Changing the world one step at a time

Fostering a diverse, inclusive and accessible university community regardless of ability, culture, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation is core to Deakin’s institutional values. The Equity and Diversity team, which works to ensure all of Deakin’s students and staff feel welcomed, safe and supported, is central to making this vision a reality.

Providing an environment free from discrimination, harassment, victimisation and vilification is a must under Federal and state anti-discrimination laws. In practice, carrying out those responsibilities requires empathy, imagination and understanding, mixed with a sense of justice and pragmatism. These are all qualities Mel Martinelli, Director of Equity and Diversity, and her team demonstrate daily in their wide ranging work across the University.

“We’re a team of diverse professionals who value social justice, trust, openness, collaboration, optimism and commitment,” Ms Martinelli said. “We all bring our unique, individual backgrounds, experiences and interpretations to our work, but in practice we try to be engaged and enabling.

“Our practice also needs to be evidence-based. We need to know which initiatives and programs make a difference and why. Good evaluation informs future program design and results in improved practice and outcomes.”

One of six divisions within Deakin’s Enterprise Portfolio, Equity and Diversity’s all-female senior management team and their individual groups work with the Faculties and other divisions across the University to improve policy and practice and promote equity, diversity, access and inclusion.

These efforts are paying off. The Equity and Diversity team received the 2016 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Student and/or Staff Health and Wellbeing, for the Safe and Inclusive Work and Learning Environment project. The project, conducted along with Division of Student Life, Human Resources Division and the NTEU, was prompted by recognition that Deakin’s commitment to provide a range of support mechanisms for victims of domestic and family violence (D&FV) should apply to both staff and students. Thus, a large part of the project involved extensive consultation and research in developing new D&FV policy and procedures for the University. As a result, staff and students can now access free and confidential counselling, practical support and advice from Deakin’s Safer Community service, while staff have access to paid special leave and students are entitled to a range of academic accommodations.

Equity and Diversity was also recently involved in a collaboration across the University to develop a Gender Equity in Research policy to reduce the barriers faced by researchers who are also primary carers (most often women), due to metric based assessment of research performance. The policy includes Keeping Connected guidelines through HR, a Career Continuity program through Deakin Research, a Conference Care Support Fund through Equity and Diversity and a set of principles addressing achievement relative to opportunity.

“The collaborative nature of this project was very hands on, with many personal discussions with academics, supervisors and women who have taken maternity leave,” Ms Martinelli said.

“Essentially, we drew together various administration divisions to deliver an initiative that not just accounts for maternity leave, but proactively assists in the career progression of primary carers by mitigating the impacts that parental or carers leave can have on research activity.”

Equity and Diversity encourages potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds to undertake university studies and supports a number of campaigns addressing racism, violence against women, and discrimination against LGBTIQ students and staff.

“Our purpose is to enable success for all of Deakin’s students and staff,” Ms Martinelli said. “Our primary goal is to ensure that all students and staff feel welcomed, safe and supported throughout their journey with Deakin, no matter their gender, culture or ability.”

To achieve this aim, groups within the division focus on different areas of equity and diversity across the University.

Access and Equity Partnerships, led by Jane Finlay, works with the School of Education, external organisations and local communities to create opportunities for disadvantaged students to attend university and to promote a culture of academic learning.

“The impetus behind these specific access and equity initiatives is the recognition that particular groups of people have experienced, and continue to experience, historical and systematic disadvantage that precludes them from enjoying the benefits of study or employment in the higher education sector,” Ms Finlay said.

As well as working to inspire secondary school students to undertake further studies, Equity and Diversity also has a range of programs to support tertiary students from low socio-economic status backgrounds to complete undergraduate degrees. The evidence-based program of initiatives is funded by the Commonwealth Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and delivered by Equity and Diversity Programs, managed by Lyn Edwards.

“In addition, Equity and Diversity Programs also facilitates practices, policies and networks to ensure a fair and inclusive University environment,” Lyn said. “We respect, value and actively pursue the benefits of equity across the University, as well as cultural, linguistic and sexual diversity.”

Managed by Merrin McCracken, the Access and Inclusion team supports the whole of Deakin at a policy, community and individual level to support inclusive teaching and learning, and digital accessibility. Disability Resource Centres on each campus employ Disability Liaison Officers to help students and staff with a disability, health or mental health condition to participate in university life.

'The DRCs support around 2000 students with disability and Deakin provides terrific support to individual students,” Ms McCracken said. “Access and Inclusion also focuses on working with the whole University to provide an increasingly accessible, flexible and inclusive environment and experience so that fewer individual supports are needed. As we get this right for students with disability, we are a long way towards getting it right for everyone.”

Breakout: STEMMing the flow

Women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but only 17 per cent of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.

In an effort to staunch the flow of female talent from academia, Deakin is one of 40 universities and organisations participating in Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), a program to improve gender equity and diversity in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).

Led by Equity and Diversity’s Gender Equity team, Human Resources Division and Deakin Research, the SAGE pilot aims to improve the opportunities and increase retention of Australian female scientists through the adoption of the Athena SWAN Charter, an evidence-based accreditation and improvement program for higher education and research organisations that focuses on promoting diversity and addressing gender and other forms of inequality in STEMM.

Established in 2005 in the UK, the Athena SWAN Awards Program requires participating institutions to accept ten charter principles, as well as collect and analyse data, develop and implement action plans, and monitor progress.

“Athena SWAN takes a different approach to past equity initiatives,” Dr Bree Gorman, Manager Gender Equality, explained. “It focuses on data collection and understanding the issues within a given organisation. For example, it’s not just about acknowledging that you have a gender pay gap, but understanding the factors that contribute to the gap. This allows organisations to have very targeted programs and policies to mediate their most critical problems.

“A lot of the work involved in the program will come down to identifying unconscious bias against particular groups of people. It won’t necessarily eliminate the bias, but it will help people understand how unconscious bias occurs so they can take action to prevent it.”

“It addresses multiple disadvantage factors and enables people to be the best they can be.”

Deakin’s participation in the SAGE pilot began in September 2016. Implementation of the program will drive the University’s Gender Equity Strategy as the collected data highlights areas where action is needed.

“The good thing about implementing the Athena SWAN program is that it will benefit Deakin as a whole, not only women,” Dr Gorman said. “UK research has found that Athena SWAN initiatives increase research success and staff satisfaction across participating organisations.”