With the University’s new Gender Equity Strategy launching next week, we asked HR Director Nicole Gower about what’s inspired her to bring the issue of gender equity to the forefront of the University’s priorities, her passion and belief in the powers of good Human Resources, how all of us can foster inclusiveness, and what’s next for the delivery of the strategy.
“In my current position as HR Director, I feel privileged to be in a position where I can influence the working lives of others. I also feel a sense of responsibility to build an inclusive culture where everyone feels respected and valued. I have had both positive and negative experiences throughout my career due to my gender and background, and those experiences have shaped my goal of ensuring our workplace is an inclusive and positive place for all our staff.
When I was younger, I never imagined I would have a career in Human Resources. The first half of my career was spent as a lawyer in private practice and my early experiences with HR were not good. In fact, in my first corporate law job I was sexually harassed by the HR staff member recruiting me.
Work life balance was not particularly good and I struggled to see how I could balance having a family and a career in the law. I was offered partnership at an early age, but ultimately turned it down due to my desire to start a family – I didn’t feel like I had the option to do both.
When I first started working in universities, I had no idea how much I would love it. The work was intellectually stimulating and challenging, and I could see that work life balance was achievable. I still had to work incredibly hard, but there was more focus on the quality and value of the work achieved, rather than on the number of billable hours worked. The generous maternity leave and quality childcare offerings on campus have also made a huge difference.
I understand that I’ve been incredibly lucky in the experiences I’ve had; role models and sponsors – both men and women – have played a big part in my career, as well as flexible working arrangements and positive workplace culture. These experiences are why I’m committed to prioritising gender equity for all of our staff.
There are six key commitments in the strategy, around building an inclusive culture, holding leaders accountable, improving representation of women in senior academic roles and STEM, achieving more gender balance in leadership, making flexibility the norm and closing the pay gap. While these goals are not particularly unusual, our approach to achieving change is different.
The development of the strategy has been a truly collaborative approach, led by a team of committed University leaders on the Gender Equity Strategy Committee. I have witnessed this leadership group engage wholeheartedly in this work and display genuine ownership of the development and implementation of the Strategy.
What you won’t see in the strategy is flashy, one-off initiatives and programs. There is ample research now that the traditional approaches to gender equity strategies do not work. Mandatory training and one off initiatives do not drive positive change. Culture has a big part to play, as do core systems and processes, such as promotion pathways, reward systems and working arrangements. We believe that real issues require real solutions to achieve real change.
In developing the strategy, we needed to understand the specific challenges that exist at Macquarie – we couldn’t just take any gender equity strategy (even a good one!) and apply it to our University. The everyday, real-life experiences matter. Good policies and procedures are important, but not enough to make a real difference. People need to feel supported and valued in an inclusive way. We conducted a deep data analysis to ensure that we understand what the issues are. We also know that data isn’t everything, and spent time understanding the real stories and experiences of men and women working at Macquarie. These real-life stories are crucial – and we will keep on listening as we work through our action plan over the next two years.
We also understood that one’s supervisor/manager makes a big difference. When I was working flexibly after returning from maternity leave, I always felt valued and supported, most importantly by my manager. Cultivating that feeling is fundamental, and I want to ensure that feeling is consistent across the University.
I’m mindful of this in leading my own department and in setting an example for others. For me, with two small children, finding the right balance means leaving work at a reasonable hour to have dinner with my family each day and spending quality time together before bedtime. Being organised and disciplined with myself is a big part in achieving this. I am grateful for the support and understanding of my colleagues in allowing me to achieve this. I also think that reciprocity is important in making it work, so I am flexible about what I need to do to deliver in my role. I realise that different people have different needs and that flexibility needs to be varied. I hope that this strategy recognises that diversity of need and is inclusive in its scope.
Managers should be aware that what they do matters and the standard they set really matters. I would encourage all managers to consider how they can build an inclusive culture in their own team and how to support both men and women to achieve equity – from being open-minded about a flexible working arrangement, to challenging their own assumptions or devoting time to mentor or sponsor a more junior member of staff.
I encourage everyone to read the strategy and be willing to get involved. Think about how what you do impacts on your team’s culture. Be inclusive in your own behaviour and call out others (in a respectful way) if you feel they are not being inclusive.
There is no doubt that having an inclusive culture will provide the best opportunity for our University to succeed. It’s not about quotas or women with kids. It’s about creating the right environment for everyone to succeed, regardless of their gender or background. That’s what this Gender Equity Strategy is all about.”
The Gender Equity Strategy is launching on International Women’s Day, 8 March, at local morning teas across the University. Look out for an invitation to the event from your office or faculty. If you would like more details, email Lauren Dillon, Workplace Equity and Diversity Coordinator.