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Equity and Diversity Program

ACEMS strongly believes that its membership, and the mathematical sciences in general, should reflect the diversity of the community.

One way that the Centre contributes to this objective is by enabling an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve their goals. The Centre’s policies are aimed at achieving gender equality, but also to empowering all underrepresented groups within ACEMS and encouraging respectful workplaces. Formed in 2018, the ACEMS Equity and Diversity Committee continued to develop and oversee initiatives in 2021.

An overview of some of the many activities and initiatives that ACEMS invested in and continued to make a positive impact on its members and the broader community are highlighted below.

Equity and Diversity Workshops

ACEMS conducted three Equity and Diversity seminars on topics including mental health and wellbeing, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on researchers, and more equitable ways of recognising talent and output in the academic sphere. These seminars were live streamed across all Nodes and at the ACEMS Final Retreat; recordings of the talks were also made available to members via the ACEMS Member Portal.

Topic Details
A vision for an academic system where everyone's talent is recognised

The Final Retreat included an Equity and Diversity Seminar presentation by Dr Emma Burrows, Head of Translational Behaviour Laboratory, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

The presentation explored a vision for an academic system that recognises academic achievement beyond publications, fundraising and other simple metrics. This included considering a more diverse variety of career trajectories and academic contributions and to consider a more complete narrative of a person’s academic achievements. An example of how this is being implemented in the Netherlands was discussed.

The talk also explored how open-access research including open-source software, pre-print repositories and open-access journals and greater sharing of research data and results has improved publishing integrity and equity and diversity in academia.

Mental health essentials for ACEMS researchers and graduate research students

Orania Tokatlidis, Clinical Psychologist and Manager of Counselling and Psychological Services at The University of Melbourne, was invited to give a practical overview of mental health in the university research environment.

The workshop was presented in an interactive online format and covered topics including:

  • Responding to people in distress (e.g. what happens if someone starts crying? What if I don’t know the right thing to do?)
  • Barriers to accessing support
  • Issues of confidentiality and discrimination
  • The provision of reasonable care to graduate researchers

The session included a number of group discussions in online break out rooms to discuss case studies and hypothetical examples to explore issues, and common University support services and resources that are available to assist.

Supporting each other and overcoming challenges in uncertain times

Psychologist John Barletta presented a seminar on mental health and wellbeing, addressing questions such as: How do you stay in good mental health? What wellbeing challenges are you facing during COVID? Are there some coping and self-care strategies you can apply when it comes to your mental health?

The seminar drove a discussion to normalise looking after our well-being and the well-being of others. Participants also had opportunities to share their own stories and perspectives on what they had been going through during trying times.

The session was co-moderated by ACEMS Equity and Diversity Committee Chair Dr Kate Saunders with input from AI Rachael Quill, RF Jiadong Mao and PhD Student Owen Forbes.

International Women in Maths Day: events and resources

ACEMS was proud to support proposals and celebrate International Women in Mathematics Day via numerous events being coordinated through WIMSIG. These events were conducted at multiple universities across the country and were supported by a national video campaign to support the occasion. Recordings of the video campaign are available on the ACEMS YouTube channel on this playlist.

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 contribute 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 the gender equity strategies that have been put in place for the event, the gender split of speakers at the event, whether they have considered providing support for families (such as child care or funding for attendees/speakers to bring dependants), and whether 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.

Whilst the demand for sponsorship continued to be low in 2021 due to the virtual nature of many activities, ACEMS still sponsored five 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. In previous years, the Centre has taken an active role to match pairs of members based on the mentee’s needs and the mentor’s expertise and background, and many of these relationships have continued in 2021 and will endure beyond ACEMS.

For example, 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 building confidence and overcoming feelings of inadequacy; managing work-life balance, particularly when family is a priority; 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.

In the final year of operations, the Centre chose not to conduct another round of mentor-mentee matchmaking. Instead, the Centre focused on supporting the existing mentoring relationships that continued into 2021 and those that formed spontaneously throughout the year via informal, more organic self-pairing processes such as the mentoring relationship that developed between Stakeholder Engagement Officer Angela Dahlke and PhD Student Katie Buchhorn. Katie spent time during the COVID-19 pandemic writing a children’s book that she both authored and illustrated. The Centre has supported Katie’s outreach efforts and encouraged her social entrepreneurial efforts to realise her community-focused aims. Learn more about Katie’s aims and book here.


In 2021 the fifth and sixth seasons of the ACEMS Podcast “The Random Sample” were launched. Both seasons featured early-career researchers, students, distinguished guests, and women in numerous episodes as both guests and hosts. Some of these episodes had an equity and diversity theme discussing topics such as the underrepresentation of women and other groups in STEM, possible ways of improving the diversity of the discipline, and celebrating what has been achieved recently.

A selection of equity and diversity themed podcasts are given below:

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.

Carer’s Provision Fund

The ACEMS Carer’s Provision Fund, introduced in 2018 to formally provide additional funding for those with caring responsibilities, was again offered to its members in 2021.

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 response to the COVID-19 working environment and feedback from Centre members, the scope of the scheme was enhanced to support members participating in professional development and other events being held virtually. As well as increasing the scope of support, the Centre set out to increase awareness of the scheme with more frequent and prominent announcements, getting CIs and event organisers to actively promote the scheme, and include details of how to apply for the scheme with event announcements.

This resulted in the scheme receiving eight applications in 2021 to attend conferences, essential business meetings and the ACEMS Final Retreat, all of which were fully supported by the scheme. There was also a notable increase in the awareness of the scheme as measured in the 2021 Climate Survey with 80% of respondents indicating that they were aware of the Carer’s Provision Fund, up from 59% of respondents in 2020 and 46% in 2019. This was also correlated with an increase in the percentage of members who felt the Centre provides sufficient support for parents and carers.

