The gender numbers aren’t adding up for the University of Melbourne’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.
Just two of 21 professors and one in five of the teaching and research staff at the faculty are women.
In a bid to beat the male-dominated culture, the university is now asking women only to apply for maths and statistics jobs.
Head of the school, Professor Aleks Owczarek, said he was determined to boost women’s involvement, claiming that more female mathematicians would improve the quality of research.
“We are very well aware and have been for some time that the number of women in our workforce within the school and within the sector of mathematical sciences is unacceptably low,” he said.
“Across the sector, about a quarter of the academic workforce is female.”
The school is offering the positions of lecturer, senior lecturer and associate professor in pure mathematics, applied mathematics and statistics.
The initiative comes as the university signs up to the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative of the Australian Academy of Science, which provides accreditation to organisations that focus on gender equality.
“We want to make a statement and provide some new role models,” Professor Owczarek said.
“We want to hire three outstanding female academics from around the world as our strategic priority, and provide them with the best support and mentoring.”
Lesley Ward, chair of the Women in Maths Special Interest Group of the Australian Mathematical Society, said the most recent data from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute showed only 9 per cent of women had professorial positions in mathematical sciences.
The Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of South Australia said she was aware of just 20 female professors in mathematical sciences.
“By and large, the science technology, engineering and maths disciplines have been slower at moving towards gender equity than other areas such as medicine, law and education.”
Clare Morton, acting Victorian Equal opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, said the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 allows organisations to take steps using a “special measure” to help empower disadvantaged groups.
“Gender equality is not about a battle of the sexes, it’s about equality. In this instance, special measures can help empower women to succeed in a field typically dominated by men.”
Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, the co-founder of Women in Science Australia, said many junior researchers are expected to move from one short-term contract to the next, without the security of maternity leave.
She said women were also deterred from taking maternity leave, as this could amount to “career suicide” in the “hyper competitive” industry.
“If you’re not producing high impact papers, you’re not competitive for the next round of funding; if you have a break, it can put you on the back foot, you’re on a slower trajectory compared to your male peers,” said Dr Evans-Galea, who is the research scientist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Professor Jacqui Ramagge, head of School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sydney, said there was a “tendency” for people to assume that she was a secretary.
“I don’t object to being a secretary, that’s not a problem – but somehow people don’t naturally assume that you are the person that you are.
“It’s partly because there are so few of us and the assumption is generally correct.”
Professor Ramagge said four in 14 professors at her school were women.
One of the nation’s top mathematicians, Nalini Joshi, who is the chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney, recently made a speech at the National Press Club calling for drastic change to the sector.
Joshi, the first female mathematician at the university to be appointed as professor, blasted the endemic marginalisation of female researchers in Australian universities.
“When I attend functions at the academy, wearing a black suit, with a name badge, I am often mistaken for one of the serving staff. And, I am not alone,” she said.