News Geoscience Australia first in nation to receive three Cygnet Awards for action on workplace inclusion

Published:17 August 2023

Geoscience Australia has become the first Australian organisation to be presented with three prestigious Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Cygnet Awards, in recognition of its commitment to embed genuine and sustainable gender equity, and a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

Cygnet Awards are earned by organisations that undertake a transparent and rigorous process of demonstrating progress, outcomes and impact in addressing barriers to attraction, retention and progression of staff, and ultimately, to gender equity, diversity and inclusion.

Geoscience Australia’s first Cygnet Award recognised the efforts to foster an inclusive culture, its second was in recognition of initiatives to combat everyday sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and its third was for improving flexible work and providing greater access to more inclusive leave arrangements.

Geoscience Australia’s journey of cultural reform began in 2014, after a review revealed barriers to the attraction, career progression and retention for women and other marginalised groups. Since then, the organisation has dedicated considerable effort and resources to analysing institutional structures, systems and sub-cultures to identify and address barriers to a culture of inclusion.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr James Johnson said Geoscience Australia worked hard to understand employees’ views and stamp out inappropriate behaviours in the workplace.

“Following a series of CEO Listen and Learn sessions, we incorporated employee feedback to develop and implement a new sexism and sexual harassment policy and procedure,” Dr Johnson said.

“The policy and procedure clearly outline our zero-tolerance stance, available support options, complaint handling processes and avenues to report incidents anonymously.

“Other initiatives we have rolled out include an anonymous sexism and sexual harassment hotline for reporting and support, mandatory e-learning and improved representation and diversity in our leadership and decision-making structure.”

Key outcomes have included Geoscience Australia achieving its 40:40:20 (40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent any gender) gender target across senior leadership roles, program boards, committees, and recruitment panels. Australian Public Service (APS) Census results recognise our support for a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment in our organisation with ongoing education, monitoring, support and anonymous reporting channels for our people.

Geoscience Australia’s third Cygnet Award was for improving flexible work and providing greater access to more inclusive leave arrangements.

“Over the past five years, we have identified the need to attract a workforce that reflects the diversity of Australian communities by providing a more flexible workplace,” Dr Johnson said.

“Since that time, we have refreshed our flexible work procedure to provide greater awareness of how to access arrangements such as flex time, flexible start and end times, time off in lieu, working from home and compressed hours.

“We have also developed a new family and domestic violence policy with entitlements for paid and unpaid leave, a workplace breastfeeding procedure with flexibility and paid leave arrangements, with access to a private, dedicated room for parents and carers.

“Six weeks paid parental leave, regardless of gender, paid and unpaid miscellaneous leave for medical treatment of endometriosis, menopause and gender affirmation and reassignment are also now available for our staff as appropriate.”

Key outcomes have included flexible leave arrangements being well received by Geoscience Australia staff, with 91 per cent satisfied with their flexible work and leave arrangements in the 2021 Australian Public Service (APS) census, a three percentage point increase from 2018. Geoscience Australia’s result was significantly higher than the APS-wide rate which stands at 77 per cent.

Dr Janin Bredehoeft, Chief Executive Officer of Science in Australia Gender Equity, said these two Cygnet awards show the deep commitment Geoscience Australia had made to transformational change.

“It’s very exciting to see Geoscience Australia progressing so quickly in their work towards creating a more gender equitable and inclusive workplace,” Dr Bredehoeft said.

“Geoscience Australia has shown that tackling everyday sexism and harassment, and providing workplace flexibility, can substantially improve gender diversity in the workplace.

“The achievement of their 40:40:20 gender target across senior leadership roles, program boards, committees and recruitment panels is strong evidence that significant change has happened.

“With ongoing monitoring and evaluation, they have the tools in place to maintain this achievement over the long term."

Dr Johnson said he was incredibly proud to lead the first organisation in Australia to receive three Cygnet Awards.

“Since we received the Bronze Athena Swan Award in 2020, we have not taken our eye off our key gender and diversity goals. We are absolutely committed to developing a safe and inclusive workplace, with a focus on improving gender equity,” Dr Johnson said.

“In achieving two more Cygnet Awards, we are now more than halfway towards our next goal: silver accreditation.

“We will continue to work hard to identify, reduce or remove barriers that are preventing people from fully contributing to our workplace. An inclusive work environment is essential for us to help solve some of Australia’s most pressing challenges and deliver ground-breaking science.”