Leading medical researcher Professor Doug Hilton AO joins the Australians Investing in Women board

by Women’s Agenda
Thursday 2 February 2023

Doug Hilton smiling

When Professor Doug Hilton AO was appointed Director of Melbourne-based medical research institute WEHI 13 years ago, a meeting with the institute’s professors was held.

“There were no women in the room. It was a group of 23 men,” Professor Hilton recalls. “That was a big slap in the face, and I quickly realised we had a problem.”

Professor Hilton is a passionate advocate for gender equality and has since used his leadership role at the medical research institute to push for better career pipelines for women and foster a culture that allows women and those from diverse backgrounds to flourish.

“I made it a priority very early on, 13 years ago, in the way I approached the job,” he says. “I have been really challenged to ensure the institute does better by really generous women who are willing to shift the dial.”

Professor Hilton was recently appointed to the board of Australians Investing in Women (AIIW), where he is looking to further his work in the gender equality space. 

AIIW is a leading national not-for-profit advocating for gender-wise philanthropy to generate greater investment in women and girls. Hilton says he will be able to translate what he’s learnt about the importance of a gender lens in science, to his work on the board at AIIW.

“There are some real examples of how in the design of even basic research studies, we need to have a gender lens,” Professor Hilton says. “The same principle can be applied to philanthropy.”

“As a student, I would often do experiments that only involved male mice – there were some good logical reasons for that, but it made no sense if we wanted to translate our research to the real world.

“Crash dummies are also a good example of where engineering and science without a gender lens leads to poor health outcomes.”

Professor Hilton says he was drawn towards AIIW because he sees how essential it is for philanthropy to improve outcomes for everyone, not just those with the most access. 

He also wants to help create an environment where women can contribute equally to solving the world’s greatest problems and can benefit equally from the solutions.

If we think philanthropy can change the world, we want to change the world for everybody,” he says. “Philanthropy can help create a community that allows people to flourish in a richer community. We want everybody to be able to take part in that richness.”

“I think the more diverse a group you can have in the design of those programs -- the more diverse the beneficiaries can be and the more impactful that investment can be. There’s a combination of general decency, but also a business drive as well.”

As AIIW’s Chair, Sam Mostyn AO, says: “If we are to achieve gender equality, we will need to pull every lever; being more intentional about bringing women into focus supports smart investment decisions. Philanthropic dollars are limited; it is investments in women and girls that bring the greatest opportunity for social change.”

In his position on the board at AIIW, Professor Hilton says he is interested in looking at how the AIIW framework can be rolled out and embraced by companies doing corporate philanthropy.

“I think that could be a huge win in both directions,” he said. “I’m part of the Champions of Change Coalition, and I think there’s a zero-cost opportunity for those companies to think about how their staff and corporate giving can have maximum impact by having a gender lens.”

Professor Hilton notes the influence women like Eve Mahlab AO, and the current CEO of AIIW, Julie Reilly OAM, have had on his desire to get involved in the gender-wise philanthropy space. 

He also says he’d like to ensure the work being done at AIIW is as intersectional as possible.

“When I listen to the challenges of people in my workplace at WEHI, I think there's a big issue around intersectionality,” Hilton said. “Hearing and empowering more diverse voices, including women of colour and non-binary people, is critical.”

You can learn more about the work being done on gender-wise philanthropy at Australians Investing in Women here.