Australian Women Cool to Career in Science

CANBERRA—Just days after Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, became the first Australia-born woman to win a Nobel Prize, for work on telomeres, a report released here today has revealed that most of her female compatriots are low on Australia’s science food chain.

Women accounted for about 22% of full-time professionals in design, engineering, science, and transport in 2009—faint improvement over the roughly 18% tabulated in 1996, according to the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, which commissioned the “Women in Science in Australia” report.

The situation is not entirely grim: “We have evidence for sustained participation of women in university biology courses and increased participation in fields such as environmental science,” says report author Sharon Bell of the University of Melbourne–based LH Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management. However, Bell says there is feeble female turnout in engineering and information technology courses. And a “disproportionately low number” of women, she says, make scientific research a long-term career, with vanishingly few rising to senior level posts. The high attrition rate has resulted in “squandered talent,” Australian science minister Kim Carr said at the report’s launch.

As measures to redress the imbalance, the federation called for more flexible career paths and more “family friendly” workplaces, and it argued that women should make up at least one-third of the representation on committees overseeing policymaking and funding.