Equity a distant prospect for women in CSIRO
Below is an article published by researcher and former long time CSIRO employee, Dr Judy Eastham. While Dr Eastham’s article focuses on the disproportionately low representation of women in scientific research positions, it is highly typical of the CSIRO Executive’s penchant for avoiding tackling serious issues in preference to making flowery motherhood statements and misdirecting inquiring individuals to disused and rather dusty looking corporate policies that one may argue are pulled out only once in a blue moon when responding to well considered public criticism of such failings.
It is quite tiresome seeing CSIRO spokespeople falling back on Corporate Policies as a panacea repeatedly when it is obvious that such policies are lacking, poorly understood or even fail to be enforced and applied equitably and fairly.
Prior to being issued with an Improvement Notice by Commonwealth regulator, Comcare for breaches of the Workplace Health and Safety Act, the CSIRO had “policies” but this did not stop bullying or other inappropriate behaviour.
Prior to the “Pearce” investigation, CSIRO had amended policies as a result of the Comcare Improvement Notice but this also failed to remedy bullying and other inappropriate behaviour.
Subsequent to completion of the $4.5 million “White Elephant” which was the investigation into bullying and unreasonable behaviour, and 34 separate recommendations, the bullying and inappropriate behaviour continues.
When will the CSIRO acknowledge that it is not the policies themselves which are severely lacking, but the willingness of those in the top positions to ensure they are applied fairly and appropriately, without fear or favour. The Senior Management of the CSIRO has a well documented history of protecting a cabal of what it considers to be its most “valuable” employees to the detriment of the CSIRO, its international reputation and most importantly the health and well-being of its employees.
The connection between bullying and discrimination (particular in gender inequality) is conspicuously interconnected in the CSIRO, and the “Old Boys” network is evidently thriving when we hear such ludicrous and disturbing testimony before Senate Estimates effectively indicating that CSIRO was aware of allegations of harassment by at least 11 female employees leveled against a flagship director but only investigated one instance as the other parties had only provided witness accounts and had not issued formal complaints.
We know from our own personal engagement with victims of bullying, that a genesis of misogynistic behaviour lies at the heart of bullying and harassment complaints raised by a number of female victims in relation to the CSIRO.
Unfortunately, it is not only women themselves who suffer from discrimination in the CSIRO. Those who stand up to sexist, racist or other discriminatory conduct are often the target of adverse action for refusing to condone or accept such behaviour which is brushed off as “typical workplace banter” with the perpetrator facing little or no sanction in response.
We would welcome contact from any female employee, past or present who has experience overt or covert sexism as an employee of the CSIRO. Our email address is email@example.com. Please advise us if you would be more comfortable sharing your story with a female member of the ‘Victims of CSIRO’ group and we will be only too happy to oblige.
We also welcome contact from current CSIRO employees who continue to experience bullying and harassment in the CSIRO, despite the organisation’s attempt to cover up, rather than address the issues of workplace bullying and misconduct.
The article is provided below:
Equity a distant prospect for women in CSIRO
CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark. Photo: Jamila Toderas
Following the highs of this past week’s National Science Week, it’s timely to spotlight the under-representation of women in CSIRO, our national science research organisation.
CSIRO’s latest annual report released in 2013 indicates that women represent 40 per cent of employees, but only 12 per cent of technical services roles and 24 per cent of research scientists are female. In contrast, women are over-represented in more poorly-paid, traditionally female roles such as administrative support which is 76 per cent female. At higher levels of the hierarchy, the situation for women is even bleaker, with only 11 per cent of research management roles held by women. This statistic cannot be explained by a dearth of female talent, since women have comprised more than 11 per cent of the research scientist talent pool since 1998, and more than 20 per cent since 2005. In an equal opportunity environment, the representation of women in research management roles should reflect the pool of researchers it draws from.
Progress towards equity in CSIRO is difficult to track from annual reports which don’t reveal gender trends or past figures. The scant gender information provided stands in stark contrast to the detail on other statistics such as trends in publications, citations and social media presence. One can’t help but question the priority and values of an organisation which chooses to showcase monthly data on “Facebook likes” and “Twitter followers”, but fails to report data showing progress towards equity, a basic human right.
If you crunch the numbers from successive annual reports the figures are disheartening, revealing that the proportion of female research scientists actually decreased in 2012-13 compared with the previous year.
In January 2009, women in CSIRO celebrated the appointment of Dr Megan Clark, the organisation’s first female CEO, anticipating that under her leadership the portals to the old boys club would be broken open. The former CEO, Dr Geoff Garrett, increased women’s representation as research scientists by six per cent during his term. But data in annual reports show that women’s representation in the role has increased by only one per cent over the 5 years since Dr Clark took the helm. At this glacial rate of progress, the number of women Research Scientists in the organisation won’t reach parity with men for more than a century. Several generations of female scientists will continue to be disadvantaged.
Restructuring of CSIRO in July this year afforded a golden opportunity to increase the visibility of women at the top, a key strategy in improving gender balance. Perhaps predictably, the top jobs were predominantly awarded to men. The July 2014 organisational chart on the CSIRO website reveals that only one of the five executive director, and one of the 13 director positions were given to women. Several talented and impressive women who formerly occupied equivalent leadership roles such as chiefs and flagship directors were “overlooked”.
So what are the solutions? CSIRO has had a suite of excellent policies and plans in place to support equal opportunity for many years. Clearly these haven’t been effective in facilitating significant change. Studies on traditionally male workplaces point to organisational culture as a key factor disadvantaging women, and one of the most problematic to fix because of its hidden nature. Rumours of bullying, often a particular issue for women, have proliferated under the current leadership. These haven’t been silenced by an “independent” investigation commissioned and paid for by CSIRO, which found implausibly low levels of misconduct. Some executives and leaders allow discriminatory practices to persist, denying the problem and ignoring independent reports that document evidence of direct and systemic discrimination in parts of the organisation.
Leaders are instrumental in shaping organisational culture, and commitment from the top is critical to the success of any cultural change initiative. Dr Clark has been notably silent on the gender problem, preferring instead to focus on the broader issue of diversity. Her approach contrasts strongly to that of the “Male Champions of Change”, a group of male CEOs and Chairs who actively champion gender equity. Their key message is that a specific focus on gender is essential. Thus it will fall to the new CEO, appointed at completion of Dr Clark’s term at the end of 2014, to take responsibility for redressing the inequity that has been allowed to persist in the organisation.
CSIRO needs to set and commit to realistic targets for women’s participation. It should be accountable for progress towards these targets by transparent reporting to the Australian public. At the risk of alienating purist feminists, I challenge CSIRO to “man up” to the problem.
Judy Eastham is a consultant and researcher investigating gender equity in the Australian workplace. She formerly worked as a scientist in industry, research and academic institutions. firstname.lastname@example.org