Marcia Devlin BA ‘87

Article written by Dr Alex Schumann-Gillett (PhD '19), from the ANU Women's Alumni Network.
8 July 2021

"...get an attitude, devise a (secret) strategy, do more of what counts and less of what doesn't... say no more often, up your profile constantly and form and use a support squad."

Marcia Devlin, PhD, is an education and leadership consultant, a board director, a psychologist, an author, a professional speaker, and an Adjunct Professor at Victoria University in Melbourne. Among other accolades, Marcia was the 2016 National Winner - Women's Agenda National Leadership Award and a State Winner - Institute for Leaders and Managers Leader/Manager of the Year (2016). In 2020, Marcia was listed on The Educator Top 50 Educators - Australian Higher Education list. Accordingly, she has a rich collection of experiences since graduating from ANU with a Bachelor of Arts in 1987. 

Being born overseas, Marcia was a child of migrant parents who placed strong value on education. Marcia's experience at ANU actually began before she enrolled, as her mother  worked in the ANU libraries and in HR for many years. At ANU, Marcia studied a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Psychology, which was part of the Science Faculty. She found learning about research and the scientific method fascinating. The fact that she was studying an Arts degree also allowed Marcia to supplement her science studies with subjects including English literature, Archaeology and, particularly, Sociology. Marcia reflects that, "I felt by the time I left ANU that I had an excellent grounding in a wide range of disciplines".

Of her time at ANU, Marcia says that she has "so many fond memories of having coffee in the refectory with my friends from uni. Lots of laughing and high jinx were a common experience. I also frequented and worked at the Uni Bar for years and saw many wonderful bands and played (too) many games of pool while debating sociological concepts with my fellow Arts and Science students. I am still friends with four of them and we still catch up regularly despite all having left Canberra and living all over the place". Marcia notes one particularly fun event, "I remember the Psychology Department had a great fancy dress party one year (I think it was a Halloween theme) and I wore a shimmery cape and a lot of black eyeliner - I have the terrible photos somewhere in a dusty attic. A lot of very happy memories."  

Marcia has held numerous positions since graduating from ANU, including academic positions at The University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, Western Sydney University, and RMIT. She reflects that her scientific education at ANU, "directly contributed to my decision to become an academic". Recently, Marcia was Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor & Professor at Victoria University in Melbourne (2018 - 2020) and previously Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Federation University Australia (2014-2017). Marcia's current endeavours include Non-Executive Director, Board Member, Professional Speaker, Registered Psychologist (focused on leadership coaching), and Principal Consultant (educational leadership and change). Marcia is also the proud author of a new book, "Beating the Odds: A practical guide to navigating sexism in Australian universities". 

Marcia published her book, she says "for women (and enlightened men)", focusing on sexism in the university sector. Marcia reflects that her book "has had an overwhelmingly positive response from across the country, and has even made sales overseas without targeting that market. As one reader told me via LinkedIn "you have touched a nerve."" In the coming 5-10 years of Marcia's career, she "wants to continue to lead in a range of ways across the education spectrum and in terms of contributing to efforts to have more women in leadership roles". Marcia is particularly excited about two opportunities in the next 10 years:

"The first is to make even more of a difference, and especially for those without a voice, in education. I can now have this influence through my board and consultancy work across the education spectrum and that is so exciting. Whether it be in equality in access to and success in education, educational quality, supporting our wonderful teachers of all students - from tiny children to professional adults - or improving the quality and standards of education, I am now at the stage of my career where I can really assist in these objectives."

"The second is that I can help lead the revolution this wonderful country needs in terms of diversity in leadership. Research study after study shows that such diversity - including in gender and cultural background - leads to better organisational performance and outcomes. These in turn help shift the economy and society in a myriad of ways so powerfully that it is simply no longer acceptable to not be committed to equity and diversity objectives. I'm very excited about the opportunities I have to engage people in this conversation and help make the change." 

Since she began her career, Marcia has noticed that these days "there is more awareness about the need to provide equity of access and differentiated support to school and university students from disadvantaged backgrounds than there was in the past, and some gains have been made here, although there is still not a level playing field and there is more work to do. Similarly, there is more awareness of the need to have a greater diversity of people in leadership in all fields including women, people of colour and in particular, First Nations people and again, some gains have been made but there is much more to do."

On succeeding in her career, Marcia reflects that, "for many years, I underestimated the need for support I had as a woman in my career and overestimated my ability to manage systemic issues that still hold women back and significant bad behaviour from others (including bullying and undermining) that I experienced as I climbed the career ladder. The lessons I learned included: that sexism is alive and well in Australia; that many people are uncomfortable with women in leadership in Australia; that sexism can be navigated but you need a roadmap and the support of others to do it well and to remain mentally healthy while doing so; and that things get better if you are strategic and determined and have a support crew." 

In her book, Marcia shares practical ways that we can navigate sexism in Australian universities. Advice that she gives to women starting out a career in academia, or indeed any male-dominated field or industry, is to, "use the advice provided in my book: get an attitude, devise a (secret) strategy, do more of what counts and less of what doesn't, DO NOT do all of the housework at home and do as little as possible of the "office housework" at work. Say no more often, up your profile constantly and form and use a support squad." 

There are examples of remarkable women all around us. When asked which women Marcia looks up to, she includes her mother Angela Devlin, Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop. She would love to have dinner with these women, as she says, "all three have beaten the odds in a sexist world where there are gendered rules for women." 

"My mother, Angela Devlin (who moved into Academic Staffing in HR after a long time in the ANU libraries) was a trusted advisor to several ANU Vice-Chancellors. She disarms people with her friendliness and social skills and taught me to look out for charlatans and not to suffer fools. She's great company."

"Julia Gillard was our first female Prime Minister and publicly navigated outrageous sexism. She gave one of the most inspirational speeches - and did it off the cuff - that I have ever heard anyone on the planet give and now works in education and mental health - two of my strong interests as an educator and a psychologist."

Marcia believes, "Julie Bishop should have been Australia's second female PM but was denied the opportunity because she is a woman. I'd love to talk to her and Julia (and my mum) about that and about how she is making meaningful change in her post-politics life, including at the ANU."

Marcia strongly believes in lifting fellow women up, and sponsoring each other. One of the highlights of her career was, "one year, when all five women I had put forward for national awards with a professional association won them - and a sixth was highly commended. The award night was one of the proudest moments of my career - seeing all six women acknowledged for the outstanding leadership they bring in a highly sexist society and industry was a brilliant highlight." 

For more information on how women can raise themselves and others up, and increase the odds of success, Marcia's book is available to order at

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