Federal government to set gender targets for major NHMRC research program

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Health minister Mark Butler has announced that the federal government will set gender targets for medical research grants made by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) under the Investigator Grant scheme.

The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC’s largest grant program with around $370 million in research funding each year.

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

Setting targets has previously helped address gender inequities in grant funding at junior levels of the scheme. However, this has not been replicated at senior levels of the scheme.

Between 2019 and 2021, male applicants received about 35 per cent more grants and 67 per cent more total funding (about $95 million extra per year) than female applicants. 

Mr Butler, who made the announcement with finance minister Senator Katy Gallager, who is also the minister for women, said the new initiative will see NHMRC introduce a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that extends targets to fund an equal number of Leadership grants for women and men in the senior Investigator Grant scheme.

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

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

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

“The structural barriers that prevent women from contributing fully and advancing careers in medical research are many," said Mr Butler.

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