Dr Belinda Smith: Thompson Fellow

Dr Belinda Smith’s research focuses on ways in which gender inequality at work can be challenged. It was fitting then that she was successful in gaining a Thompson Fellowship.

Dr Belinda Smith

The Thompson Fellowship, one of the University’s Equity Fellowships, is designed to enhance the careers of academic women and remedy the under-representation of women in senior academic positions.

The Fellowships allow recipients to focus on their research, relieved of routine teaching and administration duties. Dr Smith, a senior lecturer in the Sydney Law School, was awarded a Fellowship for 2011.

"Being given a whole year to work on (my research) means I've got time to do some decent reading, some deep thinking and gather momentum which is often lost when I am torn away from research by admin tasks", said Dr Smith.

Dr Smith's research career began in 2002 and she has conducted a sustained program of research into the role of law in challenging and reinforcing gender inequality at work. Her research focuses on the significance of family responsibilities and hours of work.

"I want to explore whether law can play a role in making workplaces more family-friendly because unless the caring responsibilities of workers are factored into how rewards are allocated at work, those who undertake caring work – mostly women – will be marginalised", Dr Smith said.

"I've written numerous articles and chapters on different aspects of this, but what this year will provide is a chance to pull those together and step back a bit to see more of the big picture".

Dr Smith was awarded the Fellowship to undertake a project that will allow her to complete a book: Using Law to Balance Work and Family.

"The aim of the project is use regulatory and equality theories to analyse existing laws that are designed to promote work-family balance, for example parental leave and the right to request flexible working arrangements, and design a range of regulatory reform options”, said Dr Smith.

"Other scholars, such as Barbara Pocock, have shown that accommodating workers with family responsibilities is essential for promoting fair ways for people to support themselves and care for dependents, with significant implications for gender equality and our ageing population. In this project I hope to explain the role law can play in this struggle".

As well as giving Dr Smith the time to investigate and think without interruption, the Fellowship also allows her time to consider the practical application of her research.

"It enables me to participate a bit more in social reform movements. For instance, last year the government announced that it plans to streamline and consolidate our anti-discrimination laws. In response, a group of academics from around Australia who are experts in discrimination law gathered in Canberra to develop a submission or position paper to feed into this process. This year I was able to represent this group in a meeting with the Attorney-General’s department. I have also been working with other advocacy groups – such as the Combined Community Legal Centres – in developing public debate and submissions about what the new laws should contain and how they should be drafted", said Dr Smith.

"The Fellowship is such a fantastic opportunity. Drawing on my research on inequality in work, it is also a really smart initiative of the university to show it is serious about promoting these groups - women, carers and people with disability - that have traditionally been under-represented at professorial levels".