Gender progress through Athena SWAN pilot

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

It was encouraging to see so many staff and students from across UON taking the opportunity to pause, reflect and celebrate International Women’s Day at UON on Wednesday 8 March 2017.

Prof Deb Hodgson

Gender equity has long been a focus for UON. Most recently, through our involvement in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Pilot of Athena SWAN, we are strengthening our commitment to helping women achieve the promise of their academic careers and are taking important steps to ensure the full participation of women by evaluating and addressing gender inequality at UON.

The purpose of the SAGE Pilot is to investigate the factors causing barriers to women’s career progression and to support the development of an UON Action Plan to address issues to improve the promotion and retention of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). Although the SAGE Pilot has a STEMM focus, it is evident that future strategies and initiatives will benefit both STEMM and Non-STEMM areas.

As the UON SAGE Lead Champion, I am supported by the UON Self-Assessment Team (SAT) which comprises academic, professional and student members who have been tasked with consulting broadly with colleagues to identify gaps and obtain feedback on existing policy and practice.

Over the last year, the UON SAT has made steady progress on the data extraction phase and as this component draws to completion, we have shifted attention to the qualitative stage, which will complement the quantitative findings and provide a comprehensive evidence base to inform future UON gender equality strategies and initiatives.

The UON SAT will continue to work throughout 2017 to interrogate the data and to have discussions within their work areas to learn more about the challenges which have arisen from gender inequities. University wide input has also has been sought via the Gender Equity at UON survey where a number of gender equality and SAGE related questions were posed. The survey will be supported by facilitated focus groups in the coming months and will address a variety of priority areas and inform future initiatives.

Examples of established and pending initiatives arising from the UON SAGE Pilot project are:

  • Targeted Recruitment Strategy – Senior Academic Women

The UON applied to the Anti-discrimination Board of NSW for an exemption under Section 126 to target recruitment to senior academic women who are significantly underrepresented within the organisation. The first use of this flexibility was the creation of a new leadership role, the Women in Science Chair which is currently being recruited for.

  • Women in Research Fellowships

Recognising that female researchers progressing to senior leadership roles continues to be lower than that of their male counterparts, UON has established (promotion pending) the Women in Research Fellowships in 2017 as part of Research Advantage. The Fellowships will allow women in academia to develop and strengthen their research and prepare them for senior leadership roles.

  • Gender Equity PhD opportunity

A fully funded targeted PhD position has been established for a female to complete a PhD in statistics / information technology and work towards the development of a framework for the long term capture and analysis of institutional gender equity data.

  • UON SAT alignment with Faculty Gender Equity Committees

Faculty Gender Equity Committees are working in alignment with the institutional goals of the SAGE Pilot and regular updates are received through the UON SAT. An example of the activity taking place is the recent advice that the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment have recently re-modelled their student marketing brochures to eliminate outdated stereotypes and include more images of women. Tracking of student enrolments and attrition rates will also take place to measure the benefits of this and other initiatives.

  • Inclusive Leadership and Unconscious Bias Training

As three skill sets (unconscious bias awareness, inclusive leadership practice and intellectual flexibility) are important to unlocking the full capability of a diverse workforce, senior leaders of the organisation will undergo an inclusive leadership and beyond bias workshop in the second half of this year. Establishing inclusion as a cultural and leadership norm, will assist in exploring the many business benefits of diversity.

Regular updates will be provided as progress is made and we work towards the submission of the Athena SWAN award at the institutional Bonze level in January 2018.


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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.