The University of Newcastle, Australia

Meet our Women in STEMM Chair

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Professor Billie Bonevski was recently appointed as UON’s inaugural Women in STEMM Chair. In this role, Billie will provide leadership and a voice for the University’s gender equity action plan, in particular STEMM focused initiatives. Billie shares some of her motivation and aspirations for this important, pioneering role.

Professor Billie Bonevski

I was attracted to the role because it combines my passions for research and for gender equity

I’ve been a research-only academic for 20 years, managed to survive for that amount of time on “soft money” and have even had a few successes. I hope I can contribute in helping others achieve the same or more, or at least inspire others to keep going with their passion.

Recently, I’ve incorporated gender equity leadership as part of my role in my faculty (Health and Medicine). This has been an immensely rewarding role, with so much positive support from senior level and a lot of positive feedback from staff engaging in our initiatives. When the WiSTEMM Chair opportunity came up, I just had to apply.

I feel I have the best job in the university.

There are so many positive changes I hope to influence with this role.

Each of the three UON STEMM faculties: Engineering & Built Environment, Science, and Health and Medicine have different gender equity challenges. We continue to have a massive shortfall of girls entering science, maths, technology and engineering. Within this role, I hope to make these subjects more accessible and attractive to girls thinking of coming to UON.

Outreach is key. I want to work with local schools, councils, and industry to attract girls into STEMM disciplines at school and University. We’re doing well in this respect with the number of girls entering medicine and health, but the numbers fall once we get into leadership positions. I’ll be working to increase promotion and retention of talented female staff within the University.

We have the scaffolding for achieving this within the University, including faculty gender equity committees, the SAGE pilot and the new Assistant Deans in Equity. It will be a collaborative partnership across faculties and positions.

Addressing gender inequity will require cultural change

This is a challenge within an organisation, especially one that is part of a wider society where we haven’t yet achieved gender equity. What we can do is ensure that UON is part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

I think UON has demonstrated commitment and leadership in addressing gender inequity with not only the creation of this role, but a number of initiatives we are implementing. I’m confident that we can bring about positive change with policies, programs, and education, making UON a national and international leader in gender equity and diversity.

I’ve been very lucky and have had great support from early in my career.

I completed a first class honours in psychology and then transferred to health and medicine to complete my PhD. I had an incredible PhD supervisor who provided excellent research training and I stayed with his research centre as a postdoctoral researcher.

The toughest time for me came when I had my children. I unfortunately had severe hyperemesis for both pregnancies which meant extended periods of hospitalisation.  For my second son, I stopped working for a number of years because I had a toddler, was sick, and was having a baby. Returning to work was daunting after those few years, even though it was only part-time, and it was the first time I felt significant disadvantage being female.

At about this time, I met a wonderful senior female researcher who has been my mentor ever since and she has guided me on the path to re-establishing my career, while juggling family responsibilities.  As it turns out, I’ve done my best and most productive research after having children.

The saying goes – “you can’t be what you don’t see”.

This is why role models are important. It is important that some of the senior leaders where you work, or generally in society, are successful women.  Role models are aspirational and we need both boys and girls to have role models to look up to.

People who overcome the odds to achieve what they believe in are my role models, male and female. So long as they are kind. Success is worthless if you can’t treat other people well.

What advice would I give my early career self?

I used to be pretty hard on myself, and I worked very hard. I still do. I think I would just tell myself to - be more confident, believe in yourself and be kind to yourself. If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up over it, learn from it and carry on.


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