Equity and Diversity Program

Equity and Diversity Committee members at the 2019 ACEMS Retreat, including (L-R) Director Peter Taylor (ex officio), Chief Operating Officer Emily Duane (ex officio), Tracy Kelly, Eric Zhou, Laura Boyle, Wei Huang, Mehwish Nasim, Kerrie Mengersen, Ben Hess, Rachael Quill, Claudia Deasy (Executive Officer) and Aurore Delaigle (Chair).

ACEMS believes that its membership, and the mathematical sciences in general, should reflect the diversity of the community and that the Centre must enable an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve their goals. This means that the Centre’s policies should look to achieving gender equality, but also to empowering all minority groups within ACEMS and encouraging respectful workplaces. In 2018, ACEMS formed its first Equity and Diversity Committee to develop and oversee additional initiatives that bring about these objectives, and 2019 saw many of these initiatives flourish.

The impact of the Centre’s efforts in this space is well demonstrated by an unsolicited comment made by a senior ACEMS member to organisers immediately after the 2019 ACEMS Retreat:

There has been some subtle but quite profound shift within the Centre that has translated into a much kinder, gentler, positive and supportive environment. Perhaps it is just the gradual chipping away of old-fashioned notions about what mathematicians should be like. Perhaps it was the little kids running around the retreat! But I for one was very impressed by the sense of shared mission and respect/appreciation.

Some of the many activities and initiatives that have contributed to this shift within ACEMS over the years are highlighted below.

Carer’s Provision Fund

After case-by-case support in earlier years, the Carer’s Provision Fund was introduced in 2018 to formally provide additional funding for those with caring responsibilities. To that end, ACEMS invites its members who have primary carer responsibilities, or require additional care in order to travel, to apply for funding support to cover additional costs. The Carer’s Provision Fund can be used to support attendance at a conference or meeting, a visit to an ACEMS collaborating organisation, or to undertake research training. At all ACEMS-organised conferences, invited speakers are also eligible to apply for support through the Carer’s Provision Fund.

In 2019, all 10 Carer’s Provision Fund applications were approved, enabling those ACEMS members to participate in activities that they would otherwise have missed. In an excellent example of this impact, several members received support from the Carer’s Provision Fund to attend the 2019 Annual Retreat with their young families. This clearly contributed to the “much kinder, gentler, positive and supportive environment” mentioned in the unsolicited quote above.

ACEMS is looking forward to even more applications in 2020 as the scheme is further promoted and news of its growing success confirms that this is a great way to stay connected and involved in various events and activities despite caring responsibilities that have traditionally excluded participation or come at a personal cost.

Some of the ACEMS members who brought their young families to the retreat, who might not have participated otherwise. The overwhelming feedback from retreat attendees in the anonymous follow-up survey was that the event felt very inclusive and the presence of so many families, children and heavily pregnant women was extremely positive for the Centre and the discipline more broadly.

Equity and Diversity Workshops

During 2019, ACEMS introduced the Equity and Diversity Workshops and enlisted the expertise of En Masse; a specialist behaviour-change training company that helps organisations like ACEMS to build positive results in mental health and wellbeing, workplace culture and values, and diversity and inclusion.  They designed and delivered three interactive seminars throughout the year: two were live streamed online across the seven nodes and the third was delivered at the 2019 ACEMS Annual Retreat.

Topic Location Details
Optimising respect and equality at work QUT + live streamed

This was an appreciative inquiry-based workshop, where participants were asked to contribute to the establishment of a set of desired outcomes based upon the question “what is the very best that we can be?”.

During this interactive workshop, topics included a recap on commonly reported behavioural risks; optimising outcomes for ACEMS: “what is the very best we can be? What will that look like when we achieve it?”; reference to the Centre’s Code of Conduct and a recap on the common psycho-social risks at work that everyone needs to be aware of; a refresher on each individual’s obligations as a team member with a positive focus on achieving a “high standard of care” for all colleagues; “courageous conversations” – an introduction to a simple, step-by-step practical framework for engaging in respectful conversations at work and for coaching others to do the same; sustainable actions to help build healthy behavioural habits; and where to go for help and support.

