The University of Newcastle, Australia

Be bold for change

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Last week I had the opportunity to head to the Slim Dusty Centre in Kempsey – which some might consider to be an unlikely venue - for a really interesting event focussed on Women in Future Innovation, organised by the innovative Mid North Coast Local Health District.

This was a day when women in different roles in health, education and administration reflected on their personal experiences of ‘Leadership and Resilience’.  I was there to present on my own leadership journey, but I learned a lot more than I contributed.  I listened to the stories of women who had juggled family adversity; who adapted to significant changes in their work place to meet the new requirements of patients, students and communities; and who may even have lost their job at some point in their career, but had met their challenges with determination and resilience.

For me, the sharing of these very different leadership journeys - the frank and often funny reflections on the sometimes unfairness of life, and the willingness to be honest on what had worked (and what had not) - was a very real example of women who were prepared to ‘be bold for change’.

I know that many of us will attend a range of International Women’s Day events this week and hear stories from remarkable women who have been bold and brought about great change. As we celebrate these stories, it is equally important to recognise the women around us who bring in their ‘boldness for change’ every day.

At our University, I see daily examples of women who step forward to deal with tough issues, and who bring an inner and sometimes outer boldness to the table. In this IWD week, it would be appropriate to give Professor Deb Hodgson, our Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) a ‘shout out’. Deb has been working as our SAGE (Science in Australia for Gender Equity) champion and is leading our UON Self-Assessment Team (SAT) in preparation for accreditation by the independent, UK-initiated Athena Swan program which is being piloted across Australia.

A recent UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report, Women in Scientific Careers, found that the Athena SWAN Charter is the ‘most comprehensive and practical schema to improve academic careers and address gender equity’. In preparing our institution for accreditation, Deb and the SAT team – comprised of great academic and professional staff - are beginning to build the quantitative and the qualitative picture of what life can be like for academics and professionals in STEMM careers across UON.

Along this journey Deb and the SAT team have been given well-meaning advice that taking part in SAGE may not be the best way in which women can ‘build their career’.  In their journey they have encountered a range of examples of bias - sometimes unconscious, sometimes simply careless - that can impact on the journey of our women in STEMM, and are digging deep into cultural norms and practices that need fixing.

Deb was on the podium at last week’s Universities Australia conference attended by some 900 representatives from across the sector and her presentation on gender equity in academic publications was extremely well received – perhaps highlighting how leadership careers are really built in 2017! I look forward to the bold work of the team bringing about change for the lives and careers of our female PhD students, STEMM academics and professionals at UON. This change can only occur if we act as male and female champions of change, down all of our corridors and across each of our campuses.

Be bold for change.


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