The University of Newcastle, Australia

A two year deep dive into gender equity is just the beginning

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

In late 2015, around the same time as the NeW Futures Strategic Plan was launched, UON was proud to be named among 30 Australian research institutions included in the first tranche of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Athena SWAN pilot.  Our involvement called for a two year deep dive into various data sources to establish a detailed view of our organisation through a gender lens.

Last month, I was immensely proud to submit the University of Newcastle’s application for the Bronze Award for Peer Review. Our submission took the form of a 100 page report and a four year action plan. It was the culmination of some 24 months’ effort on the part of a team of dedicated professional and academic staff who formed our Self-Assessment Team.

In the UK, the Athena SWAN Charter has become the accreditation scheme by which research institutions demonstrate their commitment to gender equity. Established in 2005, the Charter seeks address issues of under-representation by encouraging and recognising commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. The Bronze Award is now the minimum requirement for application for major government grant funding.

Armed with the considerable insight in the report, our action plan focuses in the first two years on rolling out or piloting the various actions, and in the third and fourth years, undertaking impact assessment and evaluation of the activities.  The Athena SWAN Charter has a STEMM focus but we anticipate the benefits of our efforts past and future will extend across all faculties.

The report and accompanying action plan was shaped around eight core themes:

  • Representation, Leadership and Governance
  • Recruitment, Retention, Remuneration
  • Career progression
  • Student pipeline and outreach
  • Supporting careers
  • Organisational culture
  • Data management
  • Transgender and intersectionality
  • Indigenous

One of the major differences between the Australian experience and that of peers in the UK, is that the SAGE Pilot was undertaken at the institution (not Faculty or School) level. At the end of the first phase of the pilot, it is fair to say that this was a significant undertaking. Without the benefit of precedent, the project team was charting new waters and our application is testament to the determination and focus of a few.

Athena SWAN Self Assessment Team

It is now time, however, for those few to hand their efforts over to be shared by many.  Leaders across the institution, Faculties, Gender Equity Committees and other key stakeholders are critical to the successful implementation and monitoring of the action plan – irrespective of whether we gain the Bronze accreditation or not.

Perhaps one of the biggest learnings to date has been how critical the integrity of our data is. It is the strength of our data that will determine where we invest our energies and it is the ongoing focus on data collection that will tell us how effective our efforts are. Maintaining the data requires broad input and regular attention.

UON is justifiably well recognised for our commitment to equity. Ensuring all our staff have equal opportunity to forge successful and productive careers is not a nice-to-have – it is fundamental to our identity and this is the ultimate reward. The recognition of our peers for our commitment and our efforts would be the icing on the cake.

I hope you will join with me in thanking the dedicated members of the SAGE Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team for getting us to this point. Whatever result the SAGE team announce later this year, the work will not stop and will require passion and persistence from us all.


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