Understanding unconscious bias UoM + live streamed

Research shows that our unconscious biases can help build order and drive human efficiency and can also undermine inclusion and fairness at work and in the community.  By understanding the nature of our biases, we can improve the objectivity of our decisions and help create a more inclusive and productive working environment.  This can enable higher levels of inclusion and improved chances that people will receive “a fair go” including within the university setting.

This positively focused, interactive and upbeat session was designed to help Centre members to identify how they form biases and how these biases affect behaviours and decision making.  Using university-specific examples throughout, participants were able to: build their understanding of common biases together with the roles that stereo-typing and privilege can play in determining outcomes for individuals; understand how biases can impact on behaviours and decisions, and the implications for equity and inclusion in the workplace; understand some of the practical steps that individuals can take as decision makers to help reduce the negative impacts of unconscious biases in everyday interactions and in decision making; and receive a list of “crowd-sourced” tips and tools that were populated through moderated chats and panel discussions throughout the session.

The challenge of perfectionism 2019 ACEMS Retreat in Adelaide

In the final workshop for 2019, held at the 2019 ACEMS Retreat in Adelaide, Mark Dean from En Masse facilitated an interactive workshop on understanding and managing perfectionism; a condition that affects and challenges many people working at all levels in the mathematical sciences, and can impact expectations and behaviours both at work and beyond.

With the added benefits of members being there in person for the retreat, this topic was designed to assist participants in building upon their understanding of the concept of perfectionism in a balanced way. Mark’s facilitation enabled members to contribute to the building of their own tool-kits towards adopting healthy, balanced approaches to striving for excellence in their work, while ensuring that they maintain healthy mindsets.

Female-only Postdoctoral Positions

As seen in the Centre’s gender statistics for 2019, only 29% of all ACEMS academic staff and students are female. The reasons for this imbalance are, of course, complex, and it will almost certainly take a range of measures to address the situation within ACEMS and within the wider mathematical sciences community.

In 2016, the School of Mathematics and Statistics at The University of Melbourne – the home base of the Centre’s lead node – initiated a controversial move and advertised three female-only academic positions. This highly-publicised decision was made in an attempt to address the male-dominated nature of the mathematical sciences.  Notably, three ACEMS Chief Investigators – Peter Forrester, Aurore Delaigle and Peter Taylor – along with their colleague Professor Kerry Landman, formed a departmental committee that initially pushed the idea that the School should advertise female-only continuing positions. The subsequent advertisements attracted a great deal of interest from the national media, and the process attracted over 120 applicants, many of whom were of a very high quality. In the end, four appointments were made and those involved, including the ACEMS CIs, are proud of the role that they played.

While ACEMS has improved its balance of female research fellows from 15% in 2016 to 26% by early 2019, it seemed that more explicit action was needed to accelerate further progress.  Following the success of The University of Melbourne’s female-only appointments, ACEMS created three female-only postdoctoral research fellow positions in mid-2019 to help address the Centre’s imbalance at this level.  By the end of 2019, all three positions had been offered to the successful candidates, with one Research Fellow starting in December and the other two due to commence in 2020.

ACEMS is looking forward to the contributions that these three young women will make to the Centre, while continuing its efforts to attract and support more female academic staff and students – to the Centre and the mathematical sciences in general – during the Centre’s final years.

International Women in Maths Day: events and resources

Celebrating women in mathamatics.Celebrating women in mathamatics by Tim Macuga

In 2019, ACEMS was proud to sponsor or take part in 13 events at universities across the country to celebrate the inaugural International Women in Mathematics Day. The activities ranged from panel discussions and public talks to networking events and public exhibitions; read more about these events here.

ACEMS also took this opportunity to feature women in the mathematical sciences from around Australia.  ACEMS Communications and Media Officer Tim Macuga gathered ‘selfie’ greetings from three dozen female researchers from around ACEMS and created an inspiring video.

