A three-year consultation and planning process to progress gender equity in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) at UTS has resulted in a whole-of-university strategy to develop more inclusive practices.
Along with the new target of having 40 per cent of academic positions in STEMM filled by women by 2022, other measures include having equity and diversity committees in each of the STEMM faculties at UTS.
In 2017, 36 per cent of STEMM academic staff at UTS were women – a number that reflects the sector-wide disparity in these areas. The structural barriers faced by women and girls at all levels of the STEMM pipeline are well recognised, and have been the focus of the Athena SWAN pilot at UTS and sector wide, with a discussion paper under consultation across the sector to create a national Women in STEMM Decadal Plan moving forward.
Dr Willa Huston, Head of School, Teaching and Learning, at the School of Life Sciences, says that steps to “shake up the system” are needed to produce real structural change.
As co-convenor of the UTS Academic Women in Science network and Chair of the Faculty of Science’s equity and diversity committee, Dr Huston has been instrumental in identifying that a major barrier to the progression of women in science is the limited ability to assess and reward merit in people under diverse circumstances.
“In the UTS Faculty of Science, we are committed to acting locally to change our culture, but … local changes need to be supported by a sector-wide focus on equity, which we all know has a long way to go,” she says.
The equity and diversity committee she chairs has developed specific interventions to account for gender and broader diversity. These include: altering performance indicator guidelines to include explicit statements that acknowledge and promote the positive outcomes of equity and diversity; altering work planning and performance review processes to clarify what is meant by equity or merit and how that should be measured; and training of supervisors.
Dr Huston is one of the 16 women featured in “Leaders in their Field”, profiling UTS academics who are breaking new ground in research and in gender equity. Each of these women brings their own diverse experiences to solving challenges, and their leadership is driving change in their disciplines as well as the wider university community.
The initiative highlights women’s contributions not just towards academic excellence but also to research and advocacy that delivers social impact, because “seeing” diversity helps create an inclusive environment.
“Our commitment to a diverse and inclusive environment is captured in our whole of university approach to social justice, accessibility and equity,” UTS’s Executive Director, Social Justice, Verity Firth says.
“Social justice is a key priority for UTS. It affects staff both at work and in the broader community, and the role of the university as a public institution working towards achieving transformative change.”
Universities can be instrumental in driving the focus on practical changes that make a difference to people’s careers.
UTS already has a strong reputation for supporting an inclusive culture and has been awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Employer of Choice citation every year since they were introduced.