New phase for Deakin in gender equity

22 November 2017

Providing additional support for researchers caring for young children is one of several strategies Deakin is introducing to improve support for women staff.

Deakin University researchers Victoria Stead and Lana Williams are two of the first staff to benefit from new initiatives that aim to support researchers who are also primary carers to continue their careers and manage their family commitments.

Through the new Vice-Chancellor’s Conference Care Support fund, Dr Stead is planning to take her three-year-old son to Papua New Guinea in early 2018 for three weeks, so she can continue her research on women’s experiences of the Second World War in Oro Province. The scheme will provide funding for her son’s airfares, and for a local babysitter to help care for him while he and Dr Stead are in PNG.

“I’ve been conducting fieldwork for this project over the past three years, and this will be the third time I’ve taken Calum with me,” said Dr Stead.

“Juggling parenting with a fieldwork-based research practice can be incredibly challenging, and being able to have Calum with me on at least some of the research trips makes an enormous difference to what I’m able to do and achieve. If I didn’t have this support, I would have been so much more limited in terms of the fieldwork I could do.

“I’ve just been awarded an ARC grant – with Deakin colleagues Prof Yin Paradies and Dr Samantha Balaton-Chrimes – that will allow me to continue my work in PNG. Having institutional support like this has really been critical to this success, and I’m enormously grateful that I don’t have to choose between being a mum and being a researcher!”

Through the “career continuity for researchers who are also primary carers” program, Associate Professor Williams is one of the first women researchers at Deakin to receive funding to help pay for a staff member, Amanda Stuart, to oversee her research program, while she spends 12 months at home with her new daughter Georgie and four-year-old Piper on maternity leave.

“It is fantastic to have a formalised program like this as it recognises that women researchers caring for young children need support if their research is to continue,” said Associate Professor Williams.

“It is allowing my program of research, including my PhD students and research assistants, to maintain continuity – and is ensuring our flow of data is unaffected.”

Associate Professor Williams is pursuing research in Geelong aimed at understanding the interplay between mental disorders, associated treatment regimens and physical disease. She said that without this support, her research projects would have had to go on hold while she is on maternity leave.

While many gains have been made for Australian women over recent decades, they are still under-represented at senior levels in many sectors. Deakin is seeking to lead the way in the University sector in its efforts to redress this imbalance in both academic and non-academic positions, with a number of initiatives being introduced University-wide.

Significantly, these efforts include a strategy to create a more inclusive workplace by raising awareness of the often-unconscious practices that prevent career progression.

“There’s been considerable progress in gender equity, but there is still great inequity in wages and in the proportion of women in positions of influence, and women are still earning less than men for the same work,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander AO when announcing the Gender Equity Plan (2017-2020).

“The factors leading to unequal outcomes for men and women are complex and varied and therefore difficult to change. It is a wicked problem, but there is much we can and will do to advance gender equity.

Universities are especially obliged to act, having a role not only as employers, but as educators of students and of the wider community. We have a responsibility to be fearless and lead the way.”

The strategies have evolved since Deakin signed onto the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program in 2015. This is a national initiative that aims to improve gender equity and diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). An advisory panel of 25 staff from diverse areas of the University is overseeing the preparation of the SAGE application, through participation on working groups and meeting regularly as a team.

Deakin has gone one step further, however, and introduced a University-wide plan to improve opportunities for all staff through the Gender Equity Plan.

The Gender Equity Plan takes into account factors such as cultural background, socio-economic status, sexuality, carer status and work arrangements. It has four core guiding principles that will act as a reference for decision-making and issue resolution as initiatives progress. These principles centre on leadership, success for all, affirmative action and equal work, equal pay.

Deakin’s Manager of Gender Equity, Bree Gorman, noted that Deakin has a very strong representation of women academics at the early career levels, but there is less representation at more senior levels.

“The Gender Equity Plan requires us to understand the barriers to career progression for academics and non-academic women staff that specifically exist at Deakin and then act to address those barriers,” Dr Gorman said.

“Increasing the number of women in senior roles is somewhat dependent upon the ability to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias through educating managers to reconsider their decision-making practices.”

Around 50 senior managers attended a Deakin gender summit in October – participating in discussion groups and looking at systems, processes and policies to uncover unconscious bias as it exists at Deakin.

“It is clear men are more likely to be recruited at senior levels than women,” said Dr Gorman.

“The next question that must be answered at the local level is ‘Is this an attraction or selection issue?’ I suspect the answer will be different for different divisions/schools.

“Recruiters need to rethink how they assess merit and identify the ‘best person for the job’.

These processes need to be unpicked. It will take five to ten years to see the full benefits of this work, but it is an opportunity to improve the culture of the University for everyone.

“It is fantastic that men are engaging and we are having fascinating discussions. Many are surprised at the level of unconscious bias, but it is not about a ‘blame game.’ It’s about raising awareness and for all of us to accept our role in the problem and finding the solution.”

By Deakin Research

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Dr Victoria Stead with Calum (top) and Associate Professor Lana Williams with Georgie and Piper.

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Dr Victoria Stead with Calum (top) and Associate Professor Lana Williams with Georgie and Piper.

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