Materials research chemist Professor Kay Latham has been appointed RMIT Dean of STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine] Diversity and Inclusion.
In her new role, which commenced at the start of June, Latham will lead RMIT’s focus on gender equity in STEMM, guided by the Athena SWAN accreditation framework.
This is a set of 10 key principles to help create a gender inclusive workplace, and advance gender equity, diversity and inclusion within an organisation.
“We’ve been on our Athena SWAN journey since 2015,” Latham told create.
“Since then, we have improved female participation in STEMM and we are a more flexible workplace, but we still have quite a bit of work to do.
“Our Action Plan is quite extensive, and the university felt we needed to have a dedicated leader to ensure that delivery over the next four to five years … I was delighted to take it on.”
Among the objectives of the Action Plan is a goal of achieving 50-50 female-male representation amongst leadership groups of STEMM Schools.
“At the senior leadership level, we’re sitting at around 44 per cent women across the university,” Latham said.
“Within our STEMM Schools it’s very varied – it reflects the different female representation in each of the STEMM disciplines. In engineering, for example, there are far fewer women, whereas in health and biomedical science there’s quite a few more … In some Schools this [50-50 representation] will be a lot easier to achieve than others, but I think we should have it as a goal.”
Building the STEMM pipeline
Latham also hopes to enhance career development for women and diverse genders across the university.
“We’ve done quite a bit of work at the Associate Professor and Professor level, [but] now’s the time to focus in on the earlier career stages such as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer,” she said.
“This is a really important pipeline [to leadership], and owing to concentration of staff at these levels it’s where much of the business of the university occurs.
“While we’re working on equity and diversity, we [also] still need to do a lot more work on attitudes and language. Male-dominated workplaces — often the case in STEMM — can seem unwelcoming to women, and can be a key factor in female attrition in STEMM.
“[To address this] I’m working at a local and national level through the Science Australia Gender Equality [SAGE] network and beyond.”
Having led RMIT to achieve its Athena SWAN Bronze Status in 2019, Latham has now set her sights higher for the university’s diversity and inclusion goals.
“We’re now aiming towards the Silver Athena SWAN Award, and we have five years to show sufficient delivery and impact on our Action Plan,” she said.
“The other area of the role is to deliver and support our achievements around the university’s Reconciliation, and Diverse Genders, Sexes and Sexualities Action Plans, as well as our Accessibility, and Cultural Inclusion initiatives.”
Equity is good business
As well as enabling equity and opportunity for individuals, Latham pointed to the wider benefits of diversity in STEMM industries.
“When you bring together people with a diverse range of backgrounds and thinking, you achieve more — you’re more creative and innovative as a group,” Latham said.
“And that’s not just a personal belief; it’s well documented. Diverse workplaces are more productive, innovative and successful than those that are not. Not only does it make perfect business sense, it’s a better place to be.”