ALLG Celebrates International Women’s Day

 In News

Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, the ALLG is highlighting its continuing focus on gender diversity in haematology and clinical trials. We believe in #EachforEqual because it is important to our membership and it is the right – and smart – thing to do.

Although recent data on gender diversity in Australian healthcare and medical research remain sobering (see ‘By the Numbers – Improving Gender Diversity’ section), we are working along with many organisations and individuals to make positive changes here and around the world.

Our #EachforEqual goal for 2020 is to launch a metrics reporting tool for other organisations to assess gender diversity with the plan to use the data to inform the development of quality frameworks and policy just like the ALLG has doing. We want to drive the conversation in the right direction – and start conversations where there is radio silence – regarding gender diversity in haematology and clinical research.

We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to participate in the metrics reporting tool. Please contact Cara on cara.markovic@allg.org.au to share your story and how you will work to make #EachforEqual a reality and make this year the year we say, “There has never been a better time for women to enter health and medical research!”

Enjoy our special issue of ALLG News for International Women’s Day!

By the Numbers – Improving Gender Diversity

More women than ever before are entering the medical and clinical research workforce in Australia. Here’s a snapshot of gender diversity in Australia by the numbers.

In the clinical setting, the rates of Australian women in clinician specialist-in-training roles (all specialties) increased between from 41.8% in 2008 to 46.4% in 2012 and again to 51.3% in 2015, with women’s participation in haematology trainee programs remaining relatively steady. Of 144 haematology (physician) specialist-in-training positions in 2012, 51% were held by women (AIHW, Medical Workforce Report 2012, published 2014; Medical Practitioners Workforce 2015 Web Report, published 2016 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/workforce/medical-practitioners-workforce-2015/contents/how-many-medical-practitioners-are-there).

Entering the specialist clinician workforce is increasingly common, with 29.5% of all clinician-specialists being women in 2015, up from 20.9% in 2005, with more women entering haematology. The haematology specialty is more complex to describe quantitatively than other specialties perhaps because of the commonality of dual qualifications in haematology and pathology (251 Australian specialists had dual qualification in 2012) and the relatively small size of the specialty, which means it’s grouped with other specialties in the statistics. Approximately 41% of the 392 specialists working in the “Other Pathology” area (in which haematology physicians had been categorised) were female, and of 352 “Medical Oncology” specialists (in which several haematology specialists work) 47.1% were female. In comparison, endocrinology had the highest female participation of all specialties at 51.1%, and orthopaedic surgery the lowest at 3.3% (AIHW, Medical Practitioners Workforce 2015 Web Report, published 2016).

The ALLG haematologist membership is 36% female, whereas 46% and 89% of ALLG registrar/trainee and trial site staff members, respectively, are female (ALLG data to December 31, 2019). Despite the rising number of female haematologists, women in leadership roles in haematology across Australia are few. Established in 2010, the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee has had only two chairpersons historically, both male, yet has made significant strides to establish pathways for female leadership and improve the gender balance across a range of leadership roles within the ALLG. Today, the Scientific Advisory Committee comprises 40% female representation, and several of the ALLG working parties and committees are chaired/co-chaired by females and have an even split of male and female representatives. The Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ), which is the leading professional society of haematologists, has elected two female presidents, both of whom are current ALLG Members and have served in ALLG leadership roles.

In the medical research setting, the NHMRC gender data on Investigator Grant outcomes for 2019 are striking. While at junior levels (Emerging Leadership Levels 1 and 2) the balance between male and female investigators awarded Investigator Grants was comparable, significantly fewer females were awarded grants at all three Leadership Levels. The contrast at the highest leadership level speaks for itself: five female chief investigators (CIs) awarded vs 37 male CIs awarded (source: NHMRC, “2019 Outcomes by Scheme and CIA Gender for Competitive Grants” https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/funding/data-research/outcomes-funding-rounds).

Delving deeper into international data shows the extent of gender bias in the discipline of oncology. Emerging data on routine activities for clinician-scientists (e.g. opportunities for speaking and presenting, acceptance of publications, etc) and career progression (e.g. journal editor roles, journal review roles, etc) tell a similar story (ASCO Conference Report, May 2019).