ACEMS also sponsored a ‘Spotlight on Women in Maths’ poster project that was displayed at the Women in Maths Day celebration held at The University of Adelaide. The Centre is proud to host those posters on the ACEMS website, and hopes that other women will see these posters and not only get inspired by these women, but submit their own posters as well.

Supporting equity, diversity and inclusion via sponsorships

ACEMS has made a commitment to sponsor events that support equity and diversity, early-career researchers and increasing female representation rather than contributing to the general funding pool of an event. The Centre also aims to enable opportunities that would perhaps not be possible within the larger event without ACEMS’ support.

ACEMS asks all those submitting a sponsorship request about what gender equity strategies have been put in place for the event, the gender split of speakers at the event, have they considered providing support for families (such as child care or funding for attendees/speakers to bring dependents), and have they considered other cultural and diversity matters (such as providing space for prayer, or breaks at these times, dietary requirements, and access and mobility requirements). Moreover, the Centre requires all events which it sponsors to have a Code of Conduct and process for the handling of complaints.

During 2019 ACEMS sponsored many events that made a great impact on the mathematical sciences community. Read summaries of some of these events here.


The Centre’s Mentoring Program has several elements, including one-on-one mentoring relationships where members are matched based on the mentee’s needs and the mentor’s expertise and background.  Several mentees have requested a mentor that could help them to navigate a successful research career by discussing considerations that might fall under the banner of equity and diversity, such as family planning and caring responsibilities; adjusting to cultural differences; relocating for work\study; establishing new support networks; managing work\life balance; and making the most of a non-standard career path. As always, ACEMS will continue to encourage and support members to find appropriate mentors to help them thrive in their studies and career.

For the third year in a row, The University of Melbourne node of the Centre was lucky enough to host Scientific Advisory Committee member Professor Ruth Williams. A highlight of her annual visit is a lunch in her honour to connect female postgraduate students and early-career researchers to distinguished female research academics within mathematics and statistics for informal networking. This year there were also four short presentations related to the topic of the ‘Women in STEM Decadal Report’ followed by a moderated discussion. Read more about the 2019 lunch held in Ruth’s honour here.  ACEMS hopes to hold more events like these in the future with other inspiring female mathematicians and statisticians.


2019 saw the launch of the second season of the ACEMS podcast “The Random Sample” featuring ACEMS women both as hosts (Chief Investigator Professor Louise Ryan, Chief Operating Officer Dr Emily Duane and Masters student Sarah Belet) and guests (Chief Investigator Kate Smith-Miles, Outreach Officer Dr Anita Ponsaing, and Associate Investigators Dr Rachael Quill and Dr Melissa Humphries).

As with the first season, a number of shows discussed topics with an equity and diversity angle, including “A Day Can Make a Difference” – an episode where ACEMS Communications and Media Officer Tim Macuga talked to three of the women behind the biggest Australian 2019 Women in Maths Day event, what they did, why it was so important, what came of it, and what is ahead when it comes to the issue of gender equity in the mathematical sciences; and Dr Holly Krieger’s “Australian Maths Tour” – an episode where Holly talks about her research, her outreach to female students and young researchers, and her tour of Australian universities.

Episode 17: A Day Can Make a Difference

Guest: Dr Rachael Quill and Dr Melissa Humphries from ACEMS at The University of Adelaide, and Dr Amie Albrecht from The University of South Australia

Host: Tim Macuga, ACEMS Media and Communications Officer

In this episode, we explore the importance and success of the first-ever Women in Maths Day events held around Australia in May 2019. We talk to three of the organisers of the biggest event held in South Australia.

Episode 22: Australian Maths Tour

Guest: Dr Holly Krieger, Corfield Lecturer in Mathematics at Cambridge University

Host: Sarah Belet, ACEMS Student at Monash University

We chat with this year’s guest speaker for the AustMS/AMSI Mahler Lecture Series about her trip to Australia, her research and her outreach on YouTube.


