Blog

Creating more gender equitable and inclusive cultures is high on the agenda for many organisations. However there is often a disconnect between existing staff development activities and efforts to create the desired cultures. More explicitly linking individual development to organisational change can make a big difference to the return on investment when developing staff. The ‘bifocal approach’ translates this ideal into reality through clear principles and program design.

We need to interrogate merit

Merit, and the idea that we can accurately assess merit, is situated at the heart of academia. The need to preserve merit and a presumed meritocracy is one of the first arguments to be put forward to counter more ambitious gender change initiatives. But what does merit mean?  Can we assume that the current system is meritocratic and therefore worth protecting? And can we achieve the desired transformation of institutional culture without a frank re-assessment of merit?

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Imperial College: A courageous look at institutional culture

The impetus for this frank and fearless examination of Imperial College culture was a result of what James Stirling described as ‘laddish, blokeish, stupid misogynistic behaviour’ by male Imperial students at a women’s rugby match. As he describes, ‘we thought it was about sexism among students’ but it turned out to be much more than that.

Much of what is written in the report will ring true for Institutions that, like Imperial, pride themselves on their excellence. The key finding of the research is that ‘how we drive for excellence has unintended negative consequences’.

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Gender Equality in Australian Higher Education: A Frame for Athena SWAN

The gender equality landscape in Australian higher education has entered a period of renewal and change, with unprecedented levels of activity, resourcing and profile. This renewed vigour is largely driven by the SAGE pilot implementation of the Athena SWAN accreditation process, based on the UK model. However while Athena SWAN is currently the approach of choice in Australian HE, this does not preclude drawing on existing strengths and looking elsewhere for inspiration.

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Only women need apply

Women only appointments signal strong support for building gender equitable workplaces. But what are the pro's and cons?  Several universities advertised women only academic positions in 2016, perhaps with more to follow. I suggest that there are some lessons to be learnt from the affirmative action appointments of the 1990's and ways of proactively working with the inevitable backlash.  

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Catalysts and advocates for gender change

This blog explores two Initiatives, Athena SWAN Advocate (ASA) and Catalysts for Change (C4C), designed to enable men and women at multiple levels of the organisation to be visible and active in their support for gender change. Not only is it common sense, it is also supported by the research.

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Envisaging a more gender equitable workplace; #TomWeltonTour

Tom Welton’s tour has been enthusiastically received by a higher education and research sector keen to learn from a Department and Institution well progressed on the Athena SWAN pathway. Institutions looking at the year ahead, which for many will involve data collection and analysis, compiling action plans and finalising institutional applications, are keen to receive guidance. We are so keenly tweeting the received wisdom that Tom’s tour has been trending in the top ten twitter hashtags in Australia this week (go Sydney!).

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Quotas and targets for research funding

‘Are there examples of targets and quotas in relation to funding and grants for research elsewhere, and do they work?’ This question arose in a recent discussion on twitter. It was triggered by the latest NHMRC funding round outcomes where women continue to be under-represented. The Science Foundation Ireland provides a compelling example of how a quota can work.

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What is sponsorship and why is it so important for women?

What is the big deal about sponsorship? A few years ago we didn’t even talk about sponsorship. Women were being urged to find mentors, and now this advice is being replaced with women being urged to find sponsors. This change in tack is nicely encapsulated in the title of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book (Forget a mentor) Find a Sponsor. Her subtitle The New Way to Fast-Track your Career also provides some insight into the positive hype surrounding sponsorship.

In this blog I want to talk about the research that brought sponsorship into the limelight, and why it is important, particularly but not exclusively from a gender perspective, to distinguish between mentoring and sponsorship. 

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Merit: A trump card or card trick?

Merit is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot in regard to gender equity. Opponents of targets and quotas often use it as the final trump card in their argument – ‘we wouldn’t want to compromise merit’. 

But what does merit mean? And is it really a trump card or a troublesome concept that is past its use by date? 

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Champions of gender equality: female and male executives as leaders of gender change

I am very proud to present my newly published article Champions of gender equality: female and male executives as leaders of gender change.  It draws on my doctoral research and examines in detail what male and female executives say about gender championing. All agree that it is not an easy role!

As readers of my Blog will be aware, I am keen for men to engage with doing the work of gender equality and this research certainly influenced my thinking.

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Playing the gender card

The phrase ‘playing the gender card’ has been used against women who raise issues of gender bias or discrimination, to discredit their claims. The implication is that by calling gender into play they are not only playing the victim but also directing attention away from their own lack of performance or fault in whatever may have occurred. Perhaps most famously in Australia this accusation was leveled at our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. 

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Summer reading: 'Humble Inquiry' and its applicability to mentoring

‘We must become better at asking and do less telling in a culture that overvalues telling’

Working with mentors is one of the hardest things I do. So, when I was drawn to the title of Edgar Schein’s book Humble Inquiry I approached it with this in mind. What, if anything, might be helpful for mentors in this book? Did it contain anything useful in developing their understanding and skills as mentors? 

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Men's work; Women's work

I’ve worked for about 17 years to help improve Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations. Jen de Vries has worked even longer to improve gender equity. In both of these fields we are in a time of transition – about 40 years old and counting – from an era of unambiguous and socially sanctioned disparity in rights, dominance and power, to an era of genuine equity. That transition is hard work. And in both of those fields I’m in the dominant group. I’m white Australian, and I’m a bloke.

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Challenges for men: The expectation to lead and succeed

‘We (men) are expected to lead’, one of the male participants exclaimed. As a woman so immersed in working with women’s leadership development programs I found myself somewhat taken aback. It was impossible for me to imagine a woman saying anything like it. For women the reverse could be said to be true: we (women) are not expected to lead. It was one of those moments when you are left in no doubt that gendering processes are alive and well. A moment when socialised gender roles, so often implicit become explicit. And, in this case, open for discussion.

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‘I never expected to be talking about men’s issues today’

Getting men and women together to talk about gender. Sounds ordinary enough. Might happen around a dinner table but when was the last time it happened at work? Maybe it never has? Tim Muirhead and I recently ran a full day ‘Partners for Change’ workshop where attendees came in male/female collegial pairs. Women mostly did the inviting, asking a male colleague to come to the workshop with them, with the intended focus of strengthening their capacity to work individually and together to tackle gender issues in their shared workplace.  

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‘I don’t want to be mentored back into the straight line’

My title, ‘I don’t want to be mentored back into the straight line’, quoting a recent research participant, captures very succinctly a key difficulty with mentoring, and one that is almost entirely overlooked by mentoring practitioners and mentoring programs. I understood exactly what my interviewee meant, from both a research and practice perspective. Mentoring can inadvertently be used to help mentees to ‘fit in’, where mentors reinforce gendered norms and cultural stereotypes, teaching mentees to succeed the way they succeeded. 

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Lean In. You must be joking?

Sheryls Sandberg’s best selling book Lean In: Women. Work and the Will to Lead (2013) created a bit of a stir when it was first released, and the expression, ‘Lean In’ (at least for women) has moved into popular speech. 

My response differed from some of my feminist scholar colleagues, with their stinging critique. There are a few things about this book that I really liked. 

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