These data clearly signal a need for establishing engagement and a systematic commitment within the Australian clinical and research environment(s) (e.g. healthcare system, universities, institutes, organisations, etc) to support more women to become clinical leads and chief investigators and enable women scientists as leaders in the medical and academic fields. Along these lines, the NHMRC is actively working to make the research funding system in Australia fair and equitable and has established their Women in Health Science Working Committee, which advises on action plans within the framework of the NHMRC’s Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2021.

The ALLG and its members are also providing significant leadership in gender diversity in healthcare and clinical research across Australia and New Zealand. Read more about our gender diversity initiatives here.

ALLG’s Gender Diversity Action Plan & Activities

The numbers speak to the challenges we face as a haematology and clinical research community in terms of gender diversity, yet they also offer insight into fundamental pathways for change.

The ALLG is committed to broad diversity across the organisation and is monitoring gender diversity metrics as a key part of the ALLG quality framework.

Professor Judith Trotman, ALLG Member and former Scientific Advisory Committee member from Concord Hospital, NSW, has been instrumental in helping the ALLG develop a strategy and firm commitment to gender inclusivity at all levels. In 2017, she led the ALLG to commission its first organisational review of gender balance. A report was delivered in 2019, which highlighted strong female membership and participation, but that most committee activities were imbalanced – with male representation outweighing that of females. The findings triggered ALLG to set out an action plan for activities to deliver a more balanced gender representation across all activities (see full recap in the ALLG Annual Report 2018-19).

Our actions are already making a positive difference to achieve gender balance (see ‘By the Numbers – Improving Gender Diversity’):

  • Regular discussion (agenda item) at scientific, executive and board levels
  • Transparency of gender metrics to the membership, including presentation of data regularly
  • Active encouragement of female members to nominate and stand for election to the Scientific Advisory Committee
  • Support and encouragement for female members to volunteer for positions within the ALLG’s standing committees and scientific working groups
  • Assignment of co-Principal Investigators for each clinical trial to encourage diversity in leadership roles
  • Assignment of gender balanced meeting panels and workshops leads
  • Support for mentorship across the organisation
  • Incorporating a gender-balanced cycle for guest speaker engagements.

The ALLG has improved its gender balance across committees and has women leading the ALLG across the various disease-focused working groups, at executive management and board-level.

In short, we recognise that gender diversity is important and are actively working to support and advocate for all ALLG members – especially our female haematologist members, who are distinctly underrepresented in senior roles – as leaders in haematology and clinical research.

Acknowledging HSANZ Female Presidents

Prof Joy Ho presenting ALLG MM16 interim results during her Presidential Symposium at BLOOD 2019 in Perth.

  • Professor Joy Ho, HSANZ President 2013 – 2015
    Prof Ho has been a strong contributor to the ALLG as a member, office bearer and leader in clinical research since 1999. Currently a Clinical Professor at the University of Sydney and a Senior Staff Specialist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Prof Ho is renowned professionally for her advancement of multiple myeloma research, having been an active investigator on more than 18 ALLG myeloma clinical trials and now leading the ALLG MM16 trial as Chief Investigator. She has served in various roles at the ALLG, including on the Executive Committee, Scientific Advisory Committee (2011-12, Laboratory Science Committee (Chair, 2005-11) and Treasurer (2005-08). Prof Ho’s contributions, among many, include guiding and advocating for women in research across Australia by ensuring broad representation from Australia and New Zealand and being a role model for the inclusion of female researchers. Prof Ho was appointed to the board of the International Myeloma Society in 2019 and served as HSANZ President from 2013 to 2015.
  • Dr Leanne Berkahn, HSANZ President October 2019 – 2021
    Dr Leanne BerkahnDr Leanne Berkahn, a 30-year ALLG member, was in late 2019 named as the President of the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ). Currently leading the Lymphoma Service at Auckland Hospital, Dr Berkahn has been a key contributor and leader at the ALLG as part of the Executive Leadership Committee (2005-2010), and she has helped deliver novel therapies to improve the lives of blood cancer patients. The ALLG and HSANZ will continue to strengthen collaborations under Dr Berkahn’s leadership at the HSANZ. Read the full ALLG article on Dr Berkahn’s HSANZ Presidency on https://www.allg.org.au/leanne-berkahn-named-hsanz-president.

