Equality in STEM workplaces: Geoscience Australia

Geoscience Australia is the first Australian organisation to receive 3 SAGE Cygnet Awards for its inclusive and gender equitable workplace.

[Music plays. Image shows Dr James Johnson talking to the camera. He is seated in front of large windows with a view of a stone and plant garden outside the Geoscience Australia (GA) building. His name, position and the organisation shows up on the screen: 

Dr James Johnson

Chief Executive Officer

Geoscience Australia.]

James: I'm James Johnson, I’m the CEO at Geoscience Australia.

[Image shifts to Dr Yvette Poudjom Djomani talking to the camera. There is a window behind her with a blurred view of mountains. Her name, position and the organisation shows up on the screen: 

Dr Yvette Poudjom Djomani

Senior Geophysicist

Geoscience Australia.]

Yvette: My name is Yvette Poudjom Djomani, I am a senior geophysicist, here at Geoscience Australia.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera, then shifts to a group of GA employees that are mostly composed of women. They are walking outside the GA building entrance. The image then shifts back to James.]

James: Our gender equity journey started in earnest probably about 11 years ago in 2013. And it became apparent that we had really talented junior women, scientists, leaving the organisation, or speaking about leaving the organisation. And when I was asking some of them why…

[Image shifts back to the same group of GA staff walking outside the building. They are heading towards the site’s yarning circle and seating themselves on the stone benches in the circle to begin a meeting.] 

James: [speaking in the background]… it was because they couldn't see themselves having a future in our organisation. They looked above them and didn't see women in senior roles.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: And it was the first time we'd really looked hard in the mirror, and what we found was that we were typically stereotyping badly and making assumptions about what women did or didn't want. We weren't being transparent in our recruitment processes, there was a lot of tapping on the shoulder for the next promotion. A whole range of things that went to indicating we had genuine problems.

[Image shifts to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette: The year before I joined the organisation, there was a lot of issues around unconscious bias,…

[Image shift to GA staff talking amongst each other in the yarning circle outside the GA building.]

Yvette: [speaking in the background] … and so the management organised lots of training to get people to raise awareness about it, and let people know that, you know, sometimes you can do things that you don't even think about.

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette: And that was a really good thing.

[Image briefly to James talking to the camera.]

James: We joined one of, I think it was the third pilot of SAGE, Science in Australia Gender Equity,…

[Image shifts to Yvette standing next to a white plaque showing the 2020 SAGE Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award awarded to Geoscience Australia. The plaque is displayed on of the walls close to the foyer and security area, near the entrance to the building. The image gradually focuses more on the plaque which has:

  • the SAGE and Athena SWAN logos
  • the date the award was given to Geoscience (20 February 2020)
  • some text stating: ‘SAGE – improving gender equity and diversity in STEMM in Australia’s higher education and research sector’.]

James: [speaking in the background]…which is part of an international program called Athena SWAN. 

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: And it was basically, the key benefit of SAGE is that, again, it forces an organization to have a good hard look in the mirror,…

[Image shifts to GA staff walking along corridors inside their building towards a nice common open area with tables, chairs, benches and plants.]

James: [speaking in the background]… and you have to have demonstrated that you've looked hard at what are the systems in place, what are the metrics you're gathering, what are your decision making processes,…

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: … how are you addressing this whole gender equity thing?

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette: As the chair of the Gender Equity Network, of course, I was at the top of everything and I had to, we had to do surveys with staff, and ask them what issues they are going through, and how we can help to make the workplace, you know, a better place for everyone.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: So that led to the first sexual harassment policy and procedure in the organization where we definitively said we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment at Geoscience Australia. We also implemented a new complaints hotline that did not require you to go through your line management, that we, in fact, we had multiple channels whereby reporting could be done.

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette: I think for the organisation, if they want to implement gender diversity, the first thing is to have a little network.

[Image shifts to 3 women seated and talking around a table in a common open area in the GA building. Other GA staff are also shown seated around the area talking amongst themselves.

Yvette: [speaking in the background]…  And the best way is to have a network that is led by the staff, because they understand the issues, they know what they're going through, and then they can tell the management what they would like to see changed.

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette: There's a lot of things and if you want people to work properly, you know, you need to, to care about them.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: We've made big inroads in recent years at the senior levels, from a gender balance of probably 75/25, male dominated, to now, in the senior leadership team,…

[Image shifts to some brochures with titles like Where to start: Gender Diversity and DiversityACT Community Services] on shelves found close to the common area where different groups of GA staff are talking chatting amongst themselves.

James: [speaking in the background]…  we're around 50/50. So, we've done that by setting targets across all levels and all decision-making bodies across the organisation.

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette:  In recruitment panels, they used to be all men, but now, there is sort of balance. I do attend a lot of recruitment panels as a senior geophysicist, and we always 50/50, almost 50/50, in the panel, which is good. And I think it's important to treat people in a fair…

[Image shifts to 2 women working in front of their computers at their workstations.]

Yvette: [speaking in the background]…  and equitable way, so that they can feel welcome in an organisation.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: We have become accredited as a breastfeeding-friendly workplace and maintained that accreditation for, I think it's 3 years now, including a dedicated breastfeeding room, and also, what we've called a family room, where, if a parent needs to, suddenly at short notice, have to have care of their kids that day, they can actually come into a dedicated room where there’s some things to play with for the kids, a TV if need be, but also a workstation for the parent to conduct you know, keep working with their work.

[Image shifts back to Yvette talking to the camera.]

Yvette:  Having more people…

[Image shift to GA staff walking along one of the corridors in the GA building.]

Yvette: [speaking in the background]… with diverse needs, you know, and bringing diverse ideas as well, I think having diverse people in a team makes more success.

[Image shifts to James talking to the camera.]

James: Our vision for equity and diversity over the long term is that the population of Geoscience Australia reflects the population of Australia, across all levels of our organisation.

[Image shifts to Yvette, the other women and GA staff she was having conversations with in the yarning circle shown earlier. They are standing in front of the main Geoscience Australia sign in front of their building. They are all facing the camera and smiling.]

James: [speaking in the background] My vision would be that we no longer have to talk about it because it's just the way we are, just the way we function. And wouldn't that be great?

[Video ends with a final panel showing the STEM Equity Monitor abstract artwork bordering the panel, the Australian Government crest and the monitor’s short URL: industry.gov.au/stemequitymonitor

[Music ends]

Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) run the Cygnet awards. They acknowledge institutions’ work in building an inclusive and flexible workplaces.

Geoscience Australia is part of our department. In 2013, they decided to start changing their workplace culture.

Dr James Johnson, Geoscience Australia’s CEO, was concerned by how many early-career women scientists were leaving the organisation.

Part of the problem was a lack of women in senior roles. This led many women working at Geoscience Australia to feel they had no future with the organisation.

To help address this issue, Geoscience Australia joined SAGE and enrolled in an international program called Athena Swan.

The program helped the organisation look at itself critically and discover what steps could help improve their gender equality.

Senior geophysicist Dr Yvette Poudjom Djomani joined Geoscience Australia during this period and saw the organisation starting to change.

Dr Djomani became the chair of Geoscience Australia's Gender Equity Network. This staff-led network helps tell management what changes the organisation needs.

In the years since, the gender balance of senior level roles has shifted. Rather than being male-dominated, it’s now an almost even split.

Geoscience Australia has set equity targets across all levels of the organisation and decision-making areas.