these responses should allow for an element of defensiveness
or bravado. The research culture is very judgemental of those who seem unable to make the grade,
and those who leave the research workforce may be relieved to find satisfying employment but also
defensive regarding this career change.
Figure 4.14 below shows the major fields of employment of respondents who have left the scientific
research workforce. This data (n=322), together with the responses to the question as to whether
skills and experience gained through their formal qualification were used in their current role, indicate
that many of those who leave the research workforce are employed in cognate fields, not as research
scientists but using their scientific knowledge and skills. (Note that the category ‘unpaid household
duties includes retirees, most of whom are male (n=36).)
Figure 4.14: Major fields of non-research employment
Q9: If you are no longer working in a research role how satisfied are you with your career change?
Q8: If you are qualified in the biological sciences, or a chemistry related field, and are not currently working as a
researcher in this field, how would you best describe the area in which you work?
41Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
In the context of the survey data and the analysis presented above regarding those who have left
the scientific research workforce, we were keen to explore in more detail through regression analysis
the factors that influence job satisfaction and ultimately retention. We used regression to examine
the association of the 11 explanatory variables assessed previously with job satisfaction, position
change and career change. In order to assess job satisfaction, the following satisfaction questions
were used to construct a single dependent variable:
1 ‘I have good career or promotion opportunities’
2 ‘I have good job security’
3 ‘I am satisfied with the opportunities I have within my field of science’
4 ‘Overall I find my work rewarding’
5 ‘Generally speaking I am satisfied with my job’
6 ‘I have considered a major position or career change during the past five years’.
Responses to these five questions were given on a four-point Likert scale: strongly agree (assigned
a score of 0), agree (25), disagree (75) and strongly disagree (100). Adding the individual item scores
for each respondent produced a continuous job satisfaction variable.
Regression analysis indicated that the variables most strongly associated with job
satisfaction were those related to terms of employment, that is, whether the respondent
was employed on a fixed-term, casual, or self-employed basis. These employment modes
were consistently negatively associated with the job satisfaction measure, even after
controlling for the impact of other characteristics on responses.
Interestingly, for most of the regression models developed, gender did not independently explain
differences in attitudes of respondents. Gender was only significant in relation to general job
satisfaction for women qualified in chemical sciences (women were more satisfied than men) and –
possibly as a consequence – women qualified in chemical sciences were less likely than men to have
considered a career change. Employment status influences responses on these issues regardless of
gender, qualification, age, or whether the person was in a research role. Employment in biological or
chemical sciences did not explain differences in satisfaction measures.
If these findings are considered together with the NRSS analysis and census data, the picture is
one of an employment sector undergoing structural change in employment patterns but with a
disjunction between career prospects and advanced education and training opportunities. For the
reasons outlined above, these factors cumulatively hamper women’s careers.
Scientific Skills and Knowledge
Among the important propositions that this research explored are to what degree respondents’
knowledge and skills are fully utilised, whether the responses are different for women and men, and
whether those who leave the scientific research workforce have ‘quit’ science, as is often assumed.
This is a critical question as individual, institutional and government investment in the education of
scientists to postgraduate level is substantial and critically important to Australia’s future.
Survey responses exploring these issues were sought from both those in the research workforce
and those who no longer worked in research. Not surprisingly, respondents currently working in
a research role reported high levels of knowledge and skills utilisation in their current positions.
Eighty-two per cent of these respondents (n=639) indicated that their knowledge and skills were
fully utilised or mostly utilised, and there was only a marginal difference in gender (Figure 4.15).
42 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 4.15: Knowledge and skills of those in the research workforce
Of those who had left the research workforce, 52% of respondents (n=231) indicated that their
knowledge and skills were fully utilised or mostly utilised in their current (non-research) position
(Figure 4.16). There is very little difference in the results by gender. Of those not working in a research
role, 10% indicated that their knowledge and skills were not utilised, compared to 1% of those
currently in the research workforce.
Figure 4.16: Knowledge and skills of those no longer working in a research role
This data, together with feedback from participants in focus groups, tests the assumptions
behind the concept of a large population that ‘quits’ science. The focus group data in particular
provides evidence that some people go to extraordinary lengths to remain in the scientific research
workforce or continue to be optimistic re re-engagement. Women, particularly in the post-doctoral
Q11: In your current position do you use the specific scientific knowledge and skills acquired through your formal
qualifications?
Q12: In your current position do you use the specific scientific knowledge and skills acquired through your formal
qualifications?
43Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
phase, transition to occupations that offer satisfying science-related careers in which the skills and
knowledge obtained in research careers are relevant and useful, but do not align with the dominant
definitions of SET occupations – this raises questions relating to ‘the leaky pipeline’ versus socially
constructed concepts of science (Metcalf, 2010).
Key Findings from the Survey
Postgraduates in the fields of biological sciences and chemistry are part of an exceptionally highly
qualified, small but rapidly growing population in Australia. Consistent with the census data for
postgraduates in these fields, most female survey respondents were under 40 years of age and most
male respondents were over 40. Mirroring the census data, women were over-represented amongst
those qualified and working in the biological sciences, and men were over-represented amongst
those qualified and working in the chemical sciences. Less than half the respondents who
identified as currently in the research workforce were employed in full-time continuing
positions, with older men dominating this employment category.
The survey data confirms that the overwhelming majority of the survey population was motivated
to pursue a career in science primarily by passion for their field of study and the prospect of
intellectually stimulating work, with no significant differences between men and women. Most people
commencing their doctoral studies in the fields of biological and chemical sciences saw a career as a
research scientist as ideal. There is strong evidence, however, of a growing disjunction between this
career aspiration and employment opportunities for emerging doctoral graduates and early career
researchers.
Who succeeds in the demanding Australian research environment? The survey data confirms the
well-documented fact that scientific research roles demand high levels of commitment from those
working full-time and also from those working part-time. For most respondents passion for the field
of study, intellectual stimulation and autonomy and control were the most highly valued factors,
closely followed by the opportunity to contribute to new knowledge. These responses suggest that
the high levels of commitment and motivation of research scientists is an important contributor to
the cultures of long hours, which is therefore partly driven by the scientists themselves, who realise
what it takes to succeed. Importantly, an intensive period of research productivity in the postdoctoral
career stage, typically a critical stage for family formation for women, is key to establishing a career
as an independent researcher, and this is a clear tipping point in many women’s careers.
Questions exploring career success indicate some interesting dynamics, with more women than men
displaying confidence at the undergraduate level, but at all later career stages age and employment
in a research role becoming more significant factors than gender. This dynamic may be strongly
associated with the emerging disjunction in career opportunities for younger generations, particularly
in the higher education sector, and particularly in the female-dominated biological sciences.
Related questions on factors that have influenced career success reinforce a gender-differentiated
pattern of perception of achievement. A higher proportion of men indicated that they progressed
more quickly than those with whom they had completed their studies, and a higher proportion of
women indicated that they had progressed more slowly than others with whom they had completed
their studies. Three times as many women as men had taken long periods of leave and believed that
time out of their career for family reasons was a major explanation for their slower career progress.
It is not surprising that more men than women reported higher levels of confidence in their ability as
helpful to their career advancement.
More men than women reported planning career changes, whereas more women had responded
to lack of opportunities in their field. Overall, the responses indicate career changes are
influenced by a lack of prospects in research careers rather than a lack of continuing
interest in research, indicating that the research workforce is losing scientists who would
prefer to remain in research roles.
44 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Terms of employment – employment on a fixed-term, casual, or self-employed basis – had
the strongest (negative) association with job satisfaction, even after controlling for other
influential characteristics.
Among the important propositions that this research tested were to what degree respondents’
knowledge and skills are fully utilised and whether those who leave the scientific research workforce
‘quit’ science, as is often assumed. Individual, institutional and government invest heavily in the
education of scientists to postdoctoral level and this is critically important to Australia’s future.
Data on knowledge and skills utilisation were sought from scientists in the research workforce
and those no longer working in research. Not surprisingly, respondents currently working in
research reported high levels of knowledge and skills utilisation in their current position.
Most respondents who had left the research workforce indicated that their knowledge and
skills were fully or mostly utilised in their current (non-research) positions. There is very little
difference in the results by gender but there is evidence that women, particularly in the postdoctoral
phase, transition to a wider range of occupations than men. There are also differences between the
biological and chemical sciences. Non-research roles can enable continued utilisation of scientific
knowledge and skills, but in employment data and institutional staffing profiles scientists pursuing
these alternative career paths are represented as having ‘quit’ science. The focus group data provides
strong evidence that people no longer in scientific research roles continue their engagement with
science, and examples of individuals who have gone to great lengths to re-engage with or re-enter
the science research workforce.
45Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
SECTION 5: DIFFERENCES BY FIELD
The project survey data indicates that, whilst there are many similarities, there are significant
differences between the biological sciences and chemistry-related industries with respect to gender
profile, employment status, research funding, career aspirations, job satisfaction and private sector
employment. These differences are sufficiently large to warrant presentation of some key data by
field for the biological sciences and chemistry-related industries. They also serve as a reminder that
‘whole of science’ policies and initiatives, as foreshadowed above, are unlikely to be effective unless
their relevance by field and organisational context has been established.
Biological Sciences
This section focuses only on the survey respondents qualified in the biological sciences (n=519).
The gender profile of this field is almost the opposite of that for respondents qualified in chemical
sciences, as respondents are two thirds female and one third male. The age profile of biological
science qualified respondents is gendered: female respondents were younger, with half under 35
years of age, whereas most male respondents were over 41 years of age. Figure 5.1 illustrates the
age profile of survey respondents qualified in biological sciences.
Figure 5.1: Age profile by gender, biological sciences
This age profile is consistent with that indicated by analysis of 2011 census data of the total cohort
of biological science postgraduates in Australia. The census data shows that the median age of a
man with postgraduate qualifications in biological sciences is 48, and for women, 40. Seventy-four
per cent held a PhD qualification; this was higher than in the total project survey population at 63%,
and significantly higher than among the chemical sciences qualified respondents (58%).
Career stage
As illustrated in Figure 5.2 the age profiles of biological science qualified men and women are
reflected in differences in career stage. Almost two thirds of women reported that they were early-
career researchers, whereas men were more likely to describe themselves as mid-career, with 20%
reporting that they were late-career. The numbers of respondents at senior levels are small; senior
researchers might have been less motivated to complete the questionnaire due to time pressures or
satisfaction with their achievements.
