Our women leaders

13 March 2013

Last Friday 8 March was International Women's Day. To mark the occasion, two of the University's most senior staff provided an insight into how organisations can support more women to become leaders.

Professor Ann Brewer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Management), discusses the importance of policies that support women in their careers, while the newly appointed Dean of Sydney Law School, Professor Joellen Riley, shares how she has benefited from such policies in her career at Sydney.

Professor Ann Brewer
Professor Ann Brewer

Professor Ann Brewer - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Management)

"All organisations, not just the University, need to ensure they include talented men and women in their leadership pool. To ensure that women are sufficiently represented requires good policies, such as 'affirmative action', to facilitate women's transition through their career.

"Policies and measures such as quotas can work, as seen through affirmative action and anti-discrimination legislation. Quotas and merit are complementary, they do not weaken merit. More importantly, quotas based on merit help to redress structural and unconscious biases at the time women are being considered for positions and, most importantly, in performance evaluation.

"The same arguments being made against quotas were made against anti-discrimination legislation when it was introduced. But it is because of that legislation that women now have some recourse against discrimination if they need to take it.

"Let us all at every level of the University take note of the benefits of women in leadership (not just the Vice-Chancellor who has personally taken on this challenge), make it clear that we want more women in leadership positions, then "just get on with it". If we do that, people in my position will be asked questions other than why there aren't more women in leadership roles on International Women's Day in five years time."

Professor Joellen Riley
Professor Joellen Riley

Professor Joellen Riley - Dean of Sydney Law School and Professor of Labour Law

"In my recent appointment as dean, I have been the beneficiary of affirmative action: a conscious and deliberate decision to seek expressions of interest from qualified women and to look favourably on applications from women, notwithstanding excellent male candidates.

"I would not have been as well-placed to apply for and take up this position had I not been encouraged in earlier years to undertake further education in management studies. For example, I was encouraged by mentors in 2007-08 to undertake tertiary studies in business administration. This involved studying accounting for management, marketing, negotiations theory and organisational behaviour.

"Leadership roles do attract excellent male candidates and competition is strong. Without positive encouragement, many women would not seek leadership roles. So affirmative action policies can and do assist in balancing the gender profile of leadership in organisations such as the University of Sydney.

"Early-career planning is necessary for women to become future leaders. Too often women become trapped in very busy support roles; they can become victims of their own competence and service orientation. Organisations need to keep a look out for talented young women and make sure they are given training opportunities to develop their careers."