The University of Newcastle, Australia

Gender Balance in Awards

Monday, 29 April 2019

There is a stark gender imbalance in awards and industry recognitions. What are the causes and how can we fix it?

How can we balance gender in industry recognition?

“Women feel they must meet every criterion and be exceptional before they will nominate for awards,’ says Professor Billie Bonevski, the University of Newcastle’s inaugural Women in STEMM Chair.

“This is true also for applying for jobs, and for promotions – Men don’t do this. Men nominate themselves even when they only meet some or most of the criteria. As a result, there is a heavy bias towards men in awards nominations.”

This apparent phenomenon of perfectionism and low self-regard has been called the ‘Confidence Gap’ by some. Even Bonevski admits that she “always feel undeserving of awards, putting myself forward for awards doesn’t come naturally to me.” The solution seems simple: Women only need to lean in and speak up. But it’s not that simple.

As one survey points out, it’s not that women aren’t confident, it’s just that we’ve been socialised to ‘play by the rules’ (Harvard Business Review 2014). It might have helped in the classroom, but not taking risks can hold women back in the workplace.

Another reality that women face is the backlash that comes with self-assertion. According to this Forbes article, both men and women see women as 35% less effective and devalue them by as much as $15,088 when they are ‘forceful’ or ‘assertive’. Associate Professor Nikola Bowden and Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, points out “women actually have the same unconscious biases about themselves as men have for women. We need to all work on overcoming all biases”

It isn’t easy changing biases that are so built in. In fact, it can be frustrating to see them being played out, day after day. But we can all play a part; by challenging our own deeply held perceptions, and by actively celebrating women in our lives.

“Women need to support women,” says Bonevski. “If you know someone doing brilliant work, speak to them about nominating for an award. Let other people know about her achievements. Nominate each other, support each other, it’s the only way more women will be successful.”

Gender equity has long been a focus for the University of Newcastle. In 2018, the Gender Equality Leadership Pledge was announced, which seeks support from the University community to drive a more equitable future for all. The University is also involved in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Pilot of Athena SWAN, strengthening our commitment to helping women achieve the promise of their academic careers.

One way that you can help change the conversation is by recognising the achievements of the women in your life and in your workplace.

The University of Newcastle’s 2019 Alumni Awards are now open for nominations and we invite everyone to nominate an alumna who has contributed greatly to their personal and professional fields. We would also like to extend a warm invitation to all alumnae to nominate themselves or a fellow woman for any of the nine categories.

A nomination can be an uplifting experience. When Bowden won the 2011 Young Alumni Award she “thought it was so amazing that someone had taken the time to nominate me and thought I was worth nominating. I vividly remember feeling so proud to be considered on par with the other short-listed nominees; they were an amazing group of graduates.”

Feel strange about nominating yourself? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

“I absolutely hate writing or speaking about myself and my achievements, but I have learnt over time that I should be proud of what I’ve done and to put myself out there,” says Bowden.

Without a doubt the best part of nominating for an award is the chance to write down all of your achievements - most people are so surprised by what they have done after they take the time to write it all down.

The nine categories are now open for self-nomination - a process that remains anonymous to the public. Nominations close midnight Monday 3 June 2019  (AEST). To find out more and to nominate online visit


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