Over the past few years, gender equality has reached what journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell has coined the ‘tipping point’ – “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
Though the institutional shift toward supporting equality isn’t something that has happened overnight, and there’s still a long way to go, UTS Equity and Diversity Officer Joanna Leonard and Athena SWAN Pilot Coordinator Alicia Pearce are confident UTS is on the right track.
As part of the Equity and Diversity Unit, Joanna has seen the evolution of gender equality at UTS over the past 10 years. But some things have remained constant – UTS’s strong commitment to best practice and our reputation as a sector leader in gender equity.
In 2018, for the 16th consecutive year, the university was recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality.
Joanna says, “it’s quite an achievement” given the citation is becoming “incrementally harder to achieve each year” due in part to the changing nature of what is considered best practice.
And while Alicia agrees there are some great overarching policies at UTS, she says, “There are always some areas where we can do better.” Her work with the Athena SWAN pilot, working with the whole of university Self Assessment Team, led by Elizabeth Sullivan, has been instrumental in shedding a light on those areas that need some extra attention and challenging those beliefs and attitudes that have hindered progress.
In 2015, UTS was one of just 40 institutions to undertake the Athena SWAN pilot, an accreditation that recognises best practice in gender equality in areas of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) in Australia.
Over the past two years, Alicia has been integrally involved in efforts to complete the university’s application for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award, which was officially submitted on 29 March 2018.
According to Alicia, the application process has been both complex and detailed, requiring the Self Assessment Team to collect comprehensive data on current gender equity standards, policies and practices before identifying weaknesses and shortcomings, and then developing and implementing a four-year action plan to improve gender equity at all levels.
Alicia says, “It's really fantastic that we have a program like Athena SWAN that's engaging staff at a grassroots level.”
Eighty academic and professional staff from STEMM faculties participated in focus groups and interviews to identify key issues within each faculty or area.
A number of common concerns were identified among staff including ensuring respectful cultures from the top down; promoting existing university-wide policies on flexibility and equity; scaffolding university-wide policies with well-understood local practices; guaranteeing staff with caring responsibilities can equitably meet work requirements, including during school holidays; and examining career progression and workload planning with a gender lens.
Some faculties have already begun implementing their ideas into everyday life. For example, the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology has implemented a core hours policy where important meetings are only scheduled between 10am and 4pm. Alicia says that while this might seem like a “small change” it allows more flexibility for caregivers and others.
Alicia emphasises, “It’s not a one-way street and it's not just about boosting women. It’s about making sure everybody has access to all the provisions, that they feel comfortable taking them and there's no pressure on one group.
“The positive outcomes we have had from Athena SWAN have really been driven by our leadership's commitment to social justice and inclusion,” she adds.
“Social justice, the Social Impact Framework and Athena Swan are all key priorities in this year’s corporate plan. It's symptomatic of a really strong focus from the university's leadership on issues that affect staff both at work and in the broader community and the role of the university as a public institution working towards achieving real, progressive change.”