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 the Final Retreat, links to the Code of Conduct were provided in communications beforehand. 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 also included with the Retreat schedule on the ACEMS webpage.

The Centre also requires event organisers seeking sponsorship support to have a Code of Conduct and process for the handling of complaints.

Climate Survey

Finally, in late 2021 the Centre conducted its fourth and final annual climate survey to better understand the Centre’s many strengths, where there is room for further improvement, and how a future Centre of Excellence could build upon ACEMS’ successes.

ACEMS again outsourced this climate survey to ensure it was independently-run and confidential, with Leaderskill running a comprehensive ‘repeat’ survey which was kept very similar to previous surveys. This allowed a comparison of results over the years the survey had been conducted. Members were also asked to comment on their experiences related to changes in work due to COVID-19, what they learned from being part of a Centre of Excellence and where a future Centre of Excellence in the mathematical sciences should put its focus.

While there are still some things to address, it is fair to say that the survey indicates that ACEMS has done well to develop a positive working environment for its members over the years.

The overall experience of ACEMS members was very positive with 94% of respondents rating this as ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ (94.5% in 2020) with 66% of members rating their experience as Excellent up from 58% in 2020. This is an encouraging sign that the Centre has continued to make improvements and engage effectively with its members despite the many challenges of the COVID-19 working environment.

The highest levels of agreement across the survey are in relation to respect, work-life balance, vision and leadership, inclusiveness, positive working environment, open communication and flexibility, with the majority of members responding to each of the following questions with ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’:

  • Others treat me with respect at work (89%)
  • The Centre offers flexible working arrangements that meet my needs to balance work, personal life and family commitments (89%)
  • Open and honest communication is encouraged by ACEMS leadership (85%)
  • ACEMS leadership communicates a shared vision, purpose and direction for the Centre (83%)
  • I am aware of the Centre's values, Code of Conduct and expectations of its members (94%)
  • The Centre fosters an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles can work together effectively (86%)
  • The Centre is doing a good job to promote equity and diversity (86%)
  • ACEMS leadership is working to build a collegial and collaborative Centre (88%)
  • I am aware of and understand the objectives of the Centre (90%)
  • I am clear about how my work links to the Centre’s objectives (88%)
  • I am encouraged to collaborate with and communicate my work to other Centre members at different nodes (85%)

As in previous surveys, most members expressed the belief that ACEMS is an inclusive and respectful working environment that is flexible and friendly and where people of all nationalities, cultures and religions are recognised for their contributions.

Most respondents indicated that the COVID-19 working environment continued to negatively impact their productivity, collaboration, networking and research outputs at ACEMS. Over 40% of respondents also indicated that their research outputs (least impacted category) have been negatively impacted while approximately 74% indicated that their networking (most impacted category) had been negatively impacted. It is positive to note that when requested, 91% of respondents felt that the Centre provided them with support during COVID.

The main topics that received the lowest levels of agreement across the survey related to reading the ACEMS newsletter, visiting other institutions, usefulness of the ACEMS Member Portal, and support for parents and carers.

While ACEMS won’t be able to improve further on these matters as it winds down in 2022, it is hoped that the Centre of Excellence community and others in a similar space can pick up from where ACEMS left off; building further upon our successes, improve on our shortcomings and other lessons learnt to continue to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in the research community. ACEMS’ resources and other materials have been made available on its website, annual reports and will be highlighted on the Centre’s legacy website which will be launched in 2022.

ACEMS Members were also asked for their thoughts on what the successes of ACEMS were in the equity and diversity space and how future Centres of Excellence could build further upon the success of ACEMS. A summary of their responses is given below.

  • Incorporating equity and diversity criteria into the sponsorship application process has increased people’s appreciation for the need to consider equity and diversity issues at their events such as diversity of speakers and strategies for managing inappropriate behaviour. Similar policies should be adopted across the board in sponsorship requests and event planning more generally.
  • The seminar series has been valuable, and the breadth of the topics covered were interesting, enjoyable, and gave members an appreciation for the variety of diversity issues impacting people in the workplace. The series could have been improved with a more regular schedule and informal post-talk discussions – e.g. casual discussions with peers over tea and coffee after the talk at all nodes, not just some.
  • The equity and diversity initiatives led by ACEMS have had an impact and driven change, however getting equity and diversity initiatives started sooner rather than later is vital for greater impact and embedding it in the culture of the Centre.
  • Members responded that they felt their gender and carer status was less of a barrier during their time at ACEMS and was respected and supported. Support schemes such as the Carers Support Scheme has been valuable for members to attend conferences, workshops, and other essential work events. However, a Centre-wide statement/policy on flexible working arrangements is required for understanding expectations, increasing awareness, empowering members to have discussions with their superiors, tailoring flexibility arrangements to the individual, and advocating for conditions that better support carers within institutions.
  • The equity and diversity committee has been useful for consultation, developing policies and support schemes, and exploring solutions on a range of diversity issues. However, a Deputy Director responsible for an equity and diversity portfolio and regularly attending Executive Committee meetings may be a better approach to deliver on equity and diversity objectives.
  • The ACEMS leadership did a good job of promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion and were a great support. The next Centre should also focus on ensuring they get the right people in key leadership roles.
  • Provide ongoing support for International Women in Maths Day and similar initiatives.

The Centre is delighted to conclude knowing that it has helped shape the next generation of mathematical scientists to have a strong understanding of and commitment to being champions of equity, diversity and inclusion wherever their next roles may be.