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University of Sydney recognised with gender equity award

23 September 2019
Committing to gender equity and improving workplace culture
The University of Sydney has received a SAGE Athena SWAN Bronze Award, as part of its commitment to the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative. SAGE is a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
Group photo of Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence AC, Annie Fenwicke (SAGE Project Manager), Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM and Professor Renae Ryan (Academic Director of SAGE) at a recent University SAGE celebration.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence, Annie Fenwicke (SAGE Project Manager), Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson and Professor Renae Ryan (Academic Director of SAGE) at a University SAGE celebration.

Thirteen Australian institutions have been recognised for their efforts to improve gender equity and diversity, receiving Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Awards as part of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative.

"Receiving the Bronze Award is a fantastic achievement for the University and demonstrates our commitment to changing our culture so that every person is valued for the contribution they make to our collective success," said Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

"The critical reflection we had to undertake to develop our application and embed Athena SWAN principles has been a real catalyst for change. It has also improved our understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion issues in the University. The University’s SAGE Self Assessment Team worked hard to develop our award application and I thank them for their efforts."

The University of Sydney has achieved the Bronze Award in the second cohort of SAGE member institutions from the higher education and research sector to complete the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze process. 

"The Bronze Award recognises an institution’s work to set solid foundations for their journey to transformative change; it sets them on the course to Silver and Gold awards,” said Dr Wafa El-Adhami, Executive Director, SAGE.

“This follows the inaugural accreditation of 15 organisations in December last year, and I extend my sincere congratulations to all awardees for their commitment to gender equity in the higher education and research sector in Australia.”

SAGE Action Plan

"During the SAGE process, which has been strategically supported and championed by the University’s senior leadership, we have developed and will implement an ambitious four-year, data-driven Action Plan to improve workplace culture for all staff,” said Professor Renae Ryan, from the School of Medical Sciences and Academic Director of SAGE.

Key areas of focus highlighted in the Action Plan include:

  • increasing targeted recruitment of women and underrepresented groups at senior academic levels
  • continuing our work towards a fair, equitable and transparent promotions process
  • building on the excellent foundation of parental leave available to staff to remove remaining barriers to access and flexibility
  • continuing our focus on improving workplace behaviours and institutional culture.

"The importance of getting this right goes beyond our staff and the culture of our organisation,” said Professor Ryan. “Here at the University of Sydney, we educate around 70,000 students per year from across Australia and around the world. We have an opportunity to not only educate our students in their speciality areas but also to create global citizens, with a thorough understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion to support innovation and progress as well as improve our societies by empowering women and girls to achieve their full potential."

Professor Julie Cairney

Data-driven equity

Associate Professor Rachael Morton, health economist in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, chaired the SAGE Data working group collecting gender data across STEMM faculties. She says the experience has been eye-opening.

“On a personal note, I have learned a lot about gender equity and intersectionality by being on a committee that was truly diverse in terms of age, stage of career, ethnicity, Indigenous status, discipline and LGBTQI status,” she said. “It is not often that you participate in a university committee that is this diverse. It was a terrific experience.”

Although women now make up more than half of the University’s staff, across the STEMM faculties, there is a much higher proportion of men, particularly in senior academic positions.

Pay gap

There is also evidence of a gender pay gap at the University. The data found when men and women are employed in a similar job at a similar level, men receive higher pay due to extra allowances, loadings and bonuses. These are often negotiated, rather than automatic loadings, above the base salary.

“Women are losing out on allowances, loadings and bonuses on every level,” said Associate Professor Morton. “To me, the one thing that tells us whether we have achieved gender equity in an organisation is pay equity. We need people to stand up and be leaders on this issue, it won’t happen on its own.”

Associate Professor Morton said collecting the data across all STEMM faculties was extremely useful. “If you don’t have the data, the only thing that tells you about gender equity issues is your own personal experience,” she said. “If you haven’t experienced gender inequity, then you are unlikely to understand its impact. This data has come as a surprise to some.”

The data gives the University a base from which to work. “We now know where we need to take action and we need to be courageous to do it,” said Associate Professor Morton.

About SAGE

The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative was established to pilot the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter in Australia. Established in 2015, SAGE is a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. The SAGE pilot is now engaged with 50 percent of the higher education and research sector.

Athena SWAN is a successful enabling mechanism for equity, diversity and inclusion, providing a framework in which to plan and undertake concrete work to create structural and cultural change. It focuses on systemic and structural barriers, as well as cultures that hinder participation and advancement of women and other minority groups in organisations.

Government commitment

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews congratulated the members of the second cohort to achieve Bronze accreditation.

“Our government is committed to increasing the number of women in STEMM, and our universities and institutions must be at the forefront when it comes to setting an example,” Minister Andrews said.

“SAGE’s work is an important part of our Women in STEM Strategy  and Women in STEM Decadal Plan and that’s why we included a further $1.8 million toward the SAGE initiative in the 2019-20 Budget.”

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