5 mins read 08 Mar 2021

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021 through change

March 8 is the annual day of recognition and celebration for Women around the world. In many science fields, including across our regional space communities, women are not included from as early as the education curriculum through to senior decision-maker roles in organisations. We spoke with Australian Women in STEM Ambassador, Prof. Lisa Harvey-Smith, as well as IncludeHer founder, Kat Ross.

Around the world, 8 March is annually celebrated as International Women’s Day (IWD) – a day that highlights the achievements that women have accomplished, and an opportunity to raise awareness about the still very unbalanced equality that women face across the community, inclusive of home, school, and workplaces.

The date has been observed since the early 1900s when 15,000 women marched through New York City declaring they wanted greater parity for pay, voting rights and shorter working hours. Then in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution to declare the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace’, and since then – the day is annually observed to remind and highlight that some of the same struggles faced by the women in the 1908 New York City march, continue in 2021.

“IWD is a time to discuss barriers to gender equity and review actions and progress towards the goal of removing them,” said Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, who is also the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador.

Whilst the number of women involved across the Australian science communities is increasing with younger generations now following their passions into their dream careers within the space sector, there still remains an obvious in-balance in more senior positions across research, education institutions and industry workplaces.

“According to the Government’s STEM Equity Monitor the number of women managers in scientific research services is around 50 percent yet only 15 percent are heads of businesses or CEOs are women,” said Lisa.

“In engineering and computer system design the percentage of women in management is closer to 20 percent and CEOs 10 percent. Furthermore, only 10 percent of STEM organisations have a formal target for gender equity in their governing body.”

“There is clearly a long way to go before women are reaching acceptable levels of representation in decision-making roles,” she said.

The structures in place to create these types of unbalanced outcomes have also recently been documented as starting as early as school age, as was highlighted by Astrophysics Ph.D. student and contributor Kat Ross, when she discovered that only two women scientists were named in the NSW year 11 & 12 Science Curriculum, whilst 80 male scientists were listed.

“When I was first reading through the curriculum to see who was included all that was going through my head was just let there be one, please let there be at least one,” said Kat.

That’s why Kat founded the IncludeHer movement – a group that is dedicated to changing the appearance, role, and inclusivity of women from STEM backgrounds (historical and current) in education systems.

“After I finished and saw the stats it was pretty devastating, but I realised it was a symptom of a larger issue, of a system which continually undervalues and underappreciates the contributions of women, BIPOC and people with other minorities. It started a fire in me to see it changed and fixed for the better,” said Kat.

“My biggest goal for IncludeHer is to help create a revolutionary scientific syllabus that doesn’t just highlight a range of scientists but actively teaches of the way women have been pushed out of science.”

“In particular, I would love to have student-driven projects where students can discover for themselves the long history of racism and sexism in science so they can also light the same fire and be part of the solution. We shouldn’t be shying away from the history,” she said.

Build Better Environments for Women

Credit: World Health Organisation.

This year, whilst celebrating International Women’s Day is just as important as it has ever been – advocates and community members (including us) are encouraging people in senior positions to make changes as part of their workplace practices and culture, and to start building in long-term sustainable solutions.

One of the resources provided through the Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador is the National Evaluation Guide for STEM gender equity programs which allow organisations to self-evaluate their workplaces and develop an implementation plan that can help increase gender balance.

“Organisations can do a thorough audit of their workforce and identify areas of improvement. Generate a plan with specific, measurable actions that will shift the dial (you can get ideas from the Women in STEM Decadal Plan). Monitor, share data with staff and be transparent about success and failure. This is a winning formula,” said Lisa.


Are you looking for ways for your organisation to become a more inclusive workplace? Below is a list of resources now available to help provide guidance, as well as some easy-to-access planning and development tools to assist you.

The Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador website resources page has several links that are dedicated and targeted towards educators, for families, students, as well as workplaces. There is also a national peer-reviewed trial taking place, where identifying information from research grant applications is removed to assess the opportunity to reduce unconscious bias within STEM grant programs.

The Science in Australian Gender Equity (SAGE) resource page hosts several good videos, workshop summaries and toolkits.

The Women in STEMM Australia website has a comprehensive list, such as a listing of Government and national organisations, initiatives for STEMM researchers, professional women networks, and access to women in STEMM speakers, that your organisation can utilise.

You can also support the IncludeHer movement here.


Video Credit: Anisa Nandaula/International Women’s Day (YouTube)