46 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.2: Career stage by gender, biological sciences
Employment status
For respondents qualified in the biological sciences, significant gender differences in contract of
employment were evident (Figure 5.3). Men, more of whom were mid- or late-career researchers,
were twice as likely to be employed on a full-time continuing basis (52%) than women (27%). Women
were more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts basis, with 40.5% of women employed full-
time on these terms and a further 12% employed on a fixed-term part-time contract basis.
Figure 5.3: Employment status by gender, biological sciences
Consistent with career stage, most respondents (74%) had been in their current position for less
than five years, and only just over a quarter had been in their current position for greater than five
years or more.
Respondents were asked to identify the field in which they were working, or if they were not working
in a research role. The ABS Australian Standard Codes of Education (broad and narrow fields) were
used to specify the categories. Of those respondents qualified in biological sciences, just over 20%
47Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
of women and men were no longer working in a research role (Figure 5.4). A further 30% were
working in medical sciences, and 17% in pharmacology. The remainder were working in a range of
biology related and cognate fields.
Figure 5.4: Current role by gender, biological sciences
Employment conditions
Self-employment was very rare amongst men and women in the biological sciences. In contrast
to the chemistry-related industries, women qualified in the biological sciences (39%) are
much more likely to be employed on someone else’s grant and much less likely to be either
directly employed or have their own grant than men. Just over 24% of male respondents had
their own grant compared to 20% of female respondents, and a further 48% of male respondents
were directly employed, compared with 28% of women (Figure 5.5). These responses include people
not currently working in a research role. This may be a reflection of the age profile of the survey
cohort, but is also likely to reflect patterns of generational change in competitive science funding that
negatively affect employment conditions and science careers.
Figure 5.5: Major source of salary by gender, biological sciences
48 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The data on hours of work per week confirms the particularly demanding nature of this
field of science, which is even higher than the overall survey population. Sixty-eight per cent
of respondents (80% of men and 62% of women) reported working more than 40 hours per week,
with 31% of men and 24% of women working over 50 hours per week (Figure 5.6).
Figure 5.6: Hours per week by gender, biological sciences
Careers and career paths
This section covers various factors associated with the careers and career stages of respondents
qualified in the biological sciences. In common with the chemical sciences, geographic mobility is
an established expectation in this field. Eighty-six per cent of men and 75% of women had moved
location at least once for their career, with men more likely to have done so than women.
Significantly more men had moved more than twice, although this may be related to the differing age
profiles of men and women in this sample.
Figure 5.7: Career Break by Gender
Men and women reported similar career paths, with almost two thirds describing their career
paths as ‘traditional linear’ career paths. Men (31%) were more likely than women (22%) to have
experienced work in other sectors, but this differential may be indicative of career stage. As in the
overall population, and in a pattern duplicated in the chemical sciences, over 36% of women had
taken a career break of longer than six months, compared with just 11% of men (Figure 5.7).
49Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Measures of satisfaction with work and career
This section briefly examines responses to a series of ‘satisfaction’ questions:
n I am satisfied with the opportunities I have within my field of science
n Overall I find my work rewarding
n Generally speaking I am satisfied with my job
n I have good job security
n I have good career or promotion opportunities.
In each case respondents were asked to nominate a point on a five-point scale that most closely
represented their response to the particular question (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, or
strongly disagree).
Analysis of responses to the first question, ‘I am satisfied with the opportunities I have in my field
of science’ (Q53), indicates that only 39% of the biological sciences sample agreed or strongly
agreed with the statement, compared with 47% of those qualified in the chemical sciences, and
42% disagreed or strongly disagreed, compared to 30% in the chemical sciences (Figure 5.8).
Figure 5.8: Level of satisfaction with career opportunities, biological sciences
Men and women provided similar responses to the question ‘Overall I find my work rewarding’ (Q57)
although women were marginally more likely to say they ‘strongly agreed’ (Figure 5.9). Seventy-six
per cent of the sample agreed or strongly agreed that they found their work rewarding. A slightly
lower proportion, some two thirds of the sample, said ‘Generally speaking I am satisfied with my
job’, but women (69%) were slightly more likely than men (63%) to report that they agreed with the
statement.
I am satisfied with the opportunities I have in my field of science
50 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Overall I find my work rewarding
I have good job security
Figure 5.9: Level of satisfaction with work by gender, biological sciences
Just over a quarter of the biological sciences sample said that they thought they had good job
security (Q57), and 63% said that they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘I have
good job security’ (Figure 5.10). Women were more likely than men to report that they did
not have good job security. These findings undoubtedly reflect the differing employment contract
profile of men and women reported above, which may be partly explained by career stage.
Figure 5.10: Perception of employment security, biological sciences
The final ‘satisfaction’ question revealed that just over 30% of the biological sciences sample agreed
or strongly agreed that they had good career or promotion opportunities (Q57), compared to 40%
of those qualified in chemical sciences, and women were less likely than men to agree with the
statement. Forty-two per cent of people qualified in biological sciences, compared to 25%
of those qualified in chemical sciences, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement
‘I have good career or promotion opportunities’.
51Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The sample data is indicative of a highly qualified and committed workforce engaged in work that
is rewarding but demands long hours. Levels of satisfaction are compromised by a disjunction
between career aspirations and career opportunities. This is compounded by fragile conditions of
employment, reflected in the data on job security and career prospects.
It is not surprising that 85% of female and 75% of male respondents qualified in the biological
sciences had considered a major career change within the last five years (Q61). Men were slightly
more likely than women to take action, but overall three quarters of those who said they had
considered a change acted on that by applying for a position either within their field or outside their
field. Twenty-eight per cent of all respondents indicated that they intended to move out of
science altogether. Reasons for considering a career change are depicted in Figure 5.11.
Figure 5.11: Main reasons for considering a career or location change, biological
sciences
Career Change
Of respondents qualified in biological sciences who were no longer working in a research role (n=108),
male respondents were more satisfied with their career change than female respondents (Q9). 66%
per cent of male respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their career change compared with
56% of female respondents (Figure 5.12). Conversely, 27% of female respondents were unsatisfied
or very unsatisfied with their career change, compared to 17% of male respondents.
52 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.12: Career change and satisfaction by gender, biological sciences
These differing patterns of satisfaction may be related to the fact that male and female respondents
gave different reasons for making a career change (Q10). Most female respondents (71%) cited
‘lack of positions in my field’ or ‘could not see a future’ (Figure 5.13); in contrast, male respondents
provided a variety of responses, including ‘lack of positions’ (28%), that they ‘could not see a future’
(22%) and that they had ‘always planned to move out of research’ (19%). The female responses
indicate ‘push’ factors, essentially lack of opportunity, whereas male the responses suggest relatively
greater agency and more active career decision-making.
Figure 5.13: Reasons for career change by gender, biological sciences
In the biological sciences, women in non-research roles were also less likely to be able to use their
scientific knowledge and skills, which may have contributed to lower levels of satisfaction.
Scientific Knowledge and Skills
Of biological science qualified respondents who were no longer working in a research role, male
respondents were much more positive about how their knowledge and skills gained through their
formal qualification were being utilised (Q11), with over half (58%) noting that their knowledge
53Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
and skills were either fully or mostly utilised (Figure 5.14). On the other hand, only 38% of female
respondents provided similar responses, with almost half (49%) noting their knowledge and skills
were only ‘partly’ utilised.
Figure 5.14: Knowledge and skills of those no longer working in a research role,
biological sciences
This is in stark contrast to women in the chemical sciences (see Figure 5.29); those respondents
(60%) were more likely than their male counterparts to report that their skills and knowledge were
mostly or fully utilised. This may be due to a greater range of employment opportunities in the private
sector in chemistry-related industries that better accommodate women’s career ‘branching’.
What factors would make a difference to job satisfaction?
Survey respondents were asked to identify factors that would make a major difference to their levels of
job satisfaction (Q53). For those qualified in the biological sciences, job security is a significant issue,
particularly for women. Almost half of these women (49%) said that improved job security
was the single most important factor that would improve their job satisfaction, compared
with 38% of men (Figure 5.15). The second most important factor was improved organisational
culture, and interestingly this was important for a larger percentage of men (17%) than women
(13%). Fewer than 10% of men and women indicated that none of these factors would
make a difference, as they were very satisfied with their jobs.
54 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.15: Factors that would make a difference to job satisfaction, biological sciences
The survey also sought opinions on a range of factors that might have helped or hindered career
advancement (Q51). Respondents were asked to note on a five-point scale (very helpful, helpful,
neither helpful or a problem, a problem, a major problem) how they felt about each factor. For 42%
of respondents, access to research funding was a major problem. For nearly a quarter of female
respondents, lack of support from a supervisor in applying for promotion was a problem or major
problem, as was geographic mobility. Informal mentoring was seen as helpful or very helpful for over
40% of men and women. For respondents qualified in the biological sciences, 20% of men
and 32% of women noted that their level of confidence in their ability was either a problem
or a major problem. This may reflect the highly competitive, grant-driven nature of this field of
science compared with the chemical sciences, where a quarter of female respondents noted that
their level of confidence in their ability was either a problem or a major problem, and only 7% of male
respondents indicated this was the case.
Summary – Sample qualified in Biological Sciences
The respondents qualified in biological sciences were mostly female and young; most were under
35 years of age. This group is also highly qualified, with three quarters holding a PhD, and only 20%
were not currently in a research role.
Gender differences existed in hours of work, in contract of employment and in how their salary was
funded. Women were much more likely to be employed on a fixed-term basis and men were much
more likely to be employed on a continuing basis. Consistent with career stage, men were much
more likely to be either directly employed or holding their own grant and women were more likely to
be employed on someone else’s grant.
Male and female respondents were at different career stages, reflecting differing age profiles. Men
were evenly spread between early and mid-career, whereas two thirds of women were early-career
researchers. As a result, men were more likely to have moved residence for their career, but women
were much more likely to have taken a career break of more than six months.
Job security was seen as a problem for almost two-thirds of the sample, with women being more
negative about it than men. Almost half of all female respondents said that improved job security
was the factor that would most increase their job satisfaction. In a plausibly linked finding, most had
considered a career or location change and most of those had made that change.
55Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Many respondents noted that access to research funding was a major hurdle to their career
advancement; the highly competitive research environment affects the professional confidence of
large proportions of both female and male respondents.
Most respondents considered being geographically mobile, informal mentoring, and having
confidence in their ability helpful or very helpful to their career advancement.
The data portray a highly qualified and committed workforce engaged in work that
demands long hours but is rewarding. However, levels of satisfaction are compromised by
a disjunction between career aspirations and career opportunities. This is compounded
by unstable conditions of employment, reflected in the data on job security, together with
perceived poor prospects for promotion/career progression.
Chemistry Related Industries
This section focuses only on the sample of respondents whose highest qualification is in the chemical
sciences (n=445). In contrast to the biological sciences, two thirds are male and one third
is female. Analysis of 2011 census data for the cohort with postgraduate qualifications in chemical
sciences found that the median age for women with such a qualification was 40 years and the
median age for men was 52. This age profile is reflected in the sample of survey respondents.
Of the respondents qualified in chemical sciences, 70% reported a postgraduate qualification. The
level of PhD qualification for this population is slightly lower, at 58%, than for the overall survey
population, at 63%, indicative of the currency of Masters level qualifications in this field. Analysis of
chemical sciences qualified respondents with a postgraduate qualification showed that women had
a median age of approximately 40 years (n=89) and men 50 (n=207). Figure 5.16 presents age and
gender detail.
Figure 5.16: Age profile by gender, chemical sciences
Career stage
As in the biological sciences, women qualified in the chemical sciences were much more likely to be
early-career and much less likely to be mid-career than men (Figure 5.17). Sixty per cent of women
described themselves as being early career. Men were much more likely to describe themselves as
either mid-career or late-career.
56 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.17: Career stage by gender, chemical sciences
Employment status
In contrast to the biological sciences, most respondents qualified in chemical sciences were
employed on a full-time continuing basis (women, 63.6%, men 61.4%) (Figure 5.18). A further
15% were employed on full-time fixed-term contracts of employment. Women were much more
likely than men to be employed on a part-time continuing basis, although overall those employed
part-time form only a very small proportion (n= 22) of the chemical sciences sample.
Figure 5.18: Employment status by gender, chemical sciences
Respondents qualified in the chemical sciences had been in their current position for an average of
just over five years, and 16% had been in their current position for longer than 15 years.
The questionnaire asked respondents to identify their field, or if they were not working in research.
The ABS Australian Standard Codes of Education (broad and narrow fields) were used to specify the
57Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
categories. Of those respondents qualified in chemical sciences, just over a third were not currently
working in a research role (Figure 5.19). The remainder were working in a range of chemistry-related
and cognate fields.
Figure 5.19: Current role by gender, chemical sciences
Employment conditions
This section examines hours of work and how respondents’ salaries were funded. Of those
respondents qualified in chemical sciences, 80% of women and 64% of men were direct employees
(Figure 5.20). Men were more likely than women to be self-employed (14% vs 2%). These responses
include those not working in a research position.
Figure 5.20: Major source of salary by gender, chemical sciences
Sixty-two per cent of chemical sciences respondents worked more than 40 hours per week, with
21% of men and 12% of women working in excess of 50 hours per week (Figure 5.21). Only five
respondents reported working outside research.
58 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.21 Hours per week by gender, chemical sciences
Careers and career paths
This section covers various factors associated with the careers and career stages of those qualified in
the chemical sciences. In common with the biological sciences, geographic mobility is an expectation
in this field, with over 80% of men and 70% of women saying that they had moved residence at least
once for their career. Indeed, 44% of men and 30% of women said they had moved location more
than twice for their career, and only 23% (19% of men and 30% of women) indicated that they had
never changed location for their career.
As in the overall survey population, over 35% of chemical science qualified women had taken a
career break of longer than six months, compared with just 15% of men.
Figure 5.22: Career break by gender, chemical sciences
Whilst 45% of men and women had spent time out of the research workforce or worked in other
sectors, the most common career trajectory (53% of respondents) was a traditional linear path from
undergraduate to PhD and then to employment (Figure 5.22).
59Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Measures of satisfaction with job and career
This section briefly examines responses to a series of ‘satisfaction’ questions:
n I am satisfied with the opportunities I have within my field of science
n Overall I find my work rewarding
n Generally speaking I am satisfied with my job
n I have good job security
n I have good career or promotion opportunities
In each case respondents were asked to nominate a point on a five-point scale that represented their
view (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree).
Analysis of the first question, ‘I am satisfied with the opportunities I have in my field of science’ (Q53),
indicates that 47% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, and fewer than 30% disagreed or
strongly disagreed (Figure 5.23).
Figure 5.23: Level of satisfaction with career opportunities, chemical sciences
Men and women provided similar responses to the question ‘Overall I find my work rewarding’ (Q57)
although men were slightly more likely to say they ‘strongly agreed’ (Figure 5.24). An overwhelming
majority, just over 80% of the sample, agreed that they found their work rewarding. Men were also
more likely to ‘strongly agree’ that they were satisfied with their work, and women were more likely
to simply ‘agree’. Overall, 73% of the sample said they were satisfied with their work.
60 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I am satisfied with the opportunities I have in my field of science
Figure 5.24: Level of satisfaction with work by gender, chemical sciences
Fifty-two per cent of the respondents agreed that they had good employment security (Q57) –
much lower than the percentages of respondents satisfied with their work and who found their job
rewarding (Figure 5.25). Of respondents who enjoyed good employment security, men were slightly
more likely to say that they ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement ‘I have good job security’ and
women were much more likely to say they ‘agreed’. Twenty-seven per cent disagreed or strongly
disagreed that they had good job security, with only marginal differences between male and female
respondents.
Figure 5.25: Perception of employment security, chemical sciences
Examination of responses to the final ‘satisfaction’ question revealed that 40% of the sample agreed
or strongly agreed that they had good career or promotion opportunities (Q57), and women were
more likely than men to agree with the statement. Nevertheless, one quarter of the sample disagreed
or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘I have good career or promotion opportunities’.
Overall I find my work rewarding
61Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I have good job security
Considering a major career or position change was extremely common, with over two thirds of the
sample saying that they had done so in the last five years (Q61). Evidence of mobility may reflect
dissatisfaction, or it may represent a desire for career advancement. Men (70%) were more likely
than women (60%) to say that they had considered a change, and most had acted on that by
applying for a position either within their field or outside their field (Figure 5.26). Notably, only 20% of
respondents indicated that they intended to move out of science altogether.
Figure 5.26: Main reasons for considering a career change, chemical sciences
Career Change
Of those no longer in a research role (n=195), women (43%) were slightly more likely to say that they
were ‘very satisfied’ with their career change than men (39%), and over three quarters said they
were satisfied with their career change (Q9) (Figure 5.27).
Figure 5.27: Career change and satisfaction by gender, chemical sciences
A ‘lack of positions in my field’ was the most commonly cited reason for career change (Q10) (Figure
5.28). Just under 30% reported that they ‘could not see a future in their field’, and just under 25%
said that they ‘had always planned to move out of research’. Men and women gave similar reasons
for their career changes, with men slightly more likely to say that they ‘had always planned to move
out of research’.
62 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
Figure 5.28: Reasons for career change
Scientific Knowledge and Skills
Almost half (48%) of the respondents who had left the research workforce indicated that their
scientific knowledge and skills were mostly or fully utilised (Q11). Female respondents (59%) were
more likely to note that they ‘fully’ or ‘mostly’ utilised their knowledge and skills (Figure 5.29). Similar
percentages of women and men indicated their scientific knowledge and skills were partly utilised.
Fourteen per cent of men but only 5% of women claimed that their skills were not utilised.
Figure 5.29: Knowledge and skills of those no longer working in a research role,
chemical sciences
What factors would make a difference to job satisfaction?
Survey respondents were asked to consider what factors would make a major difference to
(improve) their levels of job satisfaction (Q53). In contrast to respondents in the biological sciences,
who emphasised job security, chemical scientists’ responses were varied, including improved
organisational culture (22%), improved job security (16%), improved opportunities for promotion
(12%) and better pay (11%), with 22% recording that none of these would make a difference as they
were satisfied with their position (Figure 5.30). Gender differences were apparent in the responses to
63Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
this question; the highest proportion of men (27%) said that nothing would make a difference, while
27% of female respondents said that improved institutional or organisational culture would make a
difference, followed by improved job security (20% of women).
Figure 5.30: Factors that would make a difference to job satisfaction, chemical sciences
As reported for the overall survey population, significant gender differences were apparent in
responses to questions regarding factors that had made a difference to respondents’ careers (Q51).
Men were much more likely to say that their level of confidence in their ability was either
very helpful or helpful for career advancement and women were much more likely to say
that this was a problem. Close to three quarters of men noted that their level of confidence in their
ability was helpful or very helpful, compared with 56% of women. A quarter of female respondents
noted that their level of confidence in their ability was either a problem or a major problem, compared
with only 7% of male respondents. However, women were much more likely to report that informal
mentoring was either very helpful or helpful to career advancement.
Summary – Sample qualified in Chemical Sciences
The sample is representative of the different age and career stage profiles of men and women
qualified in this field, as evidenced in the census data. The median age for men was 50 and for
women under 40. Likewise, differences existed in career path and stage. Women were much more
likely to have taken a career break, and men were more likely to have moved location for their career,
although geographic mobility was common across the sample.
The overwhelming majority of those qualified in the chemical sciences were employed on a full-time
continuing basis, and most were direct employees. Gender differences were found in rates of part-
time and fixed-term employment, but these differences applied to a small proportion of the sample.
Women were more likely to be employed part-time or fixed-term, and men were more likely to be
self-employed.
Men and women provided similar responses to the ‘satisfaction’ questions. Just under half indicated
that they had good career or promotion opportunities and most respondents said they had considered
a major career or position change over the past five years. Of those who had considered a change,
most had taken active steps to that end, and men were more likely to have both considered and
pursued a change.
