University-Industry Engagement Week

‘Activist philanthropist’ in Australia won’t donate without assurance of gender equality

By David Schwartz
Published: March 14th, 2023

Tom Snow is making no bones about his requirements before making any donations he might consider making to research institutions. The leader of the Snow Medical Research Foundation – which a donated more than $100 million to date – says his foundation will only provide new funding to organizations that meet gender balance benchmarks in leadership, recruitment, promotions and honorary awards.

“We are serious about only working with institutions that meet our core values,” said Snow. “Equality is a core belief of our family. So we are tying funding to gender equality outcomes.”

Snow has commissioned extensive analysis to benchmark gender equality across 10 of Australia’s major biomedical research organizations – five universities and five medical research institutes that have previously received funding from the foundation.

The benchmarking work will continue each year, and institutions receiving funds from the foundation will receive an individualized, detailed report to help “them think about where they need to focus,” Snow said.

The foundation is unlike any other philanthropic outfit in the biomedical area. It funds early-career researchers at $1 million a year for eight years to set up a laboratory, hire staff and buy equipment. The model is designed to free researchers from the worry and work related to finding sources of funding.

“The Snow fellows can focus on great science rather than focusing all their attention on getting grants,” said Doug Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. “It is incredibly liberating. Searching for funding saps energy and creativity. The foundation isn’t necessarily picking winners, but they are making sure the people they select have the greatest chance of success.”

Kylie Walker, chief executive of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, said the Snow foundation’s move to benchmark gender would have significant consequences. “We know that money talks and the incentive is there for institutions to make meaningful changes to the gender make-up of their organizations,” Ms Walker said.

Science is one of the most gender-segregated occupations in Australia, with women having low representation at senior levels, lack of career progression, and a large gender pay gap. The Snow Medical Research Foundation made headlines last year when it blocked the University of Melbourne philanthropic funds after the foundation discovered the it had not award an honorary doctorate to a single woman in a three-year period.

“At the time, I was so upset. I looked around and wondered what message it was sending to young women. We approached the university and they couldn’t properly explain themselves. But it is something we all need to be thinking about all the time,” Snow said.

Source: Financial Review

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week