VC’s Update – Gender Institute turns six and working together to improve gender equity

5 May 2017

Hello everyone

This morning I spoke at the Gender Institute's sixth anniversary celebrations. Celebrating their success gave me an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of female researchers at ANU but also the work we have ahead to improve gender equality at the University.

We are fortunate to have an innovative centre like the Gender Institute on campus. Being able to bring together research, outreach and education perspectives on issues of gender and sexuality helps facilitate important cross-disciplinary collaborations.

It was great to see former Gender Institute Convenors like Kim Rubenstein and Fiona Jenkins at the event this morning. Kim's recent 'Trailblazing Women and the Law Project' showcases and analyses the experiences of seven decades of Australia's pioneering women lawyers. Fiona and several members of the Gender Institute also have an ARC project underway which looks at why certain social science disciplines are a 'chillier climate' than others for women. Work which will help inform how we and other institutions can act to improve opportunities for all.

Despite the many obstacles to women's careers at the ANU over its first 70 years, we have had many leading female scholars, teachers, and professional staff contribute to our institutional DNA. People like mathematician Hanna Neumann who was the first female professor at ANU, historian Beryl Rawson who built a new picture of family life in the early Roman Empire, and linguist Ethel Tory who left a lasting philanthropic legacy are just a few of our contributors. 

If we want to maximise the legacy of the University, we need to deliver equal outcomes for women and men. We are not there yet.

While considerably more than half of our students are now women, women still do not progress to the senior academic levels of the University at the same rate as their male counterparts. We need to think about the ways to improve gender equity within our disciplines and within academia.

The UK's Athena SWAN Charter, of all the programs I've seen around the world, is the program that seems to be having the largest impact, and that is why I have helped bring it to Australia.  It's about getting us to acknowledge issues around gender and equity, systematically measure them, and come up with solutions that are actually implemented and tested for efficacy.

While the Athena SWAN program it is no magic bullet, we have the ambition of achieving what only a small handful of universities have managed -  a Silver Award within five years for STEM disciplines, and an equivalent level of achievement in non-STEM areas over the same period.

Our first step is to achieve a Bronze Award in the Australian version of the program called SAGE, and to do that we must show that we have a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and develop a more inclusive culture that values all staff - professional and academic.

Over the coming months the SAGE project along with the Self-Assessment team, in charge of our Bronze application, will be reaching out to the ANU community to get a better understanding of the experiences of staff from diverse backgrounds and how the University can better support them to succeed. If you are approached I encourage you to be honest and frank in your response. We need to know the good as well as the bad. It is only in understanding our weakness that we can hope to improve.

And think what is at stake. The issues at play typically affect everyone, and by getting things right, the University will be a better place for all us to work. And we will be able to more easily attract the best and brightest from around the country and the world, who want to be part of an institutional that is known as a great place to work.



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Comment by Gottfried Otting
9.15am 8 May 2017

A fundamental part of gender inequality comes down to 'who in a family looks after the little ones'? If every school on campus had a free childcare facility within walking distance (say, 100 m), the ANU would be ahead of any other Australian university in attracting young families AS WELL AS making it palatable for males to take charge of toddlers. How much is the salary of a professional in a childcare facility - same as a postdoc position?

Unless funding is put behind the words, all the committees come across as hypocrisy.

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Comment by Jennifer Helen Alexander
9.15am 8 May 2017

It has been a great honour to work with the likes of Professor Margaret Jolly, Emeritus Profess Kathry Robinson and Profess Francesca Merlan.