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Mentors aim to support women to reach top roles in health and medical research sector

Sydney first LHD to join mentor program

June 2019

Mentors aim to support women to reach top roles in health and medical research sector

Mentors aim to support women to reach top roles in health and medical research sector

Two Sydney Local Health District researchers have been selected to participate in the Franklin Women’s Mentoring Program which aims to empower more women to reach leadership positions in the health and medical research sector.

Sydney is the first Local Health District in New South Wales to partner with Franklin Women, a grassroots organisation led by women working in the sector.

The group is focused on helping women pursue rewarding health science careers and addressing the systemic barriers faced by women in health and medical research and to achieve senior roles.

It takes its name from Rosalind Franklin, and English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, yet whose contribution was overlooked at the time.

Associate Professor Shilpi Ajwani, who heads the District’s Oral Health Promotion & Oral Health Research and Clinical Associate Professor Rebekah Ahmed, a Staff Specialist Neurologist at RPA, will take part in the 2019 Franklin Women Mentoring Program.

They’re among this year’s 72 mentors and mentees who come from 15 participating organisations including university faculties, not-for-profits and medical research institutes.

Rebekah will be mentored during the five-month program by a senior leader in one of the other participating organisations – which highlights the cross-organisational approach strength of the program.

“It’s important to be able to combine my clinical practice with research. But, it can be difficult as an early or mid-career researcher knowing how to navigate a career pathway.

“As a female clinician and researcher, I hope to be empowered to tackle difficult situations… especially when others may have different views about women’s roles in the health system.

“I’d like to focus on how to get the best out of leadership opportunities,” she said.

Shilpi, who will be a mentor, said some women may still face challenges reaching leadership roles, particularly if they took a break from their career to have children.

“I strongly believe that women should always help other women. I want to guide and support women, from a professional perspective, in their career.

“Early in my career, I had a mentor who changed how my career progressed. I moved from working in a clinical environment to research because of her influence. Now, I want to give back,” she said.

The partnership with Franklin Women aligns with the District’s priorities to promote research leadership, said chief executive Dr Teresa Anderson AM.

“We are continuing to strive towards creating a diverse and inclusive health and medical research sector where women thrive.

“The District is committed to supporting the career progression of female staff and achieving gender equality at all levels of the organisation,” Dr Anderson said.

The partnership compliments the District’s existing activities including Innovation Week Women’s Leadership Breakfast which aims to recognise the contributions of women in the District to the NSW public health system.

Women make up 72 per cent of the District’s workforce. At a state level, women currently represent 66 per cent of the NSW Public Service, but only 37 per cent hold senior leadership positions.

One of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's priorities is to lift this figure to 50 per cent by 2025.

Franklin Women’s founder Dr Melina Georgousakis said the cross-organisational mentoring program aims to support women mid-career to move into leadership positions.

“There’s a pinch-point when women reach eight to 10 years of career experience. We want to support women get through this point and see them progress to higher levels of leadership.

“The mentoring program works to address the current under-representation of women at this stage of their careers.

“Through the program we also want to raise awareness among current leaders, both male and female, about how to promote a more inclusive culture and to achieve greater gender diversity in the sector,” Dr Georgousakis said.

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