Acknowledging ALLG Scientific Leaders

Recent appointments to the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee show that the gender balance is improving. A/Prof Zoe McQuilten, Dr Tara Cochrane, Dr Nada Hamad and A/Prof Eliza Hawkes are scientific leaders in their areas of speciality and are SAC members.

Please join us in celebrating the amazing women working as ALLG scientific leaders to make better treatments and better lives for blood cancer patients.

  • Dr Tara Cochrane
    Dr Tara CochraneDr Tara Cochrane, a haematologist from Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH), has been an ALLG member since 2013 and has served on the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee since May 2019. Prior to taking the staff specialist role at GCUH in 2009, Dr Cochrane completed her advanced haematology training at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne. She then headed to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, for a two-year fellowship in lymphoma and autologous stem cell transplant. She is a passionate advocate for clinical trials and research, having helped establish the Stem Cell Transplant Unit and the Clinical Trials Unit in haematology at the GCUH. At the ALLG, in addition to her duties as part of the SAC, she Co-Chairs the Lymphoma Working Party, which leads the research portfolio across all types of lymphoma.
  • Dr Nada Hamad
    Dr Nada HamadDr Nada Hamad is a Staff Specialist in Bone Marrow Transplantation, Clinical and Laboratory Haematologist and Director of Haematology Clinical Trials Unit at St Vincent’s Health Network, Kinghorn Cancer Centre. An ALLG Member since 2010, Dr Hamad was elected to the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee in November 2019 and is the ALLG Chair of the Transplantation and Cell Therapies Working Group. In 2019, Dr Hamad was appointed as President of the Bone Marrow Transplantation Society of ANZ (BMTSANZ), the first female to lead this group. She has built a stellar career in Australia after completing two post-graduate fellowships in Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation and Lymphoma from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada, and earning her specialist certificate in Clinical Research (Oncology) from the University of Melbourne. Dr Hamad’s expertise includes both benign and malignant haematology, and she has a special interest in malignant haematology including lymphoma, myeloma and leukaemia as well as assisting vulnerable patient groups such as young adults, pregnant women and the elderly. She also serves as a Conjoint Senior Clinical Lecturer at UNSW, Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Sydney and Chair of the NSW ACI BMT Network.
  • Associate Professor Eliza Hawkes
    A/Prof Eliza HawkesA/Prof Eliza Hawkes is the Lymphoma Lead and Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research and Wellness Centre at Austin Health as well as Lymphoma Lead at Eastern Health in Melbourne. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Medicine at LaTrobe University and a steering committee member for the International Women in Lymphoma (WiL) Group and National Lymphoma and Related Diseases Registry. An ALLG Member since 2014, Dr Hawkes joined the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee in February 2018 and is currently Co-Chair of the Lymphoma Working Party, where she leads the development pathway for numerous clinical trials to find new ways to treat lymphomas. Dr Hawkes is the Chief Investigator of the ALLG NHL33 (WAMM) clinical trial, which will investigate whether the addition of an existing therapy (acalabrutinib) to standard chemotherapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation may improve outcomes in patients with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mantle cell lymphoma. The ALLG NHL33 trial is anticipated to begin in May 2020.
  • Associate Professor Zoe McQuilten
    A/Prof Zoe McQuiltenA/Prof Zoe McQuilten, a staff haematologist at Monash Health and Associate Professor at Monash University, School of Public Health & Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology & Preventative Medicine Alfred Hospital, has been a member of the ALLG since 2013 and has served as a representative on the ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee since November 2018. She currently chairs the ALLG Supportive Care Working Party, which designs and conducts clinical trials and research studies of interventions that reduce the impact of blood cancers and their treatments on patients’ lives. In 2019, the group has focused on three areas of research: red cell transfusion practice, the prevention of bleeding, and infection prevention. A/Prof McQuilten is known globally for her work in transfusion medicine, haemorrhage, and other conditions related to haematological malignancies such as myeloma, lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndromes. Already in 2020, A/Prof McQuilten received the Victorian Cancer Agency’s Clinical Research Fellowship for her work on immunoglobulin replacement versus prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infections in patients who have low immunoglobulin levels (e.g. IMPACT clinical trials).

