Working towards gender equity in health and medical research

From 2023, the National Health and Medical Research Council will set targets to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men in a new commitment to address gender inequities in research funding. Joint media release with Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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From 2023, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will set targets to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men in a new commitment to address gender inequities in research funding.

The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC’s largest funding scheme and a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce. The scheme awards around $370 million in research funding each year.

The grants provide a 5-year fellowship and research support for outstanding researchers at all career stages. Setting targets has previously helped address gender inequities in grant funding at junior levels of the scheme, but the same success has not been replicated at senior levels of the scheme where barriers are leading to attrition of women from the research workforce.

The result is that, between 2019 and 2021, men applicants received about 35% more grants and 67% more total funding (about $95 million extra per year) than women applicants.

The new initiative will see NHMRC introduce a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that extends targets to fund an equal number of Leadership grants for women and men in the senior Investigator Grant scheme. 

Today the Australian Government also announces the outcomes of this year’s round of Investigator Grants. More than $375 million has been awarded to support 225 emerging and established leaders in health and medical research across Australia to tackle our greatest health challenges.

Among recipients of the funding announced today is Professor Dianna Magliano OAM, from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, who will use her Investigator Grant to understand trends in the burden, risks and complications of diabetes in Australia.

Professor Magliano’s research will also investigate which interventions are most effective in managing patients with diabetes.

This research will improve care for people with diabetes and ensure interventions are well targeted to limit the global health expenditure on diabetes.

Full details of the Investigator Grant recipients are included in the attachment.

Quotes attributable to Minister Gallagher:

“There is a significant gender gap at the highest career levels of our health and medical research sector, and we are taking action to address this.”

“This initiative will play a role in driving gender equality at the highest levels of the sector by recognising and rewarding the outstanding work of women in health and medical research.”

“These new funding targets will ensure that more women have the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of human health through their research and will inspire a new generation of researchers.”

Quotes attributable to Minister Butler: 

“The structural barriers that prevent women from contributing fully and advancing careers in medical research are many.”

“A 50:50 funding target for senior researchers will directly tackle this loss of talent and give more women the opportunity to take their research forward for the benefit of us all.”

Quotes attributable to NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO: 

“An Investigator Grant can make all the difference to a researcher’s career. This is one of the reasons that gender equity in this scheme is so important if we are to build a diverse research sector.”

“The changes announced today will provide more encouragement and opportunities for women and non-binary researchers to apply for, and win, these significant grants. With this support, we look forward to seeing better gender diversity at the most senior levels of Australian health and medical research in the years ahead.” 

Quotes attributable to Professor Dianna Magliano OAM 

“The announcement today highlights the importance of diversity at the highest levels of research and I hope it will drive change for current and future generations who will pursue a career in health and medical science. I am encouraged that NHMRC is taking this step now.” 

“I am also incredibly grateful for this grant as it will allow us to develop a better understanding of the incidence, prevalence, and mortality of diabetes in adults. Our long-term goal is to improve care for patients with diabetes in Australia and globally – and that will depend on studies like ours.” 

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