Other events and activities

ACEMS members organised and took part in a range of other events and activities, and while doing so, supported greater diversity and inclusion in the mathematical sciences.  Some of these events and activities are described above, but many actions were done more subtly, such as by advocating for speaker and participant diversity when planning events; nominating a broader range of speakers for seminars, workshops, colloquia and public lectures; nominating a broader range of people for awards; and recognising and celebrating individual successes that might otherwise be overlooked.

Code of Conduct and Complaints Process

ACEMS has a comprehensive Code of Conduct and a complaints process.  These aim to outline and define the Centre’s expectations of members by ensuring that all members are aware of the principles of equality, fairness, inclusion and respect, that ACEMS holds as paramount.

For both the 2019 Student and ECR Retreat and the Annual Retreat, links to the Code of Conduct were provided in communications beforehand.  Moreover, a brief summary and link to the full Code of Conduct – along with photos and contact details of the retreat Code of Conduct Allies – was included in both Retreat programs and printed copies were included in the Retreat lanyard pockets that all participants wore.  Click here to see the ‘Retreat Week’ summary.

Unfortunately, the 2019 Climate Survey showed that 48% of respondents were not familiar with the procedures for reporting bullying, abusive or inappropriate behaviours.  Consequently, the Centre will continue to promote its complaints process to ensure that members know how to act and who to contact if necessary.  More information about the 2019 Climate Survey is summarised below.

Climate Survey

Finally, in late 2019 the Centre conducted its second annual climate survey to better understand the Centre’s many strengths, where there is room for improvement, and seek new ideas for the year ahead.  For the first time, ACEMS outsourced this climate survey, with Leaderskill running a comprehensive process along similar lines to that put in place by other ARC Centres of Excellence earlier in 2019.

While there are still some things to address, it is fair to say that the survey reflects very well on the general environment that ACEMS provides for its members.

The overall experience of ACEMS members is very positive: 85% rated this as ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’. In fact, 97% of members rated their experience as either Excellent (56.7%), Good (28.3%) or Average (11.7%). This is a strong statement of the level of engagement of members – even where areas have been highlighted for improvement, members enjoy being part of the Centre.

The highest levels of agreement across the survey are in relation to respect, inclusiveness, positive working environment, and open communication and flexibility, with more than 90% of members responding to each of the following questions with ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’:

  • I am aware of the Centre's values, Code of Conduct and expectations of its members
  • Others treat me with respect at work
  • Individuals of all nationalities, cultures and religions are recognised equally for their contributions
  • The Centre offers flexible working arrangements that meet my needs to balance work, personal life and family commitments
  • My Node Leader promotes a positive working environment
  • Open and honest communication is encouraged in our node.

For the following related questions, 87% or more of members responded with ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’:

  • Individuals of all genders and sexual orientations are recognised equally for their contributions
  • ACEMS leadership is working to build a collegial and collaborative Centre
  • The working environment at my node is free of discrimination.

If the ‘Neutral’ responses are added in with ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’ for all the above questions, the percentages increase to 95-100%, indicating that the Centre has done well to develop a positive working environment, where the vast majority of members have expressed the belief that ACEMS is an inclusive and respectful working environment that is flexible and friendly and where people of all nationalities, cultures, religions, genders and sexual orientations are recognised for their contributions.

In terms of room for improvement, the main topics concerned awareness of some of the Centre’s key initiatives.

Support Scheme Percentage of members aware of the scheme
Student Parental Leave Scholarship 32%
Carer’s Provision Fund 46%
Industry Collaboration Support Scheme 75%
Student Support Scheme 78%
Research Support Scheme 84%
International Mobility Programme 95%

As mentioned earlier, 48% of respondents were also not familiar with the procedures for reporting bullying, abusive or inappropriate behaviours. Consequently, ACEMS will continue to promote all these schemes and the complaints process to ensure that members know the full range of support and opportunities that are available to them via the Centre.

In 2020, the Equity and Diversity Committee and Executive Committee will spend time going through the detailed results of the full survey to establish a set of recommendations that ACEMS will endeavour to implement over the remaining years of the Centre.