International Women's Day – lessons from 6 years of building a nurturing environment

5 March 2020: By Kathy Nicholson

It is international women’s day this Sunday and, like many research organisations in Australia, we need to keep talking about Women in STEM.

Fortunately, from its foundation, CNBP has been focused on building an inclusive, diverse and supportive research environment.

Here’s some of what we have learned over the past six years. While it may seem overly simple, it is still remarkable how many of these things are not happening.

Hopefully these insights will provide you, not matter what stage of career you are in, with tools to create change.

Create a nurturing environment

Effective teams require a diversity of expertise, skills and experiences. CNBP harnesses the diversity of our members by creating a nurturing environment – with a focus on inclusivity and continual professional development. We arm our students, researchers and professional team with the support and tools needed to success as STEM professionals in and outside of academia.

Read our Gender Equity and Diversity policy developed by our Nurturing Environment Committee.

Ensure you have family friendly policies and programs

Family friendly programs have been established to enable working parents to work and travel with children (plus/minus carers). Programs such as these allow researchers to maintain valuable networks, keep abreast of change and plan a return to work strategy following time off for carer duties.

Create a platform for respectful engagement

The challenge with these platforms is balancing how we respectfully engage with women who want to lean in while on maternity leave, without creating an expectation to work while on leave and/or discriminates against those who with don’t wish to … or can’t?

We have learnt the value of relationships, trust is built over time but can also be handed down within our membership by word of mouth – a history of showing respect.  Individuals need to feel the opportunity exists for genuine – respectful conversations.

Help pave the way for career progression

By understanding our members – their goals and career aspirations we can provide opportunities and champion them towards these goals.  Sometimes this involves structured mentoring; opportunities to meet role models – other times it involves creating a community of like-minded individuals who offer a safe environment to debrief and recharge the batteries.

Be their champion, nominate them for prizes and awards

The #NominateHer campaign has created visibility for the woeful stats on women receiving honours.  Be purposeful about awards nominations. Create a list of awards and prizes and survey the community about nominees.  The best candidate may not be the first person who self-nominates.

Build their profile

You can’t be what you can’t see. We need to see more strong, engaging profiles of our women researchers across the career spans. In the media, on social media and on websites. Too often the profiles we see don’t convey the remarkable impact they are having.

Facilitate networking

Building diverse and robust networks takes time and confidence. Thankfully, there are a whole host of networking opportunities that have emerged for women researchers outside of the traditional academic conferences. Some examples are below, many of these websites have great resources which you can look into: