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How can we get more gender diversity in university leadership?

6 November 2017
Accelerating change in gender diversity and inclusion

The Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) and University of Sydney co-hosted the 2017 Asia-Pacific Women in Leadership workshop on 1 - 3 November. 

Currently, 31 percent of professors at the University are women; our target is to reach 40 percent by 2020
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence
women in leadership

Attendees at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Women in Leadership workshop.

The theme of this year’s workshop was ‘Accelerating change in gender diversity and inclusion’, exploring how university leadership can drive culture change through innovation and deliver practical solutions based on best practice.

Women are chronically underrepresented in leadership positions at universities in Australia and abroad. A 2013 report by the APRU – which surveyed 45 leading universities in the Asia-Pacific region – found that for every female manager at the university executive management level, there were three males in similar positions.

Leadership at Australian universities is similarly skewed towards men, with only one in four vice-chancellors and one in six chancellors a woman.

Participants, who came from a variety of universities and public institutions across the Asia-Pacific, were invited to contribute ideas and knowledge to improve the representation of women in senior leadership positions’.

The keynote speakers for the opening plenary were Professor Jane Latimer from the University’s School of Public Health and Lieutenant General David Morrison AO, former Chief of Army. Professor Latimer was a last-minute addition who was called to stand in for former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick (who also happens to be her identical twin sister!).

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence opened the workshop and confirmed the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“Currently, 31 percent of professors at the University are women; our target is to reach 40 percent by 2020. Initiatives like the University’s Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program along with our cultural strategy which imbues gender equality in rule as well as in spirit across the University will help us get there,” Dr Spence said.

Director of Policy and Programs at APRU Christina Schoenleber spoke about the progress on gender equality in the Asia Pacific and the next steps needed.

“Case studies presented by APRU member universities have shown the great work that is taking place to address challenges in gender equality. At the same time, we are hearing of a growing global backlash. We’re hearing that investment in women’s education does not result in increased contribution by women to the workforce. This tells us that there’s still room for networks such as our Asia Pacific women in Leadership program to continue to drive change in gender equality,” Ms Schoenleber said.

Chairing the session was Professor Katherine Belov, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Sydney, who told the assembled guests about her experience as the first female to be promoted to professor in the University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

In her speech, on behalf of Ms Broderick, Professor Latimer emphasised the need for both individual stories and hard data backing them up.

“To transform organisations like universities we must take the case for change from people’s heads and lodge them in their hearts. We don’t take action because of the statistics we’ve read… we take action because of our interactions with other human beings,” Professor Latimer said.

Speaking about his time as the Chief of Army and his work with Ms Broderick to improve gender equality in the army, David Morrison said the personal stories he heard from female soldiers changed his life.

“I think I have led with passion and from the heart ever since. What we need now is for 100 percent of us to hear the stories around us and use them to motivate us all to create a better world for our sons and daughters."