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SAGE: A leap forward for University gender equity

22 August 2016
Science in Australian Gender Equity launch

The Science in Australia Gender Equity project aims to address the longstanding under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). 

“More than a step in the right direction – it is a flying leap” is how Belinda Hutchinson, Chancellor of the University of Sydney, welcomed the official launch of the SAGE program at the University.

While 30 percent of professors at the University are female, the institution reflects the national trend of men dominating senior positions in STEMM.

Professor Trevor Hambley, Dean of the Faculty of Science outlined the University’s engagement with the initiative, which rates the gender equity policies and practices of participating organisations with a gold, silver or bronze award, helping them develop ways to promote and retain women and gender minorities. 

At a ceremony in the University’s Great Hall Professor Hambley announced the goal of achieving the initial bronze status by 2019. The means to achieving that include:

  •       undertaking data analysis to identify technical and systemic issues and addressing them with action plans
  •       mobilising leaders and staff to engage the University community in STEMM
  •       engaging male academics to take action
  •       challenging the assumptions about what the ‘problem’ is and how to solve it
  •       forming a network of change agents to enable progress in the system.

 

David Thodey, CSIRO Chair and a Male Champion of Change for STEMM gave the keynote address, encouraging the University to turn the initiative into part of its culture.

Professor Nalini Joshi, from the University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics initiated SAGE through the Australian Academy of Science, with 32 participating institutions. She said that it begins with data analysis but needs personal and institutional reflection, responsibility and action to succeed.

Professor Susan Pond, from the United States Studies Centre and co-chair of SAGE commented on the program’s proven benefit to universities by overcoming the waste of talent, including the loss of diverse perspectives.  

In a panel discussion deans or their representatives from five STEMM areas - Veterinary Science, Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Medicine - described necessary changes to achieve equity for women.

Professor Chris Semsarian, from Sydney Medical School, pointed to the critical lack of women clinicians, with only approximately 20 percent of specialists being female. He said solutions need a structural change and a change of mindset.

Professor Julie Cairney, from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies described the critical need to recruit and retain staff to address the “atrocious underrepresentation at all levels” of women in her faculty.

Which kind of Australia will we be – the sort that creates opportunities for all, to better face our future challenges?
Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor

By contrast Professor Rosanne Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, has seen a dramatic shift in gender equity as societal attitudes have changed. In 2009 the first female professor was appointed to the faculty and now half its academic leaders are women.

For Professor Taylor success will be when “women express their authentic identity at the University...not have to fit in and not rock the boat but bring their whole selves…when that is possible everyone will benefit.”

The Vice- Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence said participation in SAGE is essential to the University’s identity. 

He described SAGE’s relevance to shaping the University’s role as a nation-building institution. Commenting that Australia is struggling to not be defined by an “all-male, all-white” narrative he welcomed the creation of leaders who were aware of their biases and could act to overcome them.

“Which kind of Australia will we be – the sort that creates opportunities for all, to better face our future challenges?”

The Science in Australia Gender Equity project is a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

The SAGE initiative is modelled on the Athena SWAN charter, which began a decade ago in the United Kingdom with just 10 universities participating. Today the initiative includes nearly every Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine (STEMM) education and research institution in the UK.

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