When asked what single factor would make the most difference to their job satisfaction, a quarter of
women qualified in the chemical sciences cited improved organisational or institutional culture and
64 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
20% of women said improved job security. In contrast, a quarter of men said that there was nothing
that would improve their job satisfaction as they were very satisfied, and 20% said that improved
institutional or organisational culture would make a difference.
When asked about factors that might have assisted career advancement, men and women gave
different responses about the value of informal mentoring and their level of confidence in their ability.
This may reflect the very different age profiles of men and women in the sample, with older men
having longer to develop confidence in their work, or it may reflect broader gender differences.
Summary – Comparing the Biological Sciences and Chemical
Sciences Subgroups
Respondents in the biological sciences were more likely to report a traditional linear career path than
those in the chemical sciences. This reflects the higher proportion of those in the biological sciences
who worked in universities and research institutes, and the higher proportion of respondents in the
chemical sciences sample who worked in the private sector or were no longer in research roles.
Major differences in job satisfaction and perceived means of improving it existed between the
two groups. In particular, women qualified in chemical sciences were more likely to cite improved
organisational culture as the key factor that would improve their job satisfaction, whereas for women
in the biological sciences job security was the major issue. This reflects the different employment
profiles across the two fields, with those qualified in the biological sciences, in particular women,
more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts. In the grant-dependent biological sciences
insecure employment overrides other factors, including the continuing, well-documented importance
of organisational culture.
Across both samples, majorities of men and women reported considering a career or position change
in the last five years. Consideration of a change was more common amongst men than women in the
chemical sciences qualified sample and more common amongst women in the biological sciences
qualified sample.
Similarities were observed amongst women in both samples in relation to the factors that were helpful
or problematic for career advancement. Women in both samples reported that confidence in
their ability was an inhibiting factor for career advancement; men were much less likely
to report this. Indeed men in both samples overwhelmingly reported that their confidence in their
ability was either helpful or very helpful to their career advancement. Women were more likely than
men to rate the value of informal mentoring as helpful to career advancement.
The results highlight quite distinct gender and employment status differences between these two
fields of science, differences that are reflected in the 2011 census data. The differences between
the two fields highlight the importance of examining the experience of work within particular fields
of science, rather than viewing science as a homogenous set of disciplines. Data from both fields
indicated that a large proportion of women (three times higher than for men) take career breaks, but
the data also suggests that part-time work, which might lessen this need, is not normalised within
either field.
The participation, retention and success of women can be improved in both the biological and
chemical sciences. However, the highly feminised field of biological sciences is characterised by
a longstanding dependency on large numbers of female early-career researchers, together with
systemic structural and funding attributes that exploit the passion and commitment of the workforce
but reward only a minority with good career prospects and job security. As this field has become
increasingly complex and technically sophisticated, the technicians, laboratory assistants and ‘wash
up and tea ladies’ of Charlesworth’s 1980s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (Charlesworth et al 1989)
have been replaced by an extremely highly qualified female workforce, with correspondingly high
aspirations that are proving extremely difficult to realise.
65Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
SECTION 6: FOCUS GROUPS
Eleven follow-up focus groups were held in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne for a
purposive sample of the survey respondents who had indicated they would like to participate. Focus
group respondents were clustered (some all male, some all female, some mixed, and including men
and women from different career stages and industry types) to provide detail and experiences and
to explore issues that emerged in the survey responses and large data analysis, prior to work on the
Toolkit. Survey and database findings flagged for further attention in this phase included:
n job security as a major issue associated with job satisfaction and career decision-making
n career change to non-research roles and satisfaction with that decision
n use of science knowledge and skills in non-research roles
n organisational culture as a key component of job satisfaction
n differentiated outcomes of women and men in terms of employment, pay and promotion that
continue to be apparent in census data and in some responses to the survey.
In particular we wanted to explore the degree to which small differences in some of these survey
findings (for example, on confidence and mentoring) were part of the ‘accumulated small differences’
that produce gender differentiation in careers. We also wanted to use the focus groups to probe
participants’ perceptions about the transition from PhD to scientific work; about different imperatives
in different sectors and organisations; and about experiences that had been positive or negative
for women’s career development. Focus groups produced greater detail about issues raised in the
survey and census data, and allowed us to directly investigate individuals’ experiences and choices
and the thinking behind their decisions.
We began the focus groups by inviting participants to talk about the experience of working in the
scientific research workforce compared with being a PhD student aspiring to be a scientific worker,
and asked them ‘What do you know now that you didn’t know then?’
Next we focused on their choices and experiences of changing employers and of ‘tipping points’.
Here we asked specifically about any experiences of moving between industry and the academy
or out of research, and about organisational culture. We asked participants to comment on job
security and how it had affected their careers and career choices. In relation to the current highly
competitive situation with competitive grant schemes and with employment opportunities in industry
and universities, we asked them to talk further about what realistic aspirations of job security might
look like.
On gender we asked a very open and neutral question ‘Do women and men have different experiences
in your field?’ Later participants were invited to talk about any practices (mentoring, conditions, etc.)
that had made a difference, positively and negatively, to their own careers.
With the consent of participants discussions were recorded, transcribed and translated to NVivo
to facilitate thematic analysis. The thematic NVivo frequency analysis provided confirmation of key
emergent themes. Frequently occurring key words included: time/timing, career, funds/funding,
family, contract and security. The descriptors competitive/tournament were recurring themes as
were a cluster of key words around research stage and performance: research career, the PhD and
postdoc, track record and publications.
66 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The PhD and transition to employment
A characteristic response to our opening question ‘What do you know now that you didn’t know
then?’ was ‘I didn’t know how hard it would be.’ For most participants, their PhD experience had
been heavily focused on their research project and academic achievement, a period in which they
were mainly judged by their academic success at key milestones. People aiming to go on to research
careers in universities and research institutes faced stiff competition for postdoctoral positions in
Australia or overseas, and then for subsequent short-term positions. Most were prepared for an
initial postdoc or even a second, but many spoke of their frustration as they moved into their mid-
30s and beyond and were still chasing short-term contracts. For many, the uncertain nature of
employment in universities had been a surprise, recognised only towards the end of the PhD or soon
after completion.
Those in biomedical research were very critical of the difficulties posed by the Australian grant regime
in the mid-career phase. Both women and men spoke of their struggle (in Australia in particular) to
get a mortgage without secure employment, and of finding a practical residential location when
both partners were scientists, given the likelihood of their workplaces being widely geographically
separated. In some cases women had sought (and occasionally found) work with more reasonable
hours (lab manager, for example), but others spoke of their determination to remain in research and
pursue their area of interest despite the hurdles – moving to different parts of the world, leaving
partners in other countries, retraining in medicine to gain better employment opportunities but
retaining the aspiration to return to research. Those pursuing research careers of this type were
very clear that they understood that science is in principle competitive and they accepted the
performance-based selective processes as an important part of what science is and does. Even so,
they decried the ways in which uncertain conditions of employment and the consequent difficulties
of securing a mortgage and beginning a family impacted differentially on women and men.
Those who sought work outside universities and research institutes reported two basic trajectories. A
minority (more men than women) had planned since early in their undergraduate studies to take this
path; they recognised the need to build up contacts and opportunities and some diverse experience
during that phase, and as a result were largely happy with the careers they had developed. Others
felt that in retrospect they had been very naïve in their expectations about what employers wanted
– they found their academic record was a surprisingly minor element, and felt insufficiently prepared
to be competitive in other sectors.
Most thought that doctoral students should be made more aware of the employment situation inside
and outside universities, and learn how to ‘sell yourself’ in the post-PhD phase. Some, however,
argued that although these things were needed, it was not the role of universities to provide this,
suggesting that many students were too passive with respect to their future.
67Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
The motivation for recruiting you into the PhD program is to have you in the PhD program, it’s not actually about
what happens at the other end of it.
Mid-career researcher, CSIRO
It’s like an inverted triangle often and it’s that narrowing … where you probably lose people because there’s
a lot of PhDs and postdocs and then you have to get squeezed through this little hole and then you’re okay….
Medical Research Institute (MRI) researcher who had moved to an administrative role
On making a career change
We selected the 38 focus group participants to capture a diversity of work types and work situations:
tenured, fixed-term but essentially continuing (from contract to contract), casual and under-employed,
and unemployed. Participants included scientists working in research support roles, as science
communicators, as consultants, as patent attorneys, or running start-up companies. Many who
had moved into science-related fields such as science writing and patent law were very happy with
their decision. In some cases they had spent time investigating various kinds of jobs and conditions
before making the change and undertaking retraining (if needed). For women, these moves often
meant more secure employment with less ‘crazy hours’ – but still in a science-related area and
performing work they perceived as valuable.
In terms of cross-sector movement, most agreed that Australian norms make it difficult for those
who have worked in industry to re-enter universities and vice versa. Those working in the industry
sector mentioned that many industries were unable to properly define what they needed from
scientists; simultaneously, they saw scientists as poor at selling their skills to industry and identifying
opportunities.
There was broad agreement that going part-time means you are taken less seriously and exploited
as a worker and that it has a negative impact on your career in research. As the census data shows
very clearly, part-time work is strongly gendered.
68 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
In research in particular, I think it’s really hard to work part-time unless you have a specific role and you have a
lot of support around you and you’re on a project with multiple people. Most of the projects I’m involved in, I’m
the driver and you know the main investigator on that project and if I go away the project kind of stops.
CSIRO researcher
…especially if you come back part time [you are treated] as though you’re not really serious about your career,
you’re just there. You stop becoming a researcher, you’re a working mum, so you’re not really serious, you’re
not available for meetings whenever they want to do it. I do a lot of fieldwork, I do a lot of travelling, I wouldn’t
have been available for that when I was having children, to the same extent. So there are those sorts of issues.
But I think seriously in [this organisation] there’s been such a culture of passing over and removing people from
publications that has had a significant impact on a lot of careers…certainly the publication protocol has been
strengthened greatly over the last five years. So I’m not sure that that’s still occurring but it was quite common
for people, you know I got bumped down to third author on my own work.
Mid-career researcher
…and again it was through having networks I then got my actual job. So I moved out of the lab into more of
an office-based job as a trainee patent attorney. And part of that reason was because I saw everybody going
through science, short contracts, the uncertainty of biotech in Australia and the funding support, not only in
academia but also in industry, there’s not that big support.
