Gender equity in the workplace is a pressing issue in Australia, and Vice-Chancellor Professor S Bruce Dowton has made it an important priority for the University, with the launch of the draft Gender Equity Strategy on 12 December. This week, we caught up with Professor Amanda Barnier from the Department of Cognitive Science to hear more about her experience of gender equality in the workplace, and how to deal with inequity when it arises.
“I was half-way through a fixed-term ARC Fellowship at another university when my first child Oliver was born. Despite my new responsibilities as a parent, I felt enormous pressure to ‘keep up’ – with my research, publications and supervision – business as usual, so-to-speak. There were no childcare places at the university, and I was sleep-deprived and juggling madly. I didn’t have a continuing position, and so I was concerned about would happen when my fellowship ended if I couldn’t be as productive as I had been in the past.
When I returned to work, I felt like I was drowning – and drowning alone. Of course, many other women and men in my department and university had small children too, but there were never any conversations around how we manage these demands, and no structures or strategies I was aware of to support my return to work. I hadn’t even thought about these issues before my pregnancy; they weren’t on the agenda, but clearly they should have been.
Soon after my return from parental leave, I moved to Macquarie and into an environment where conversations about work-life balance were more common. I also found myself surrounded by female senior role models; Macquarie proved to be a better match for the life I wanted to lead as an academic. When my second child was born, although still sleep-deprived and juggling, I felt supported and understood by my colleagues, the department, and the university. In exchange, I felt in the best possible position to make the most of my opportunities and contribute to Macquarie.
Fostering an inclusive and supportive culture for all is morally right, but it’s also best organisational practice. Universities can, and should be, social leaders in gender equity. Ensuring women are equal participants, not just in undergraduate courses, but in higher degree research, postdoctoral positions and across all academic levels and the Executive, will help us meet Macquarie’s vision for excellence in learning, discovery and engagement.
If I could give advice to my younger self, I would tell her to speak up sooner – for herself and for others – when systems avoid having these important conversations. Don’t assume that your struggles or worries are yours alone; others are in the same boat, and sharing experiences and strategies can make a huge difference.
Finally, look for champions – both women and men – to inspire and mentor you.”
Join us in celebrating the outstanding achievements and contribution of women at Macquarie by attending the Macquarie Women morning tea, at which Amanda will be a guest speaker. Professor S Bruce Dowton will also be launching the University’s draft Gender Equity Strategy before it is released for a University-wide consultation.