This exhibition is a project of the National Foundation for Australian Women and the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre of the University of Melbourne.
Work on this project was generously funded by a 2002-2003 capacity building grant under the Women's Development Programme administered by the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women.
Where are the Women in Australian Science was launched during National Science Week 2003.
about the exhibition logo
The aim of this exhibition is to get you using Bright Sparcs, an online register of people involved in the development of science, technology and medicine in Australia, including references to their archival materials and bibliographic resources. In particular, we are keen to have you look at the women who are registered in Bright Sparcs.
Women have always played a significant role in the history of Australian science, technology and medicine but this tends to be forgotten. Women seem to disappear out the historical record. This project, which is ongoing, addresses this issue by providing a specific gateway to the women in Bright Sparcs and proactively increasing the numbers of women registered.
As was stated in the 1995 report from the Commonwealth Office of the Chief Scientist, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology:
'Women are 51% of the nation's population. Using their talents to the full at all levels of scientific and technological education, training and employment is an economic necessity, and an investment in Australia's future national development. The [Women in Science , Engineering and Technology] Advisory Group believes that continued under-representation and under-participation of women in SET [Science, Education and Technology]-based education, training and employment is not only a cause for social concern on equity grounds, it is also likely to inhibit Australia's capacity to develop internationally competitive research and industries. There needs to be greater recognition of the value of different perspectives, priorities and operating styles that women can bring to SET.' 
In 1985, when the collection of data for Bright Sparcs commenced, the focus was on recording information about existing archival collections held in Australia that related to science, technology and medicine. As time passed and Bright Sparcs matured as a biographical register, the focus expanded to cover people involved in the historical discourse more generally while still limiting the scope to science, technology and medicine. The result was that by the mid 1990s women only represented just over 7% of people registered in Bright Sparcs.
Bright Sparcs, just by reflecting the historic process, was perpetuating the mis-representation of women in the history of Australian science, technology and medicine. Proactive steps needed to be taken to address this issue.
The primary goal of this project was to double the number of women in Bright Sparcs and build a gateway or web exhibition to enable users to access information about the women in Bright Sparcs more easily.
In order to maximise the impact it was decided to add women in the era where men were least well represented, that is the period from the 1970s to the present (2003). A variety of sources were used to identify who played prominent roles in this period, in particular the recent volumes of Who's Who in Australia. 
Interestingly, in identifying female candidates for inclusion we were made aware of fathers, grandfathers and other male relations or colleagues who were an important part of their story and who should also be included in Bright Sparcs. On many days we felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back.
At the end date for data collection and entry into the database we had achieved the goal of doubling the number of women. This brought the percentage of women in Bright Sparcs to close to 15%.
This is still far short of the percentages that are believed to more truly represent the participation of women in Australian science, technology and medicine. Naturally different disciplines and different eras have seen widely varying numbers of women involved. However, it is felt that the perceptions of under-representation and under-participation will persist until we have the percentage of women in Bright Sparcs reaching 30 to 40%.
This project would not have been possible without the support and facilitation of the National Foundation for Australian Women. We are particularly grateful to the Commonwealth Office for the Status of Women for the inaugural funding that enabled this ongoing project to get started. Special thanks go to the project staff: Alan van den Bosch, Joanne Evans, Anne Heywood, Helen Morgan, and Ailie Smith for their hard work, ideas and commitment to the project. However, the project would not have been possible without the dedication of the National Foundation for Australian Women, in particular: Patricia ni Ivor and Ruth Medd.
Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre
1. The Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Advisory Group, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. A discussion paper prepared by the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Advisory Group. Office of the Chief Scientist, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra, 1995, p.6. [Return to text]
2. Who's Who in Australia 2002, Crown Content, Melbourne, 2001. [Return to text]