The University of Newcastle, Australia

Role models matter

Friday, 10 August 2018

During my time at UON, I have worked hard to address gender inequality. We have made progress, certainly, but there remains more to do and the current environment demands that we push for the acceleration of progress.

I am fortunate to be supported by an outstanding senior management group, which I am proud to be leaving in a much more gender balanced state than when I arrived. Still, at 37% female, we are not quite there, and with movements in and out, the balance is something we will need to keep firmly in view.

This National Science Week, I am proud to announce the introduction of three new Women in STEMM Chair positions that are now open for internal applications. This is a flagship initiative under our four year SAGE Athena SWAN action plan.

The Level E women from STEMM disciplines will bring vision and energy to motivate the UON community to prioritise gender equity and to achieve increased participation and success for women in STEMM disciplines in particular. They will advocate for a culture that is inclusive and celebrates diversity and will help to champion the different initiatives planned under the SAGE Athena SWAN action plan.

These women will be role models. Their career achievements will inspire others to fulfil their career goals and to aim high. They will be seen and they will help the women around them to be seen too. They will lend their voices to the conversation and they will encourage those around them to speak up and be heard also.

It is the right time for these positions to be established. We recently realised the Senior Academic Women KPI of 30% after implementing a targeted strategy to support the advancement of women into Level E positions across all disciplines. I congratulate all the remarkable women across the institution who have achieved this status and I encourage all those coming through the pipeline to follow their lead and strive to reach the top of their fields.

Representation and leadership are just one small part of a bigger picture. Later this year we will hear the outcome of our SAGE Athena SWAN application for the Bronze Award. Our four year action plan will support the key priorities of:

  • Representation, leadership and governance
  • Recruitment, retention, remuneration
  • Career progression
  • Student pipeline and outreach
  • Supporting careers
  • Organisational culture
  • Data management
  • Transgender and intersectionality
  • Indigenous

And this is just the beginning. The Bronze Award is the foundation piece and marks the beginning of a longer Athena SWAN journey. All going well, in four years’ time we will be measuring the impact of the action we have taken to support our application for the Silver Award.

When we have gender balance at the leadership table we achieve many things. For starters, diverse perspectives make better decisions. The fight for gender equality is not about uniformity. Men and women are different and therein lies the power of a more equal world – we move forward with all our differences, not in spite of them.

Secondly, having both women and men in senior, high profile positions means we have role models for everyone. As the adage goes, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and while the researcher in me wants to dispute this, I do know that having a role model in whom you see elements of yourself (or what you aspire to be), is a powerful driver.

Advancing gender equality demands active, committed and visible leadership and positive role modelling from both men and women at all levels.  In 2018 we need to make gender equality a priority so that we can create a better future.

Why? It’s simply time.


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