Women in life sciences empowering actions


This year’s Women in Life Sciences Luncheon welcomed over 320 guests in Sydney, celebrating International Women's Day, held annually on March 8 to 'celebrate women's achievements throughout history and across nations'.

This year’s theme More powerful together was fitting as, for the first time, AusBiotech and Medicines Australia co-hosted the day together.

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.

Delegates left the luncheon inspired by solutions and considering what they could each do to take the next steps in increasing females in senior leadership positions. One panellist noted, “Inclusion and innovation only come about by intention.”

Meaningful decisions on how we include diversity across all roles, with formal and informal programmes and approaches, must be actively considered. Behaviour change can be a slow cultural adjustment, so addressing it from multiple angles will increase progression and shift the dial to equality quicker. Actions highlighted during An hour to empower included:

  • Take opportunities as they’re presented. Non-linear career paths are normal, and shouldn’t mimic the pathways of the past.
  • Mentoring is a two-way street. People are there to help, but you need to step up too. Mentoring doesn’t need to be formal to be impactful. It’s also not about simply going for a coffee – it’s about being prepared and proactively seeking what you need.
  • Consider maternity leave funding mechanisms - can it be redistributed from projects into a central account to ensure it’s available to all staff, without jeopardising project outcomes and contract allocation?
  • Formal policies can be put in place - bonding leave to support family bonding, the ability to earn superannuation while on paternity leave, flexible working opportunities, and pay equity reviews.
  • Women retire with approximately thirty percent less in their bank accounts than men, yet they live around seven years longer. This impacts women’s freedom. One speaker told of a private account available to all staff, where they voluntarily contributed two dollars for each week that they worked. This is then put into a private superannuation scheme and contributes to their ultimate financial security.
  • Call out bad behaviour. Do not be discouraged by the detractors.

The luncheon was opened by keynote speakers Kate Carnell AO, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, and Karen Bevan, executive leader and board director.

They were followed by a panel of five distinguished panellists covering the full life sciences pipeline - from bench to bedside: Ainslie Cahill, Immediate past CEO, Arthritis Australia; Fabienne Connet, Head of Human Resources Australia & New Zealand, Biogen; Kathy Connell, Senior Director New Ventures, Australia and New Zealand, Johnson & Johnson Innovation; Maria Halasz, CEO and Managing Director, Cellmid Limited; and, Professor Marie Dziadek, Chief Scientific Officer, Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Women have steadily been working towards an equal representation in life sciences. AusBiotech’s Sector Snapshot showed that while pharmaceutical companies are leading the way with about half their employees being female, across the sector, female representation decreases as seniority levels increase. It was found that there was a slightly higher percentage of female CEOs/founders/directors in medical technology & digital health (20 per cent) compared to pharmaceuticals (14 per cent).

Thank you to Biologi, Cellmid, Microscopy Australia, Genome.One, UNSW Sydney, that healthcare PR girl, and from De Beaurepaire wines for supporting the Sydney luncheon.