A total of 241 staff and students gathered in the Plaza on 8 March 2019 for Flinders’ annual Lab Coat Challenge on International Women’s Day, smashing the University’s previous record in support of gender equity and women in STEM.
Organised by Flinders’ STEM Women Branching Out group and flawlessly hosted by MC Melanie Fuller (a PhD STEM student), the enthusiastic gathering rallied to participate in a group photo, enjoy cake and pizza, and hear from Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling.
The event is unique in Australia and possibly the world, seeking to gather the highest number of people wearing lab coats in the one place in support of gender equity. The 2019 event eclipsed the 2018 Lab Coat Challenge, which brought together 152 supporters.
Among the white-shrouded crowd were first-year students Celestine Cherupallil, who is studying a science honours degree in nanotechnology, and Deepthi Paul, who is studying an engineering honours degree in robotics. Both Ms Cherupallil and Ms Paul were previous winners of the STEM Women Branching Out group’s Cochlear Aurora Photo Contest, which helped seal their decision to study STEM at Flinders.
First year student Stella Seychell was also in the crowd and said it was fantastic to see so many males and females at the event – “I think it’s great that people are excited about women in science.”
The fabulous Lab Coat Challenge cake was baked with care by Carly Schramm, a Technical Officer in Flinders’ Biology Discovery Centre. The creation was an hours-long labour of love, but quickly devoured at the lunch-time event.
South Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Caroline McMillen was a special guest, milling with students and staff after the formalities to hear about their work and studies, and sharing some of her own insights.
In his speech, Professor Stirling highlighted some of the historical achievements of Nobel Prize-winning women in STEM, and talked about the representation of women across the University, which includes 50% among College Deans and Vice-Presidents. Despite these proportions he said the University had some way to go in addressing the pay gap that exists due to the fewer number of women in senior roles.
“The issue is, our number of female academics reduce as they rise through the ranks,” he said.
This challenge has prompted Flinders University to participate in the Athena SWAN initiative by undertaking the bronze certification process, and shaped initiatives and policies to best support female staff.
The STEM Women Branching Out group plays a significant role through the support networks and professional development it provides both staff and students. It also engages with the broader community to support more women into STEM pathways, including its STEM Enrichment Academy for year 9 girls and teachers, and the annual Aurora Photo Contest.