Homeward Bound: Empowering Women for a more Sustainable Future

By Melinda Fitzgerald

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Time for change

Women scientists experience particular challenges as they progress into leadership roles. The Homeward Bound experience will give me the pragmatic skills and the professional network required to influence policy and decision making to overcome some of these challenges and ensure women are equally represented at the highest levels of science.

I will be able to contribute to the critical need to encourage and empower women to enter and remain in careers in science. The current environment is ripe for change. The pilot program for Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) in Australian Universities and research Institutes tells us that the need to increase the number of women in leadership roles in science is now understood. I hope to contribute to this groundswell and make a practical difference to make it easier for women to remain in careers in science.

Challenges to be overcome

One of the challenges facing women in science is the need to demonstrate a good track record of research success. It is difficult to devote the uninterrupted mental space to achieve a good track record when dealing with the competing demands of children, home and science research. While there is increasing recognition that 6 months of maternity leave equates to 2 years lost from the track record, much more needs to be done to enshrine this understanding in policy.

I have a good understanding of this problem, as I took an 8 year career break to care for my 2 boys before they reached school. I am fully aware of how difficult it is to come back from that big a break in the track record and how high the barriers are for women in science.

Furthermore, parental responsibilities do not disappear once a child attends school and the effort required to successfully rear one or more children through teenage years is another substantial impediment to women progressing to professorial level.

It has been scientifically proven that both men and women will rate male candidates more highly than female candidates with the same qualifications. Review of manuscripts and grant applications needs to be blinded to ensure there is no discrimination against women due to this intrinsic bias.

Rising to the challenge

I believe that the skills and network I will gain from participating in Homeward Bound will enable me to action my strategies for change in an appropriate and effective manner. I will seek to contribute to key initiatives that are starting to make a difference in empowering more women to rise to the highest levels in science. Specifically, I am nominating to be a member of The University of Western Australia Self-Assessment Team that will drive the pilot program for the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE)/ Athena SWAN accreditation initiative, designed to ensure gender equity within Australian research institutions. By actively participating in the process of change I can help to ensure the success of this potentially game-changing initiative.

There is much to do

The cost of the Homeward Bound program is US $40,000 per person, a significant proportion of which is covered by in kind contributions from partners in the program. However we need to raise $25,000 AU each. Please support our campaign to be a part of the Homeward Bound Adventure.

We will take on this task, and empower others to do likewise.

You can donate to my personal campaign from this page or head back to our team crowdfunding page to contribute to our team campaign and to meet the other three amazing women from UWA who were also selected!

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Melinda Fitzgerald