According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Studies have shown repetitively that in STEM fields, women are paid less for their research and do not climb as far as men in their chosen field. The country of Australia however, moved to close this gap this October. This year the Prime Minister’s 09Science Awards in Australia were pocketed by more women than have ever been recognised before.
From just one female receiving an award in science last year in Australia, this year saw an increase of 400% of women receiving an award. Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, awarded eight scientists and two educators for their outstanding contributions to science.
The Prime Minister’s Prize for Science went to the internationally acclaimed Mathematician Professor Cheryl Praeger. Professor Praeger’s 40 years of research includes ground-breaking research into mathematical symmetry used to improve search engine efficacy, and her work in algorithmic cryptography.
“What I love about mathematics is the way that it explains the world. It makes sense of the world.”, enthused Praeger.
The Prize for Innovation was accepted by a cancer-fighting team from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Developing venetoclax, a break-through anti-cancer drug, the team hope to aid “hundreds of patients in Australia with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia”. They have been awarded $250,000 for their efforts. Prof Praeger also received a prize of $250,000 for her accomplishments.
Some other award recipients included Samantha Moyle and Sarah Finney for their dedication to teaching science in primary and secondary schools.
Laura MacKay, a prodigy in the field of immunology, won Life Scientist of the Year. Her work to understand the mechanisms of tissue-resident t-cells has contributed to anti-cancer strategies and new vaccines for malaria and HIV. $50,000 was awarded to these recipients and others to recognise their success.
There is a national stigma surrounding females across many fields of science. In 2015 at the World Conference of Science Journalists hosted in South Korea, Nobel Prize-winning Biochemist Tim Hunt publicly displayed the blatant sexism many women experience in STEM environments across the world. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…” Hunt expounded. “Three things happen when they’re in the lab... you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry”.
In Australia, the government adviser for issues surrounding science and technology is called the Chief Scientist. In 2016 the Chief Scientist published findings that of the 2.3 million people who pursued a career in STEM, only 16% were female.
Australia’s current celebration of these successful scientists hopes to set precedent for young women and girls that STEM careers are a realistic goal for men and women alike.