Chemistry PhD, retraining as patent lawyer
One of the things I’ve noticed … with the science profession is that there are often a series of doors that if you
pass through the doors they shut behind you and it’s very hard to re-enter. So for example if you leave academia
or a research field and then for whatever reason and you’re not publishing papers, then you’re no longer active,
you’re no longer in the game and you’re no longer in the hunt to be employed where a condition is you are an
active player in the field.
Chemistry PhD, mid-career academic
On funding and science in Australia
Several focus group participants commented that science funding in Australia makes basic and
longer-term science difficult, and is ‘fashion driven’ in the areas it funds. Many had done postdocs
or worked in other countries, and they perceived that Australian research grants were often shorter
and had less establishment funding than those offered overseas. The unforgiving nature of the
fellowship and grant cycle, characterised by increasing competition and quality but low success
rates, was perceived to be ‘a lottery’, with many excellent proposals failing to gain funding and
leaving researchers with limited career options.
The demand for unbroken performance was frequently commented on, particularly by those working
in biomedical research. Maternity breaks not only interrupt productivity but also cause you to miss
grant application deadlines, and in Australia funding sources are less diverse than in many other
countries.
There was a lot of discussion (especially from men) of the illogical structure of Australian competitive
funding, which in their view is heavily skewed towards very early postdoctoral researchers and very
established researchers, with insufficient emphasis on supporting people in the mid-career phase.
Common conversation across groups was a concern on the one hand that economic conditions and
the science funding environment had become more difficult in the past decade and, on the other
hand, great commitment, enthusiasm and optimism about the work they were doing.
A few people in our focus groups had experienced very discriminatory workplaces, but as noted in
relation to the survey data above, this was frequently overshadowed by insecurity of funding and
attendant insecurity of employment.
On job security
69Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I guess as a postdoc you see job security as probably three years rather than twelve months. I mean it just gives
you an opportunity to get some decent – a decent track record behind you, to be able to publish within that time.
PhD on third ‘postdoc’ appointment in an MRI
I think that that kind of job security that they had in Japan a generation ago or that Australia had in the public
service, that doesn’t exist any more. I think that somebody famously had this quote that ‘job security is now
defined as how long it would take you to get a new job if you lost your job rather than how secure your job is’.
And I think if you taught that to people along the way that would probably be a very powerful thing to equip
them with.
CSIRO researcher
Academia is a tournament model, in the sense that, there’s a lot of people competing for one position and it’s
winner takes all and the structure of that is – that’s what you’re really competing at. And things which prevent
you from competing to your utmost potential relative to those outputs, they’re the things that will knock you
down. Generally speaking if you’re going into that tournament and you have kids or you need [to work] part time,
that’s one arm tucked behind your back ...
Mid-career researcher
The options, I think are better than they were but the harsh reality is still the fact that it is an incredibly sharp
pyramid and it’s incredibly competitive and you know while you may be given the opportunities, for example,
to work part-time, it may not actually help you because at the other end or at the next step somebody’s going
to be looking at the number of publications or the number of grants you’ve got and I don’t think they take that
into account.
Mid-career researcher
The survey and census data provided important data on the high levels of insecure employment
in the science research workforce and the impact of this on job satisfaction and career decisions.
Focus groups gave greater understanding of the impact of insecure employment on participants,
particularly in the postdoctoral and mid-career phases.
We were keen to explore the question of ‘What would make a difference?’ to scientists’ job security. It
was clear that many participants had experienced poor employment practices, such as a sequence
of one-year contracts, designed to eliminate the need for appropriate performance management and
to avoid employer obligations. It was also suggested that these short-term contracts had become
increasingly common with the risk of increasing inter-institutional mobility of senior researchers and
their teams. Elimination of such poor employment practices is a clear imperative.
Another issue participants raised was communication about employment. Examples were provided
of institutional contexts in which short-term contract employment conditions were managed well.
For example, some participants on short-term research contracts described being treated as part
of the group and always knowing whether a further contract was likely and what would determine
that eventuality, and had some confidence in their workplaces notwithstanding the formal contract
situation. Others were not well informed about their short-term employment futures and felt extremely
vulnerable and marginalised in their workplaces.
It was suggested that longer fixed-term contracts, five years rather than three years, would
make a significant difference to career prospects and planning, easing the pressures that
accumulate with family formation through changes such as becoming eligible to take out
a mortgage.
On mobility
70 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
My experience of job security is there is none in science and that when you are young and full of energy, say in
your twenties, a two or a three-year postdoc was as far as the horizon presented itself. But by the time I got to
my thirties and also I will add when I got married, a three-year horizon that just keeps on reappearing and you
have to…even a three year which is about as good as you can get, I think, in most cases anyway, you just end
up justifying your existence time and time again and often they’re incredibly draining and unproductive. And it
just eroded my enthusiasm for the profession.
Academic, PhD chemistry, mid-career
I think that there’s more and more recognition that the future is not so bright and people are earlier on becoming
more and more aware, they need to be aware. If I wanted a solid career path and a decent wage, I would
definitely be doing something else.
PhD student
I moved three different countries in the space of five years and each time I had to go get the same stuff from
IKEA, like every single move, you can buy exactly the same stuff in a different country.
PhD, mid-career researcher
I love the way the US does science. I hate the way Australia does science. [But] I want to live in Australia. I don’t
want to live in the US. I’m constantly – I may just move back and forth the rest of my life, I can see that, I can
see that unfolding horribly.
PhD, unemployed
And another thing, which more affects females, is that you’re often displaced from your extended family and
that’s the family support that’s not there when you’ve got young children.
PhD, now working in business development at an MRI
In focus group discussions gendered patterns of mobility were often cited as inhibitors of women’s
careers. Significantly more men than women indicated that they had changed location more than twice
to advance their career. Most men and women indicated that their moves had involved international
relocation. Discussions indicated that geographic mobility was expected for a successful career in
science, particularly in the postdoctoral phase. Many were neutral about the importance of mobility,
but it should be noted that most of this research workforce is located in major metropolitan centres,
especially Sydney and Melbourne, in which inter-institutional mobility does not always necessitate
relocation of place of residence. Participants did indicate that moving away from family support
structures created pressures for those with young families.
On gender differences and disadvantage
Several groups discussed issues related to organisational culture and unconscious preferences.
Women in all-women focus groups were more likely to speak about tacit discriminatory elements
of the workplace culture. They noticed different patterns of sponsorship for men and women, and
senior men feeling more comfortable interacting with other men, and sometimes direct examples of
discrimination and biased appointments at which they felt powerless to protest – or protested but at
the expense of having to leave their research group or department.
Some conversations touched on women’s own contributions to their career patterns – their
reluctance to take on some responsibilities, or, conversely, their taking on time-consuming but
ultimately personally unrewarding ‘good citizen’ responsibilities on committees and the like. The
following quote is a quite complicated reflection on this issue, in which the participant describes
being aware of who was being promoted or asked to contribute but also of women’s reluctance to
take on some opportunities.
71Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
I think that it’s true that generally speaking men do better in science than women but obviously it’s not an
absolute and I know examples of women, primarily childless but some with children, who have done very well
and I know men who haven’t fitted that mold of ambitious men, who have struggled because there is a little
bit of, ah – still that old boys network, kind of playing the game, being there, self-promotion as well. I think a
science career as a researcher is geared to the single male who’s got time on his hands and wants to make his
career. And it benefits and advantages anyone that fits that model.
PhD, mid-career, now working as a medical writer
The whole career structure is built on, at least as far as I’ve seen, in the top university in Australia, it’s built on
the motive of an alpha male scientist with a wife and family devoted to supporting his career. It worked and so
it will continue to work, the alpha males choose students and postdocs in their own image and those sorts of
students are attracted to them. So it’s … a tightly embedded international self-perpetuating system. So it’s a
very powerful and resilient dynamic that’s not going to change. Yeah I can see it with quite a lot of perspective
from the inside.
Australian Research Council Future Fellow, mid-career researcher, PhD
One of the challenges that our institute particularly faces is the lack of women in top positions and it’s not just
in science, it’s also in leadership and in admin positions. It’s all male, there are a few females on the Board but
in all the operational positions and strategic positions it’s all men and most of the senior scientists are primarily
men. We’re losing a lot of women in the sort of mid-postdoc years and it’s and I think we’re not alone in that
challenge, I think a lot of institutes face that challenge. And so you know – getting more equality would be good
because I think we lose a lot of talent.
Researcher, MRI
In relation to maternity leave and its impact, there was some discussion of the greater scope for
making provision for it in larger organisations than in small companies and institutes. There was
considerable discussion about pregnancy and leave timing, including examples of a few workplaces
where this had been managed well. The following quote captures some of the dynamics:
Another focus group participant referred to her own way of managing work-life balance as ‘informed’
but also ‘opportunistic’:
72 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
…the other year when there were twelve [appointments], you know several of the men that got the positions
were tapped on the shoulder and were told ‘you should apply’. So then the question is how many women was
that done for and if women were approached in the same way, why then did they not get it. Was it because they
didn’t – they chose not to put themselves forward or is it – I don’t know, I think that’s the kind of questions that
we should be asking. I mean I think possibly more women don’t want that responsibility and the issue then is
what are you going to do, you’re wasting all these experienced senior women who don’t want that career path.
Early Career Researcher, MRI
There’s this problem of women will only apply when they think they have a ninety per cent chance of getting
through where guys will apply if they think they’ve got ten per cent chance of getting through.
Mid-career researcher, MRI
You know I did (looked after) the kids and I worked nights because that’s what worked at the time and did a
couple of courses to keep sort of on top of things and at the top of my game and sort of just took opportunities
as they arose – informed but more looking what’s opportunistic and not, not necessarily thinking where is
that going to lead me. Just thinking that’s what’s going to work for now and like I said it’s got me somewhere
where I didn’t think I would be. You know I’m working in research. I’m a working clinician. I’ve got incredible
opportunities that I didn’t think you could get.
Researcher with nursing qualifications working in a hospital
A: ‘…you do tend to hear ‘oh another pregnancy’ and other types of comments which I kind of always feel a
bit resentful...
B: And nobody says that when the man’s wife or partner gets pregnant.