Supporting Women in Blood Cancer Research

While we acknowledge the many barriers and challenges to a gender-balanced organisation, we are committed to helping break down these barriers and support members to overcome various challenges in terms of gender equity. We will find even more positive ways in 2020 to shine the spotlight on women in haematology and clinical research.

The ALLG supports member-led activities in both the group and individual settings to bring issues and solutions regarding gender diversity to the fore. Here we provide a snapshot of several ALLG activities.

BLOOD 2019 Women’s Leadership Forum

Several ALLG members were involved in the “Supporting Women in Haematology: Local and International Perspectives” forum at BLOOD 2019, held last October in Perth. Dr Nada Hamad, ALLG SAC member and first female President of the Bone Marrow Transplant Society of Australia and New Zealand (BMTSANZ), brought the forum from concept to realisation and delivered a powerful presentation on gender imbalances across various roles in haematology and how women haematologists can work together to make systematic changes and gain an equal footing in the workplace. Joining Dr Hamad on the forum’s panel were Prof Joy Ho, ALLG leader who formerly served as the first female President of the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ), and Dr Eliza Hawkes, current ALLG SAC member.

On the continuing efforts to support women in haematology, Dr Hamad said, “As leading haematologists across Australasia we are committed to working with the ALLG to develop initiatives that accelerate change to deliver equality in the workplace and research.”

“Where there’s a WiL, there’s a Way!”

Prof Trotman has led not only the establishment of the ALLG strategy for gender diversity, but also has formed of the international group Women in Lymphoma (WiL), which is committed to supporting and advocating for greater leadership of women in lymphoma research and education globally.

Made up of more than 120 haematologists and oncologists internationally, WiL held three inaugural gatherings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), International Conference on Malignant Lymphoma (ICML) and American Society of Haematology (ASH) conferences in 2019. Discussions focused on a range of potential initiatives for advocacy and support, including monitoring attendance and presentations by women at conferences; identifying networks and opportunities for external leadership committee involvement; collaborating on and co-authoring manuscripts; developing mentorship pathways; creating affirmative working environments; and developing WiL structures and planning. Their first newsletter was published in September 2019.

The group met at the American Society of Haematology (ASH) annual conference in Orlando last December, where they discussed 2019 progress and completed planning for this year’s initiatives. Delaine Smith, ALLG CEO, attended the WiL meeting at ASH in Orlando and is working with the ALLG team to help the WiL group develop a platform to understand metrices for global gender diversity in haematology. The collective aim will be to establish a global alliance of various organisations involved in academic research and create a policy and framework for action.

Dr Eliza Hawkes, current ALLG Scientific Advisory Committee member and Co-Chair of the ALLG’s Lymphoma Working Party, is on the WiL steering committee, which has representation from Europe, North America and Australia. She said of the WiL group, “This global group not only supports initiatives to deliver equality for women in lymphoma, but also is a source of mentorship across national and cultural boundaries. Our involvement in WiL is helping bring awareness to common issues and accelerate change in Australia and New Zealand.”

The ALLG looks forward to attending and supporting more WiL initiatives in 2020.

ALLG Janey Stone Perpetual Award Winner 2019 – Elissa Atkins

The 2019 ALLG Janey Stone Perpetual Award winner – Elissa Atkins, Haematology Research Nurse from Westmead Hospital in Sydney – has put her ALLG Associate Membership to good use.

Elissa Atkins visited Barcelona as part of her travels for the Janey Stone Perpetual Award the EBMT CAR T-Cell meeting in Spain.

Earlier this year, Elissa attended the 2nd European Bone Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) CAR T-cell meeting in Sitges, Spain. Over three days, experts from around the world presented and discussed the most recent data and experiences of CAR T-cells across Europe. The conference afforded Elissa a rare opportunity to listen to and speak with experts in the cell therapy field, which is growing but still in its infancy in Australia.

While Australian CAR T-cell centres are each navigating similar challenges that come with initiating a new treatment to haematology services, the European centres have a great deal of experience on both commercial and clinical trial fronts – they have met and overcome the challenges that Australia is now facing.

