In 1929, Virginia Woolf released her most famous work of feminist literary criticism, A Room of One’s Own. The book argued for the space for women’s writing in a male-dominated tradition.
Now 2017, gender equity in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) is the issue du jour. Especially for universities, embarking on the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Athena SWAN pilot – an evaluation and accreditation framework focused on improving gender disparity in STEMM-related fields.
It’s one of the reasons why, as part of Diversity Week (14 to 18 August), UTS is holding an Athena SWAN event. The Thursday 17 August event will be hosted by ABC comedian Zoe Norton Lodge and aims to boost the visibility of UTS’s female, super-STEMM researchers.
“We're holding a series of short and sweet talks to show off our fantastic students and early-career researchers working in innovative STEMM fields,” explains event coordinator and Athena SWAN Project Coordinator Alicia Pearce. “They’ll be discussing everything from research into early detection of diseases to science communication using sign language.
“Diversity Week is a great initiative from the Equity and Diversity Unit (EDU) and events like this not only boost the recognition of the Athena SWAN program, but some of our fantastic women in STEMM too.”
And that’s important, says Pearce, whose professional background is a research manager in workforce policy. Though she’s based in EDU, Pearce’s role sees her work closely with the Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team and the Athena SWAN Project Lead, Distinguished Professor of Public Health Elizabeth Sullivan.
“We’re now in the final phase of the project and applying for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award,” explains Pearce.
“The first project phase was gathering data evidence, which our Human Resources Unit did a fantastic job of. The second phase was testing this data evidence against the lived experiences of staff through a series of consultations in all our STEMM faculties.
“Focus groups were held to consult with both academic and professional staff. They looked at promotion, retention and recruitment, workplace culture, and how well some UTS policies on issues like flexibility are translating and filtering down to people's workplaces,” explains Pearce.
“A critical part of the process is creating a four-year university-wide action plan for gender equity in STEMM areas. But we’re also focused on making sure we take advantage of every opportunity to promote gender equity along the way.”
One such opportunity was the chance to achieve accreditation as a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace from the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Pearce was part of a committee, set up by EDU, which worked with Facilities Management Operations to develop a new expressing and breastfeeding room on level 13 of the Tower. Its purpose is to support new mums returning to the workplace. Parents can speak with EDU to arrange swipe pass access to the private space.
“While we have existing facilities dotted around the campus where mothers can change and feed, this room is set up specifically to offer parents a quiet space to breastfeed or express milk,” says Pearce.
“Supporting both female and male primary caregivers is fundamental to UTS. Gender equity is not a one-way street – it is about making careers at UTS more attractive to everyone, and enabling everyone to reap the benefits of good practice in our everyday working culture.”
A Lab of One's Own will be held on Thursday 17 August in the Great Hall Balcony Room. For the full line up of Diversity Week events, visit diversityweek.uts.edu.au