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Outcomes of diversity workshop May 2016

Outcomes of May 2016 workshop on how to improve diversity and equity in New Zealand’s research community.

In May 2016 a workshop was held to discuss what activities should be undertaken to improve diversity and equity in New Zealand's research community.

Attendees included representatives from universities, CRIs, other research organisations, Science New Zealand, IPENZ,  the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, the New Zealand Law Society, Ministry for Women, the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS), Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and the Royal Society of New Zealand. The majority (about 85%) were female. Participants were not asked to share their ethnicity.One objective of the workshop was to learn about the Athena SWAN Charter and to assess whether New Zealand should adopt it.

The Athena SWAN Charter was established in the UK in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).  

Australia is currently adopting this charter and Dr Sue Meek, Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Sciences, gave feedback about Australia's experience in implementing Athena SWAN. 

Representatives at the workshop were invited from New Zealand universities, Crown Research Organisations and other research organisations. 

Outcomes of the diversity workshop

The following is a summary of what was agreed at the workshop by the representatives of research organisations. 

  • There are significant inequities in the New Zealand research community, with most data showing that the rate of progress on addressing gender, inclusion of Māori and ethnicity is slow.
  • There are good programmes in many research organisations, and in many organisations the policy settings are right, but progress is still unacceptably slow.
  • There is a need to accelerate progress in reducing inequities throughout the New Zealand research system.
  • A national approach, if properly designed, could greatly accelerate the rate at which inequities are being reduced.
  • There is strong evidence that inequity in one form often correlates with inequity in another, and thus there is greatest value in adopting a holistic approach to address all forms of inequity simultaneously (intersectionality), rather than a staged approach.
  • The national approach to diversity for New Zealand needs to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally to what we do, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a holistic manner.
  • Athena SWAN is a possible tool with a proven track record in the UK of accelerating change in STEMM disciplines, but two major weaknesses are perceived – the principles on which the charters are based are not holistically derived, and the Australian experience showed that there was considerable cost, both to obtain the franchise and then adapt the charter system to different national legal and cultural systems.
  • The majority view was that New Zealand should not proceed to further explore Athena SWAN at this time.
  • A small voluntary working group was set up to identify and develop the components of a cost-effective national programme that would complement the many organisational programmes in place in a manner that accelerates the rate of improvement in measured outcomes at a national level. 
  • It was agreed that the Royal Society of New Zealand will facilitate the working group, which includes members from a range of organisations.  The working group has been given up to one year for its deliberations.
  • The working group will report back to workshop participants and also to the major umbrella organisations – Universities NZ, Science NZ, the Independent Research Association NZ, and research funding agencies.
  • There is strong support for the working group to consider as a first step, development of standardised and regular reporting in an open manner by all research organisations. This, in itself, may create an incentive to increase the rate of change.


For further information, contact: Gill Sutherland, Director—Academy Operations, Royal Society of New Zealand (gill.sutherland@royalsociety.org.nz)