Walter and Eliza Hall chief recognised for championing gender equity


By Amanda Sheppeard

24 Jun 2016

When Professor Doug Hilton took up the reins of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute seven years ago, there was not a single female professor holding a leadership position.

Today women account for 25% of these roles, but you won’t find Professor Hilton resting on his laurels.

“That’s not enough, but we’re walking down the track,” he told the limbic. “It signals to women that even though there are challenges for combining research and family, it is possible to thrive professionally and have a rich family life.”

Branding gender inequity as ‘indecent’ and akin to ‘racism’, he said there was also a productivity issue that had to be considered in the scientific community.

“The community expects us to make discoveries that affect healthcare and if we are only tapping into half of the talent pool we are not doing our job properly,” he said.

“Everyone looks at the world differently and we want to be able to draw on all the talent we have, whether they are men or women.”

And he is putting his money where his mouth is – the institute is investing in a multi-million dollar 90-place onsite child care centre to help families working there.

Mothers working at the centre will be given placement priority for their children when it opens next year.

“That’s a small investment but what it says to the woman is that we are proud of you and we value your efforts,” he said.

Professional Hilton is a staunch advocate for gender equity in science, and this is one of the passions that has seen him appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2016.

The award recognises his service to medical research, including his commitment to supporting and mentoring young researchers.

“We’ve got some really fantastic and exciting projects going at the moment, like targeted treatments for cancer and vaccines for serious infectious diseases like malaria,” he said.

As a cancer researcher, he also the head of the Department of Medical Biology, an honorary principal fellow in the School of Biosciences at The University of Melbourne, and the current president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institute.

His research work has spanned from basic research to innovative development, including his discovery of hormones and pathways used by cells to communicate with each other.

Professor Hilton said he felt humbled by the Queen’s birthday honour, although he admitted he had absolutely no idea who had nominated him.

“For almost of all of the past 30 years, since I was 21, I have been a cancer researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute,” he said.

“As a high school or university student, I could not have imagined that research would be such a wonderful journey. It has been amazing to work with so many brilliant and passionate people – my mentors, my peers and many younger scientists.

The ability to follow your curiosity but also work to improve the health, economy and innovative spirit of the country is a great privilege.”

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