A: Yeah it’s just like ‘your wife’s pregnant’ but when the girls get pregnant it’s ‘Oh they’re going to be stopping
work’ you know it’s a big – not that it’s a drama you know everyone around them tends to get excited but you
do kind of think that you know management kind of go ‘Oh okay here we go, we’ve got to reshuffle jobs and
work it all out’.
Facilitator: Did you feel like that in your circumstance?
C: Ah yeah actually, when I told my boss his first reaction was ‘oh shit’. it was like ‘thanks a lot’. Yeah I can
definitely agree with the relative to opportunity bit, it’s you know hard to judge what that really means and the,
yeah the pregnancy issues as well.
A and B are researchers in hospital settings; C is a researcher working in a university
Summary of Key Findings – Focus Groups
The focus group discussions confirmed the evidence of the NRSS and the survey responses in terms
of the relative lack of understanding among postgraduates of the research workforce, conditions of
employment and career prospects, partly because the PhD process itself is so competitive and often
has an inward disciplinary focus and institutional emphasis.
The difficulty of negotiating the mid-career phase was evident, and particularly when participants
spoke about trying to manage careers and personal relationships; mobility and workload and other
pressures accumulate, meaning something (one partner’s career) usually has to give. For women
with young children, losing family support due to relocating to pursue their career was a major
problem. Family formation and the career impact of periods of leave and part-time work were seen
as major issues for women. In several focus groups, women referred to frequent discussions about
the question ‘Is there a right time to have a child?’ Several participants referred to the value of
a supportive wife in a man’s scientific career, but other discussions indicated that many younger
men are now questioning the unreasonable demands made of scientists and stating their desire to
accommodate other priorities in life, particularly in relation to family.
Job insecurity hangs over everything – especially at the nest-building, child-rearing stage – and
powerfully affects career decisions. Participants reflected on the brutality of the Australian grant
system (in fact it was hard to get them to stop talking about it) and of the huge downsides of
increasingly ubiquitous one-year contracts. Longer (three-to-five-year) contracts were perceived as
an initiative that could make a significant positive difference.
The focus groups offered examples of some scientists, both men and women, who had proactively
and successfully explored and switched to non-research options and cognate areas of work, and of
many others who felt trapped and demoralised in their current circumstances. It was clear from these
discussions that there is still very poor translation (mutual understanding) and few opportunities for
moving between academia and industry. The restricted number of research positions in Australia in
multinational companies, as well as genuine resource constraints in small business, featured in this
discussion.
In terms of organisational culture, participants reported that blatant discrimination continues in
some workplaces, but participants rarely recognised gender pressures until they started to have
conversations about ‘do women and men in science have different careers?’ Participants (both men
and women) often began that discussion by saying that science is not gendered, ‘good science is
good science’, but as they talked further they realised the under-representation of women in senior
positions, particularly of women perceived to be role models or mentors, makes a difference to other
women. Participants also identified organisational culture and unconscious gender preferences in
patterns of appointment, promotion, and opportunity. The ‘crazy hours’ problem was a recurring
theme.
73Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
CONCLUSION:
ADDRESSING A WICKED PROBLEM
Analysis of the findings of the focus group data together with the large dataset and survey data
produced valuable evidence of the ongoing need to reframe patterns of participation, employment
and criteria for success for a wider range of entrants to the science research workforce. The research
has advanced understanding of decision-making in scientific careers and the factors that would make
a difference to retention of women, including the demand for flexible and less linear career options,
normalisation of part-time work and the need to address the gendered experience of organisational
cultures. The case for increasing the diversity of career destinations and the concomitant importance
of capacity for career mobility between the academy, the public sector and industry is clear.
The analysis provides evidence of the multiple ways in which women are expected to conform,
particularly in universities and research institutes, to the ‘masculine ways of thinking and doing’ that
are characteristic of a ‘heroic’ concept of science that does not reflect the reality of how innovation
actually occurs (Ashton, 2015). Working in ‘greedy’ organisations with cultures of long hours that do
not easily accommodate other claims on scientists’ lives presents challenges that women feel more
acutely than men, especially at mid-career stage.
The survey data on those qualified in biological sciences and those qualified in chemical sciences
suggests that there are problems to be resolved in both fields to improve the participation,
retention and success of women. Nevertheless, the feminised biological sciences, characterised
by a longstanding dependency on large numbers of female early-career researchers, together with
systemic structural and funding issues and fewer opportunities for employment in the private sector,
offers good career prospects and job security to a relative minority of a highly qualified population.
Even though more women than men considered themselves amongst ‘the best and brightest’ at
undergraduate level, a large proportion of women in these fields of science experience a disjunction
between ability, aspirations and reality that undermines their confidence and hampers their career
progression. Women do not experience the same levels of ‘fit’ and satisfaction that many men
reported. More women than men leave the science research workforce because they cannot see
a future in it due to a lack of career prospects rather than a lack of continuing interest in research.
Thus, the research workforce is losing scientists who would prefer to remain in research roles. This
is more than a loss of talent; it represents a loss of diversity and therefore capacity for innovation
within the science research workforce. If it were not for scientists’ resilience, passion, commitment
and persistence, as evidenced in the focus group discussions, this would be an even more troubling
scenario for Australian research.
The issues are well-documented and consistent. It is now time for action to be taken to address
the well-known impediments to women in science. It is time for science research to be seen as a
marathon, in which participants are desperately competing against one another whilst striving to
achieve extraordinarily demanding goals under the duress of employment and career uncertainty. As
in a marathon, they are most likely to achieve this if they are confident and supported by colleagues,
pacemakers, mentors and sponsors, and a supportive partner (Murakami, 2008), but systemic
change will only be achieved through realistic appraisal of the importance and value of the Australian
research environment and the development of a funding environment that generates appropriate
conditions of employment.
Recommendations arising from this research are presented in the executive summary of the report.
It must be emphasised that our analysis relied upon cross-sectional data. If we wish to develop a
more sophisticated understanding of this ‘wicked’ problem and emerging patterns of generational
change, a longitudinal study of the science research workforce is needed.
74 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
75Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
76 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
APPENDIX 1: RECOMMENDATIONS FROM
FASTS, WOMEN IN SCIENCE IN AUSTRALIA
(2009)
Following the approach of the US National Science Foundation (NSF, 2009), FASTS supports a
multifaceted strategy to broaden participation in the science and technology workforce – in particular
to realise the potential of women’s participation. FASTS encourages institutions of higher education
and the broader science community (including government, professional societies, the learned
academies, science and technology related industries and not-for-profit organisations) to address
various aspects of science and technology organisational culture and institutional structure that may
negatively affect women. The following recommendations have been drafted with the input of a
range of key stakeholders.
Advancing the Agenda
1 The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research takes a leadership role in ensuring
the urgent prosecution of the agenda outlined in the following recommendations, including
identifying and co-ordinating the appropriate responsible agencies.
2 Identify incentives for change including a stronger business case linking diversity with
innovation.
Scientific Career Paths
3 Clearly map scientific career paths with opportunities for leadership and mentorship identified
in tandem with the systematic identification and elimination of barriers to women.
4 Address the mechanisms that will enable women to ‘thrive and excel’, not just ‘survive’, in
science and technology careers, including supporting flexible, non-traditional career paths.
Institutional Cultures and Decision-making
5 Following the US ADVANCE program, support leadership and employers to implement policies
and practices that generate positive organisational cultures which create contemporary family
friendly and equitable workplaces that value diversity.
6 Following the EU example ensure that women constitute one third of policy-making, funding
and decision-making boards.
Evidence and Evaluation
7 Improve the evidence base – institute consistent, systematic reporting of gender data in the
sector on the part of the major research and research funding agencies (including CSIRO and
the NH&MRC), the centres of excellence (the Learned Academies, the CRCs, the ARC Centres
and Networks) and industry. Ensure that the ABS and Office for Women generate data sets
that link participation to innovation in keeping with international practice.
8 Create a clearinghouse for best practice in the sector comparable with the UK’s Resource
Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. The responsibilities of the
clearinghouse will include the monitoring and evaluation of SET initiatives.
9 Continue the monitoring and research in schools on gendered participation with a renewed
emphasis on the four questions: Which girls? Which boys? Which disciplines? Why?
Leadership
10 Empower leaders to address these issues through resources, interventions, and a robust
policy and evaluation framework; and on an organised and ongoing basis identify high profile
male and female individual and organisational champions.
77Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
APPENDIX 2: PROJECT SURVEY
Careers in the Scientific Research Workforce Survey
You are invited to participate in a survey examining careers in the biological sciences and
chemistry related research workforce.
There has been a lot of discussion recently in the popular media about careers in science and about
the sustainability of the scientific research workforce in Australia. Whilst a lot is known about careers
in the academy, there is less knowledge about careers in the science workforce. Researchers at
the University of Melbourne together with industry partners, the Bio21 Cluster, the Royal Australian
Chemical Institute (RACI) and Science and Technology Australia (STA) have been awarded an
Australian Research Council Linkage grant to investigate the experience of careers and career paths
of those in the scientific workforce and make suggestions for improvements. You have received this
survey because either you or your employer is a member or associate of one of the industry partners.
Your participation in this survey is voluntary and is anonymous. Results will be collected by the
researchers and results reported in aggregate form only. Survey results will be publically available.
The survey has ethics approval from The University of Melbourne and the contact person for the
survey is the Project Coordinator.
Whilst we are interested in the experiences of those currently working in the scientific research field,
we are also interested in the experiences of those who are qualified but no longer working in the
field. If you have colleagues who fit this description, would you please forward the survey to them.