The emergence of cellular therapy presents a unique set of challenges compared with traditional drug medicine trials, and Elissa learned about existing resources and experiences which can help develop CAR T-cell clinical trials and clinical education programs in the Australian context. For instance, the experienced hospitals have teams and processes in place to help those teams select the right treatments, handle toxicities, organise treatment units and cope with the increasing costs and changing regulatory conditions surrounding CAR T-cell therapies.

According to Elissa, several groups overseas have implemented CAR T-cell clinical trials on a national level, and the ALLG’s collaborative approach across multiple major cell therapy centres makes it an ideal vehicle for conducting cell therapy clinical trials in Australia.

Elissa added, “The Janey Stone Perpetual Award gave me the opportunity to learn about the most recent published and unpublished data, which provides insights into which future clinical trials may reap better patient outcomes in Australia. For instance, there are an array of clinical trials of CAR’s targeting multiple myeloma that have been augmented to yield better results. Despite the lack of BCMA CAR’s in Australia, it is a glimpse into what will be on the horizon to treat this disease in our country. The goal remains the same in cell therapy clinical trials – to get the right patients receiving the right treatment at the right time.”

The ALLG congratulates Elissa on her achievements and looks forward to seeing future contributions to the development CAR T-cell trials in Australia.

Cooperative Trial Group Support for ALLG Members

The ALLG congratulates Dr Carolyn Grove, ALLG Member and Senior Lecturer and Clinical and Laboratory Haematologist from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (SCGH) and PathWest, and Dr Xuan Tan, ALLG Member and Haematology Research/Clinical Fellow at SCGH, for receiving a Research Translational Project grant from WA Health for their project on next-generation sequencing for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia.

Dr Grove recently represented the ALLG with Steven Yau, ALLG Project Manager for Clinical Trials, at the Genomic Cancer Clinical Trials Initiative (GCCTI) Workshop at the end of February. She presented a summary of her experiences in grant submissions to an eager crowd of cooperative trial group members in Sydney.

The GCCTI supports the ALLG – one of Australia’s 14 cancer cooperative trials groups – in providing training for member researchers to develop concepts and grant applications for molecularly-targeted clinical trials that involve more than one cancer type. This year’s workshop focused on the priorities for and generating ideas to fulfill grant opportunities for 2020. The GCCTI, which is funded by Cancer Australia and delivered in Partnership between the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre and ZEST Health Strategies, have noted that the key priorities for grant submissions in 2020 and beyond include involvement of multiple cancer types and multiple cooperative groups.

Scholarships & Awards – Upcoming Opportunities

New! ALLG Scholarships & Awards Program 2020

The ALLG Scholarships & Awards Program has launched for 2020! Our aim is to promote the professional development and skills of trial coordinators, research nurses, data managers and nurses caring for clinical trial patients. These awards recognise and reward these essential roles in the clinical trial team, the majority of which are filled by women.

This program is exclusively for ALLG Associate Members and provides a great opportunity to study and pursue scientific research projects appropriate to their professional role and encourage the study and improvement of clinical trial processes.

Two scholarships are available – the Anne Lenton Memorial Scholarship ($5,000) and the Janey Stone Perpetual Award ($4,000). Applications close April 17, 2020, and winners will be announced at the May Scientific Meeting in Melbourne.

Are you an ALLG Associate Member and have an idea for ALLG-related research or travel to help you grow your career? Apply directly on https://www.allg.org.au/member-area/scholarships-awards/.

International Women Who Conquer Cancer (WWCC) Mentorship Award

The ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation provides grants and funding opportunities for cancer research. Although many of their awards are for US-based researchers, Conquer Cancer’s sister group – Women Who Conquer Cancer (WWCC) – also provides an award for international ASCO members. The International WWCC Mentorship Award recognizes extraordinary female leaders in oncology and role models who have excelled as a mentor and have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the professional development of women colleagues as clinicians, educators, and researchers in oncology. The award seeks to recognize and promote the work of women mentors in oncology and, ultimately, narrow career gender disparities through the mentorship and professional development of women oncology professionals.

To find out more about the International WWCC Mentorship Award program, please visit: https://www.asco.org/research-guidelines/grants-awards/funding-opportunities/women-who-conquer-cancer-mentorship-awards. We will keep you updated in the ALLG News and Member News issues on various upcoming awards, grants and funding opportunities.

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