QLD Luncheon highlights research and initiatives for women in STEM


The Queensland Women in Life Sciences Luncheon brought together over 230 guests to Brisbane, bringing recent research and initiatives to the forefront in achieving a more equal gender equality standing in life sciences.

Encouraging, supporting and further developing women in the life sciences sector in order to achieve a more equal standing, the Luncheon included an hour-long discussion focused on taking actions: An hour to empower.

The Luncheon featured Emeritus Professor Maree Smith AC, University of Queensland, who captivated delegates as keynote speaker. Following, a powerhouse panel of six speakers covering diverse backgrounds offered actions that have worked to shift the dial: Tamlyn O’Connor, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Jordan Debono, Volunteer Scientist and 2018 Young Ambassador, Dr Sue Keay, Data61 CSIRO, Dr Carrie Hillyard AM, Fitgenes Australia, Barry Thomas, Cook Medical, and Dr Kylie Ellis, Microba.

The successful actions undertaken across the panel were inspirational, motivational and important to hear. The Diversity Council of Australia recently announced research showing that diversity and inclusion practitioners report that 75% of diversity and inclusion change management is never, rarely, or only-sometimes implemented effectively. It identified that major opportunities lie in setting realistic goals, and evaluating the impact.

Em. Prof. Maree Smith AC shared some sobering statistics to set the scene for the day, “In Australia, women comprise 47% of the workforce, but only 16% of the STEM-skilled workforce. This is in an era where it is predicted that 75% of all future jobs in Australia will require STEM literacy and skills. It was estimated by PWC in 2015, that shifting just 1% of Australia’s workforce into STEM jobs would add $57.4 billion to the nation’s GDP over 20 years.”

Unless the sector makes a change so women can see a future for themselves and thrive, Australia and the world will continue to fail to reap the benefits of their capabilities.

Initiatives discussed at the Luncheon included:

  • Women in STEM Decadal Plan is a 10-year roadmap for achieving sustained increases in girls and women’s STEM participation and retention from school through to careers. Published in March 2019 by the Australian Academy of Science, and in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the plan builds on the efforts already underway across many STEM organisations, and emphasises that leadership accompanied by accountability is required to make a real difference.
  • Dealing with unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion: the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertook training alongside changes to their selection processes, which meant resulted in the proportion of women in the senior leadership group growing from 24% to 50% in just over two years. The Chief Defence Scientist introduced de-identification of CVs and applications. By removing the ability to identify an applicant’s gender, it led to more women being short-listed for interviews.
  • The STEM Women database and online directory, that showcases the diverse array of female talent working in the STEM field. The platform links women with opportunities, such as being part of committees and boards, speaking at conferences, being nominated for awards, and being interviewed in the media. Within a few days of its launch in early August, there were more than 1,000 STEM women profiles entered into the Directory.
  • AusBiotech’s Big Sisters programme invited women advanced in their careers in the sector to sponsor a student to attend the event and receive a one-year membership to AusBiotech. AusBiotech were thrilled to have eight big sisters/little sisters join them in Brisbane.
  • In memory of Rose-Anne Kelso, an award was created by Life Sciences Queensland to recognise an individual female’s endeavours, passion and dedication to the health and life sciences industry. The Award will assist an individual with enhancing their objectives, outcomes and opportunities within the health and life sciences industry, through the provision of $3,000 towards flights and travel expenses to attend an appropriate international meeting. This year, the opportunity has been kindly extended to include those working with AusBiotech members in any area of health and biomedical innovation. Contact LSQ for more information on nominating your female colleagues.

AusBiotech thanks Cook Medical, Spruson & Ferguson, and Life Sciences Queensland for supporting the Brisbane Luncheon.