Leading light on women’s leadership joins ANU

4 February 2021

One the world's leading thinkers and practitioners on leadership has joined The Australian National University (ANU) to drive better gender equality and breakdown barriers impeding women's careers across the Asia-Pacific.

Professor Michelle Ryan, who famously uncovered the concept of the "glass cliff", will join ANU as the inaugural Director of the Global Institute for Women's Leadership (GIWL) at ANU.

The glass cliff - which was shortlisted as the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year in 2016 - describes how women in business and politics are often put in leadership roles that are more risky or precarious or during times of crisis when the chances of failure are highest.

ANU is the first "sister" institute of GIWL - based at King's College London - and home of the Institute's Asia-Pacific node.

Founded and chaired by former Australian Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard AC, GIWL aims to create a world where being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field.

The institute brings together research, practice and advocacy to better understand and address the causes of women's under-representation in leadership positions across sectors and countries, and the way gender negatively impacts the evaluation of women leaders.  

Professor Ryan, who graduated from ANU with undergraduate and PhD qualifications, will join ANU on 1 July.

She has spent the last 17 years in the UK and will continue as a part-time Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter, prior to relocating to Canberra.

"I am very excited to be returning to The Australian National University after almost 20 years working in Europe," Professor Ryan said.

"The last decades have shown we have made significant gains in women's leadership. However, sadly there is much more to do.

"Women leaders all over the globe have proven to be effective, inspirational and incredibly capable. The impediments women face are still too great in number and size. We need to keep working hard to change that and improve outcomes.

"I'm looking forward to working to bring together world-leading academics with policymakers, activists, and businesses keen to close the gender gap in leadership."

Speaking on Professor Ryan's appointment, the Hon Julia Gillard said: "Progress on gender equality is slow and in some places it's reversing.

"Evidence shows the impact of the COVID pandemic over the past 12 months has compounded many of the pre-existing barriers women face in building careers and entering leadership roles.

"Michelle brings incredible experience and energy to the role and I'm looking forward to working with her to address these urgent challenges and expand the reach of the Global Institute for Women's Leadership across the Asia-Pacific region."

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said improving gender equality across Australia and the Asia-Pacific was one of the University's highest priorities.

"Empowering women to use their talents to help improve the prosperity of the world is of the utmost importance," Professor Schmidt said. 

"Across the globe, there are many talented women who have the ability, the know-how, the skills and experience to lead and inspire. But sadly, all too often women everywhere are being held back. We want to break the shackles.

"This is vitally important work and I can't think of anyone better to lead this work here at ANU than Michelle. I am excited about what she and her team will achieve."      

GIWL Director at King's College London Professor Rosie Campbell said Professor Ryan "is a truly outstanding academic".

"She has a proven track record for producing world class research that shifts public debate with a global impact," she said.

"Her appointment as director of GIWL ANU will help us realise our mission, producing rigorous and relevant research to illuminate, and work to eradicate, barriers to women's leadership."

For more information about the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at ANU visit https://giwl.anu.edu.au