The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recognises this issue and is taking steps to address it. Starting in 2023, the NHMRC will set targets to award an equal number of Investigator grant to women and men in its new commitment to address gender inequities in research funding.
The Investigator Grant scheme is the NHMRC’s largest funding scheme, and it is a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce. The scheme awards around $370 million in research funding each year providing a 5-year fellowship and research support for outstanding researchers at all career stages.
Previously, setting targets has helped address gender inequities in grant funding at junior levels of the scheme, but the same success has not been replicated at senior levels of the scheme where barriers are leading to attrition of women from the research workforce.
The result is that between 2019 and 2021, men applicants received about 35% more grants and 67% more total funding (about $95 million extra per year) than women applicants.
Professor Anne Kelso AO, CEO of NHMRC, stated that “An Investigator Grant can make all the difference to a researcher’s career. This is one of the reasons that gender equity in this scheme is so important if we are to build a diverse research sector.”
The 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.
This initiative will not only ensure that more women have the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of human health through their research but will also inspire a new generation of researchers. The new funding target strategy will play a role in driving gender equality at the highest levels of the sector by recognizing and rewarding the outstanding work of women in health and medical research.
The structural barriers that prevent women from contributing fully and advancing careers in medical research are many, and this new initiative will directly tackle this loss of talent and give more women the opportunity to take their research forward for the benefit of us all.
By addressing gender inequities in research funding, we can build a diverse research sector that will lead to more discoveries and advancements in the field of health and medical research.