The survey should take no more than 20 minutes to complete
We look forward to receiving your response by 30 November 2012. Thank you for your consideration
and participation,
Professor Sharon Bell, Charles Darwin University
Professor Lyn Yates, University of Melbourne,
Project Chief Investigators, ARC Linkage LP110200480
78 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
1 What is the highest level of education you have completed?
c PhD
c MD
c MBBS or equivalent
c Masters by thesis
c Masters by coursework
c Undergraduate degree with Hons
c Undergraduate degree
Other (please specify):
2 In which year did you complete this qualification?
3 Are you currently studying for a qualification?
c No
c Yes – PhD
c Yes – MD
c Yes – MBBS
c Yes – Masters
c Yes – Undergraduate degree
c Yes – Diploma
c Yes – Other
Other (please specify)
4 What is your age?
c under 30
c 30 – 35
c 36 – 40
c 41 – 45
c 46 – 50
c 51 – 55
c 56 – 60
c 61 – 65
c 66+
5 Are you male or female?
c Male
c Female
6 Which of the following best describes the field in which you received your
highest degree?
c Mathematical sciences
c Chemical sciences
c Biological sciences
c Other natural and physical sciences
c Computer science
c Information systems
c Engineering and related technologies
c Medical studies
Other (please specify)
7 Which of the following best describes the field in which you currently work?
c I am not currently working in a research role
c Biochemistry and cell biology
c Genetics
c Microbiology
c Human Biology
c Biological sciences
c Medical science
c Pharmacology
c Laboratory technology
c Natural and physical sciences
c Mathematical sciences
c Organic chemistry
c Inorganic chemistry
c Chemical sciences
Other (please specify)
79Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
80 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
8 If you are qualified in the biological sciences, or a chemistry related field, and are
not currently working as a researcher in this field, how would you best describe
the area in which you work?
c Health and medical services
c Government
c Industry – primary
c Industry – secondary
c Library and information services
c ICT
c Tertiary education
c Secondary education
c Vocational education and training
c Legal profession
c Marketing/Communication/Media
c Management
c Currently seeking employment
c Unpaid household duties/caring responsibilities
Please specify your current role
9 If you are no longer working in a research role how satisfied are you with
your career change?
c Very satisfied
c Satisfied
c Neither satisfied or unsatisfied
c Unsatisfied
c Very unsatisfied
Other (please specify)
10 Which of the following best describes the reasons for your career change away
from research?
c Lack of positions in my field
c A desire for more flexible hours
c Move was related to my partner’s career
c I had always planned to move out of research
c I could not see a future in research in my field
Other (please specify)
11 In your current position do you use the specific scientific knowledge and skills
acquired through your formal qualifications?
c My knowledge and skills are fully utilised
c My knowledge and skills are mostly utilised
c My knowledge and skills are partly utilised
c My knowledge and skills are not utilised
Other (please specify)
12 In your current position do you use the specific scientific knowledge and skills
acquired through your formal qualifications?
c My knowledge and skills are fully utilised
c My knowledge and skills are mostly utilised
c My knowledge and skills are partly utilised
c My knowledge and skills are not utilised
Other (please specify)
13 How would you describe your current position/primary role?
c Research scientist
c Clinician
c Teaching/Research academic
c Research focussed academic
c Technical support
c Management
Other (please specify)
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82 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
14 Which of the following best describes your occupational level?
c Student
c Post doc
c Research Assistant
c Operational management
c Middle management
c Laboratory Manager
c Senior Management
c Academic Level A
c Lecturer/Research Fellow/Academic Level B
c Senior Lecturer/Senior Research Fellow/Academic Level C
c Associate Professor/Academic Level D
c Professor/Academic Level E
c CSIRO Level 4
c CSIRO Level 5
c CSIRO Level 6
c CSIRO Level 7
c CSIRO Level 8
c CSIRO Level 9
Other (please specify)
15 How would you describe your career stage?
c I am an early career researcher
c I am a mid career researcher
c I am a late career researcher
16 Would you say your career path has been?
c A traditional linear career path, ie undergraduate study followed by post graduate study, doctorate and post doc
research
c A non–traditional career path, with undergraduate and post graduate/PhD study combined with work in other
sectors
c A non–traditional career path with undergraduate and post graduate/PhD study combined with time out of the
research workforce
Other (please specify)
17 On average, how many hours per week do you work in your workplace, including
in field or clinical settings?
c up to 20
c 21-–30
c 31–-40
c 41-–50
c 51-–60
c 61-70
c greater than 70
18 On average, how many hours per week do you undertake work related to your
employment at home?
c Up to 5 hours
c 6–-10 hours
c 11-15 hours
c 16–-20 hours
c 21-–30 hours
c greater than 30 hours
Other (please specify)
19 Would you have described yourself to be amongst the ‘best and brightest’ at any/
all of the relevant stages of your career? Choose all that apply
c As an undergraduate
c As a post–graduate/during doctoral studies
c As an early career researcher
c As a mid career researcher
c As a late career researcher
Other, please elaborate
20 What has been your most rewarding career stage to date?
c As an undergraduate student
c As a PhD student
c As an early career researcher
c As a mid–career researcher
c As a late career researcher
Please elaborate why?
83Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
21 What has been your least rewarding career stage to date?
c As an undergraduate student
c As a PhD student
c As an early career researcher
c As a mid–career researcher
c As a late career researcher
Please elaborate why?
22 Are you a member of a professional society? (please enter 0, or number of
memberships that apply)
General Professional society
Field-specific general society
23 Are you a member of a trade union?
c Yes
c No
24 How important were the following aspects in your decision to pursue a career
in science?
VERY IMPORTANT SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT NEUTRAL NOT IMPORTANT
Autonomy and control over working life c c c c
Genuine passion for field of study c c c c
Job Security c c c c
Opportunity to contribute to development of new knowledge c c c c
Intellectually stimulating work c c c c
Opportunity to travel c c c c
Collegial work environment c c c c
Status of profession c c c c
Financial reward c c c c
Inspired by a school teacher c c c c
Inspired by a university lecturer c c c c
Past personal experience c c c c
Family influence c c c c
Helping society/others c c c c
84 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
25 What do you value most about working in your current field, even if it is not a
feature of your current position?
HIGHLY VALUED VALUED NEUTRAL NOT VALUED
Autonomy and control over working life c c c c
Genuine passion for field of study c c c c
Job Security c c c c
Opportunity to contribute to development of new knowledge c c c c
Intellectually stimulating work c c c c
Opportunity to travel c c c c
Collegial work environment c c c c
Status of profession c c c c
Financial reward c c c c
Intellectual challenge c c c c
26 Is your primary workplace:
c A research institute
c A university
c Other educational institution
c In the private sector/industry
c A hospital
c CSIRO
c Another government department/agency
Other (please specify)
27 What is the size of the workforce at your place of employment?
c fewer than 20 employees
c 20 – 100 employees
c 101 – 500 employees
c 501 – 1000 employees
c more than 1000 employees
28 Are you employed:
c Full time continuing
c Part time continuing
c Full time fixed term contract
c Part time fixed term contract
c Casual contract (no leave entitlements)
c Contractor/self employed
Other (please specify)
85Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
86 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
29 If you are employed part time, what is your fraction? (ie 0.2 =one day per week)
30 How is the major component of your salary funded?
c I have my own grant
c I am employed on someone else’s grant
c I am a direct employee
c I am self employed
c A combination of two or more of the above
Other (please specify)
31 How long have you been in your current position?
c less than one year
c 1 – 2 years
c 2 – 5 years
c 5 – 10 years
c 10 – 15 years
c more than 15 years
Other (please specify)
32 How many times in your career have you had to change location in order to
advance your career?
c I have never changed location
c I have moved once
c I have moved twice
c I have moved more than two times
33 What has been the most significant impact of the move/s?
34 Have any of the moves involved international relocation?
c Yes
c No
87Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
35 Have you ever accessed the following conditions/workplace benefits in your
current position?
YES NO NOT AVAILABLE N/A TO
AT MY WORKPLACE MY POSITION
Study leave (sabatical) c c c c
Protected time for research c c c c
Exchange or collaboration program c c c c
Funding to attend conferences c c c c
Paid parental leave c c c c
Unpaid parental leave c c c c
Return to work (after parental leave) assistance c c c c
Return to work part time c c c c
Childcare c c c c
Long service leave c c c c
Internal Research grant c c c c
Bridging funding c c c c
Professional development program related to my work c c c c
Professional development program in a different area to my work
c c c c
Time off to undertake or complete a qualification c c c c
Leadership program c c c c
Mentoring program c c c c
36 Have you have ever taken a period of 6 months or longer away from work anytime
during your career?
c yes
c no
Other (please specify)
37 How long was the break that you took?
c Up to one year
c 1 – 2 years
c 2 – 5 years
c greater than 5 years
88 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
38 Which best describes your return to work after the break?
c I returned to the same position, full time
c I returned to the same position and became part time
c I returned to the same employer but to a different position – full time
c I returned to the same employer but to a different position – part time
c I did not return to my position, I returned later to a different employer – full time
c I did not return to my position, I returned later to a different employer – part time
Other (please specify)
39 When you first started at your current workplace were you given lab/office space?
c N/A to my position
c No
c Yes the same space I have now
c Yes but I have less space now
c Yes and I have more space now
40 When you first started in your current workplace, were you given access to the
equipment and resources that you needed to do your research?
c Yes I was given access to all the equipment and resources I needed
c Yes I was given access to some of the equipment and resources I needed
c No I was not given access to the equipment and resources I needed
c N/A to my position
Other (please specify)
41 What are the key activities of your current position? Please identify up to 3
c Undertaking directed research
c Undertaking self directed research
c Managing research project/s
c Managing or supervising others
c Teaching
c Training/mentoring students and/or staff
c Providing professional advice/consultancy
c Employee relations including hiring and training
c Technical/laboratory support
c Process Improvement
c Financial management
c Administration
c Marketing
Other (please specify)
42 How important were the following factors to you in seeking your current position?
VERY IMPORTANT IMPORTANT NEUTRAL NOT IMPORTANT
Pay and conditions c c c c
Flexible hours c c c c
Capacity for promotion c c c c
Reputation of the workplace c c c c
The position is in a field of scientifc interest c c c c
The position is in a field of my expertise c c c c
Workplace location c c c c
The type of work c c c c
The type of research c c c c
Other (please specify)
43 How did you obtain your current position?
c By internal competitive appointment
c By external competitive appointment
c By internal direct appointment
c By external direct appointment
44 Thinking about your first position after graduation, what factors were important to
you in seeking that position?
c Same as for current position
c Pay and conditions
c Field of scientifc interest
c Flexible hours
c Location of workplace
c Reputation of workplace
c Type of work
c Capacity for promotion
c No other option available
Other (please specify)
45 In your opinion, how do you think your career has progressed compared to others
with whom you completed your studies?
c I have progressed at the same level as others who qualified when I did
c I have progressed more quickly than others who qualified when I did
c I have progressed more slowly than others who qualified when I did
Other (please specify)
89Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
90 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
46 To what extent do you think the following issues have been a factor in your career
progress being slower than others?
