The University of Newcastle, Australia

Learning from the experience of others

Friday, 6 October 2017

Next week, UON will welcome President’s Visiting Fellow Dr Pavel Ovseiko from the University of Oxford. Dr Ovseiko is a Senior Research Fellow in Health Policy and Management and comes to UON keen to share his knowledge and experience in addressing gender equality through the Athena SWAN Charter.

After nearly two years of data collection and analysis, the UON SAGE Athena SWAN team is preparing our application for Bronze Accreditation under the UK Charter. This is an important milestone for us to reach and we have learned much along the way.

Along with members of the Executive Committee, the SAGE Self-Assessment Team and I are naturally very interested to hear from Dr Ovseiko about what a difference the acclaimed Charter makes. As we wade through the infinite detail we have unearthed and seek to pull it all together into a meaningful report and a plan of action, it is important to remind ourselves why – aside from general fairness - gender equity is important.

Dr Pavel OvseikoDr Ovseiko answered the question in the BioMed Central On Health blog earlier this year…

  • “Why should we care about gender equity in health research?”
  • There are several reasons why gender equality in health research is of paramount importance. First, gender equality in health research is imperative for continued public support for health research because equality is one of the fundamental values of our society. Second, gender equality in health research helps achieve better science by addressing possible gender biases in the selection of research topics, methods, and participants. Often, women have more inclusive and collaborative leadership styles. Finally, gender equality in health research helps ensure that women and men equally benefit from scientific breakthroughs and innovations. As the recent “Global call for action to include gender in research impact assessment” shows, if biological and sociocultural sex and gender differences are not considered in research, women may be disadvantaged as the beneficiaries of research, in terms of its health, societal and economic impacts.

At UON, we are focused on the impact of our work. The idea that our impact could be divided along gender lines is disturbing and should be enough of a reason for any research team to ensure they have gender balance from the outset.

What I have learned through the SAGE Pilot is a view that I know Dr Ovseiko shares – that there are limits to how much it can improve gender equality without wider institutional and societal changes.

In his words:

Athena SWAN…allows institutions to be really ambitious in setting objectives and developing action plans for gender equality. My colleagues and I found that the implementation of Athena SWAN in our institution had brought about important structural and cultural changes, such as increased support for women’s careers, greater appreciation of caring responsibilities, and efforts to challenge discrimination and bias. Yet, we also found concerns that the implementation of Athena SWAN had limited ability to address longstanding and entrenched power and pay imbalances, lack of work-life balance, and sustainability of positive changes without further financial incentives, resentment about perceived positive discrimination. Thus, higher education and research institutions need to be realistic about what could be achieved within the limits of the current organisations, society, and culture over a relatively short period of time.

While this is certainly a realistic view, we cannot abandon the effort. We need to work together to shift societal and cultural norms for a better future for all – a view shared and reinforced by our Vice-Chancellor.

I feel very strongly that as a University, we have an important role to play in shaping different views and at UON we have given ourselves the responsibility for creating NEW futures. Please join me in ensuring gender equality is the future by being aware, informed and engaged in the effort.

All staff are invited to hear directly from Dr Ovseiko as he joins the VC and myself for a Campus Conversation on 19 October.


Darrell Evans and Deb Hodgson spread the word about Athena SWAN Thanks to DVC(A) Prof. Darrell Evans and other members of the Executive Committee who have been spreading the word (and the lanyards) about the SAGE Athena SWAN Pilot.

For more information about the SAGE Athena SWAN pilot visit the webpage at

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