A MAJOR FACTOR A FACTOR N/A NOT A FACTOR
I am not ambitious in my career c c c c
I have taken time out for family reasons c c c c
I have taken time out for other reasons c c c c
The field of science I have chosen c c c c
Disruptions due to funding c c c c
Inappropriate choice of employer c c c c
Not feeling prepared or ready to apply for promotions c c c c
I have taken a direction change in my career c c c c
My research productivity is low compared to others c c c c
Other (please specify)
47 In the last five years how many times have you applied for, and been successful in
obtaining promotion or appointment to a higher level job?
48 In the last five years have you been mentored in a formal mentoring scheme in
your workplace or through a professional society?
c Yes through a professional society
c Yes in my current workplace
c Yes as part of my work, but in another workplace
c No
Other (please specify)
49 How beneficial was the mentoring?
c highly beneficial
c beneficial
c neutral
c not beneficial
50 Was the person who mentored you the same gender as you?
c yes
c no
51 To what extent have the following been helpful or problematic to your career
advancement?
VERY HELPFUL NEITHER HELPFUL A A MAJOR
HELPFUL NOR A PROBLEM PROBLEM PROBLEM
Being geographically mobile c c c c c
Level of support from supervisor/manager c c c c c
in applying for promotion
Time away from work due to family care responsibilities c c c c c
My partner’s career c c c c c
Guidance received in performance reviews c c c c c
Opportunities for professional development c c c c c
Opportunities to undertake/complete qualifications c c c c c
Access to research funding c c c c c
The attitude within my workplace towards people
c c c c c
of my age
The attitude within my workplace towards people c c c c c
of my gender
The attitude within my workplace towards people c c c c c
of my ethnic background
Informal mentoring c c c c c
My level of confidence in my ability c c c c c
The current economic conditions c c c c c
Other (please specify)
52 If there was one factor you could change that would make a major difference to
your levels of job satisfaction what would it be?
c Improved working hours
c More protected time for research
c Improved leave provisions
c Improved institutional/organisational culture
c Improved promotional opportunities
c Better pay
c Improved job security
c None of these I am very satisfied with my current job
91Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
92 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
53 To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
STRONGLY AGREE NEUTRAL DISAGREE STRONGLY
AGREE DISAGREE
I have career mobility between my current place of c c c c c
employment and other employers within my field of science
I would like to remain in my current place of c c c c c
employment for the rest of my career
I would like to remain in science for the rest of my career
c c c c c
I am satisfied with the career opportunities I have c c c c c
with my current employer
I am satisfied with the career opportunities I have c c c c c
within my field of science
I would move interstate or overseas to advance my career c c c c c
I intend to seek a career change in the next 5 years c c c c c
54 What factors do you rank as being most important for having a successful career
in science research?
VERY IMPORTANT NEITHER IMPORTANT NOT
IMPORTANT NOR UNIMPORTANT IMPORTANT
Having a PhD c c c c
Having a PhD from a leading university c c c c
Having good connections and networks and knowing c c c c
the right people
Joining the right professional societies c c c c
Being good at your work c c c c
Projecting a positive image at work c c c c
Conforming to organisational goals c c c c
Working long hours c c c c
Gender c c c c
Having a supportive partner c c c c
Being from the right social background c c c c
Being from the right ethnic background c c c c
A good track record c c c c
Other (please specify)
55 Do you work as part of a research team?
c Yes
c No
Other (please specify)
56 Who comprises your primary research team? (please indicate all that apply)
c More senior staff than you
c More junior staff than you
c Other research/technical staff
c Post docs
c Graduate students
c Administrative assistant
Other (please specify)
57 To what extent do you agree with the following statements about your current job?
STRONGLY AGREE NEUTRAL DISAGREE STRONGLY
AGREE OR N/A DISAGREE
I am confident my work/contributions
c c c c c
are valued by my employer
My overall workload is reasonable and manageable c c c c c
Overall I have a good work/life balance c c c c c
I’m confident I can get research grants c c c c c
I’m confident I can publish in good journals c c c c c
Levels of grant funding are adequate c c c c c
Overall I find my work rewarding c c c c c
I have good career or promotion opportunities c c c c c
I have an unreasonable amount of administrative work c c c c c
I have good job security c c c c c
I have freedom to pursue my own research interests c c c c c
My job is a source of considerable personal stress c c c c c
This is not a good time for a young c c c c c
person to aspire to a career in my field
Generally speaking I am satisfied with my job c c c c c
I have adequate equipment and resources to do my job c c c c c
I am satisfied with my level of income c c c c c
58 What is the most rewarding aspect about your current position?
59 What is the least rewarding aspect of your current position?
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94 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
60 Thinking about your current workplace to what extent are you satisfied with the
following?
VERY SATISFIED SATISFIED NEUTRAL UNSATISFIED HIGHLY DISATISFIED
The criteria for promotion c c c c c
The culture of my workplace c c c c c
The leadership and management of my workplace c c c c c
Opportunities for attending conferences and study leave c c c c c
Support for career development/professional development c c c c c
Level of resources and equipment to do my job c c c c c
Flexibility of working hours c c c c c
61 Within the last five years have you considered any major career or position
changes?
c No I have not considered any major changes in my job
c Yes, to take another position in the same field of science within Australia
c Yes, to take another position in the same field of science overseas
c Yes, to move to a different position within my field such as management/academia/industry
c Yes, to move to work outside of science altogether
c Yes, to retire
62 Did you take any concrete action to make such changes?
c No
c Yes I applied for another position in the same field in Australia
c Yes I applied for another position in the same field overseas
c Yes I applied for a different position within my field (eg to move to management)
c Yes I applied for a position outside of science
c Yes I plan to retire within the next five years
Other (please specify)
63 Where would you like to be in 5 years time and where do you expect to be?
In my In a Similar Similar In a Not working Retired/
current higher level role role management in science; not
role and role same different and field role working working
position workplace workplace overseas elsewhere
I would like to be in 5 years time
c c c c c c c
I expect to be in 5 years time c c c c c c c
95Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
64 Were you born in Australia?
c Yes
c No
65 In what country did you obtain your highest academic qualification?
c Australia
c USA
c UK
c Europe
c China
c India
Other (please specify)
66 Do you live with a partner or spouse?
c Yes
c No
67 What best describes your partner/spouse’s employment status?
c My partner works full time in science
c My partner works part time in science
c My partner works full time in another sector
c My partner works part time in another sector
c My partner is retired or not employed
68 Do you have any children under 18 living at home with you?
c Yes
c No
69 Who is mainly responsible for the care of these children?
c I am
c My partner is
c We share the care equally
70 How long do you estimate you have had primary carer responsibilities?
96 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
71 Are you responsible for the care of any adult due to their ill-health, age or
disability?
c Yes
c No
72 Do you have a long term health condition or disability that restricts you in your
every day activities and has lasted, or is likely to last at least 6 months?
c Yes
c No
73 Is there anything you would like to add that you feel has not been covered in the
survey?
74 If you would be willing to participate in a focus group, or interview, as part of
this research – to follow up some of the themes and issues that emerge from the
survey – please enter your contact email here:
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98 Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage
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... In this study, we surveyed ECRs in STEMM disciplines in Australia to better understand the pressures impacting them and their career development. We defined ECRs as being less than 10 years since PhD completion, similar to the definition used by the Global Young Academy in their study of how to best support young scientists on a global scale, and another important survey of the STEMM workforce conducted in Australia (Pain, 2014;Bell and Yates, 2015). Data were collected from respondents employed in research institutions or universities via an on-line survey (n = 658), which was developed based on previously published questions and through focus group discussions (Supplementary file 1). ...
... We compared our survey respondents' satisfaction data with previous survey data from academics in Australia (Supplementary file 2; Bell and Yates, 2015;Coates et al., 2009;Bexley et al., 2011;NTEU State of the Uni Survey, 2017). Each of these studies used one or more of the 'job satisfaction' questions from our survey in their own survey of the academic workforce in Australia. ...
... In addition, we held focus group discussions which enabled us to identify other important questions, and to optimise our approach. The questionnaire for the survey was developed by first compiling questions, often used in a broader or international context, from research literature including questions from Australian Council of Education Research, The EMCR Forum at the Australian Academy of Science, Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), Global Young Academy, National Science Foundation, Nature Research and Vitae (Christopherson et al., 2014;Hardy et al., 2016;Coates et al., 2008;Coussens et al., 2017;Nature Research and Penny, 2017;Bell and Yates, 2015;Phou, 2015;Vitae, 2018). ...
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... The recruitment and retention of under-represented groups is a major concern in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines (e.g. Bell et al. 2015;White 2015;Prinsley et al. 2016). It is estimated that at current rates, it will take decades before gender equality is achieved at a senior level in the sciences, even though the proportion of women entering science has been at 50% since 2001 (Hargens & Long 2002;SAGE 2016). ...
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Gender equity remains a large issue in academia, with women comprising only about one fifth of professors in the US. There are many changes that can be made to increase equity, including institutional policies, cultural change and bottom-up strategies, but these can be difficult or slow to implement at a departmental level. Hiring is one area that can be easily tackled at a departmental level and is strongly influenced by implicit and systematic bias. Here we focus on two methods of tackling bias in recruitment – redefining merit and identified positions.
... Having a higher percentage of women than is 36 currently found in academia increases the collective intelligence of collaborations and teams 37 (Woolley et al. 2010), with mixed-gender authorship teams receiving 34% more citations 38 than gender-uniform authored papers (Campbell et al. 2013). Having fewer women in 39 science decreases productivity and limits innovation (Bell et al. 2009). There is also an 40 argument that as science is largely publicly funded, underrepresented groups such as women 41 should have increased representation (Wallon et al. 2015). ...
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Gender equity remains a large issue in academia, with women comprising only about one fifth of professors in the US. There are many changes that can be made to increase equity, including institutional policies, cultural change and bottom-up strategies, but these can be difficult or slow to implement at a departmental level. Hiring is one area that can be easily tackled at a departmental level and is strongly influenced by implicit and systematic bias. Here we focus on two methods of tackling bias in recruitment – redefining merit and identified positions.
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