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The Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative

Rigorous research insights to address gender equality at work and in careers

We bring together world-leading research capability with practical, evidence-based insights to examine gender disparities that shape women’s working lives, and to align work and care regimes in a way that works for people and organisations.

About the initiative

The Gender Equality in Working Life (GEWL) Research Initiative at the University of Sydney is a multidisciplinary research initiative leveraging several decades of research expertise on women’s working lives to establish an action-oriented, practical approach to building a gender equal future of work.

The GEWL Research Initiative offers unique, research-informed insights, developed using new workplace data, to produce targeted and effective gender equality interventions.

We provide nuanced, rigorous and ‘next-generation’ research, that explores solutions that are:

  • Fit-for-purpose. Providing an understanding of the different impact on diverse groups, different jobs and with tailored insights and solutions, rather than one-size-fits-all.
  • Mutually beneficial. Providing an understanding of shared valued outcomes for employees, business, and society.
  • Quantified. Measuring the short- and long-term outcomes, costs and impacts with relevant analytics.
  • Innovative. Drawing on evidence from new sectors, pandemic practices & international experience to develop different approaches.

Our vision

To aid gender equality in working life by:

  • Undertaking rigorous engaged research on gender equality at work and in careers across sectors and industries.
  • Partnering with business, government and civil society to co-design evidence-based solutions to pressing problems.
  • Identifying drivers and obstacles to gender equality at key transition points in working life.

Our research

Progress towards gender equality in Australia is slow and significant gaps remain as women cannot participate in the labour market on an even footing with men. The pandemic increased pre-existing inequalities and widened gender gaps in earnings, savings, and participation in the workforce. Across the globe, businesses and governments are now encouraged to 'build back better' and address gender inequality for a fairer and more resilient post-COVID economy.

Australian women are ready. They are the best educated in the OECD, better educated than at any point in history, and better credentialed than Australian men. They are also strongly attached to employment and expect long, rewarding careers. Our research shows that young women's and men's career expectations are more aligned than ever.

However, many inequalities remain stubbornly entrenched in the world of work. Gender gaps in pay and superannuation, unequal career opportunities and progression, occupational and industry segregation, the undervaluation of feminised work, the epidemic of disrespect in the workplace, and the misalignment of work and care regimes are all enduring challenges that women face in their careers.

Removing the barriers and disincentives to women's full workforce participation could add up to  $25 billion per annum to the Australian economy. It will boost productivity, drive inclusive workplaces and reduce social inequalities. Action to address the pervasive drivers of workplace gender inequality is urgently required to build back better and fairer from the COVID pandemic.

Research themes

This initiative brings together world-leading research capability with practical, evidence-based analysis to design gender equality into the post-pandemic future of work. Core research questions include:

  1. How can we employ a gender lens in economy, policy and workplaces to improve outcomes?
  2. How can we reduce gender disparities and labour market segregation to build equal and sustainable careers for women?
  3. How can we build high quality flexible or hybrid work models that are mutually beneficial for workers and employers?
  4. How can we build a culture of respect for women at work?
  5. How can we ensure that women have a better share of the most lucrative jobs in our organisations and labour market?
  6. How can work and care regimes be better aligned to support women, men and workplaces?
  7. How can we value and better reward and build the quality of women’s work across the economy?

Our team

Professor Rae Cooper AO, Director

Rae Cooper AO is Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney Business School. Rae is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, an editor of the Journal of Industrial Relations, President Elect of the International Labor and Employment Relations Association (ILERA), and has published over 60 articles and chapters on aspects of women’s working lives.

Professor Cooper was made an officer of the Order of Australia in 2019 recognition of her contributions to Australian higher education and workplace policy and practice.

Visit Rae's academic profile.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill, Deputy Director

Elizabeth Hill is Associate Professor in political economy at The University of Sydney and co-convenor of the Australian Work and Family Policy Roundtable. She is a leading researcher on the future of women, work and care in Australia and the Asia region, and has collaborated on research into gender equality, work and care with leading national and international institutions, including the International Labour Organisation and UN Women.

Visit Elizabeth's academic profile.

Charlie Hock

Charlie Hock is a Research Officer for the GEWL Research Initiative. She joined the team after working at UNSW and UTS in both project management and research capacities. She has completed a B.A. in Gender Studies, a Graduate Certificate in Forensic Psychology and is currently completing a Master of Human Rights.

Visit Charlie's staff profile.

Meraiah Foley

Meraiah Foley is a researcher specialising in gender inequality at work, with specific focus on women's experiences working in male-dominated occupations, the gendered dimensions of workplace technological change, and how the concepts of merit and meritocracy shape inequality at work. Meraiah has published extensively in highly ranked journals, including Human Relations, Gender, Work & Organization, and the Journal of Industrial Relations.

Visit Meraiah's academic profile.

Frances Flanagan

Dr Frances Flanagan is a Sydney Fellow and Lecturer in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney. With an interdisciplinary background in history and law, her research considers the intersection of labour, environmental change, gender and technology.

Visit Frances' academic profile.

Briony Lipton

Dr. Briony Lipton is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney Business School. Her research examines the relationship between organisational structures, practices, policies, and workplace cultures and how they shape women’s experiences in the workplace, their employment and career progression.

Visit Briony's academic profile.

Suneha Seetahul

Dr. Suneha Seetahul studies labour and gender economics. Her current research focuses on the future of work and labour market outcomes of migrants in Australia. She also specialises in development economics, especially gender and socio-religious inequalities in the Indian labour market and the relationship between health, nutrition and inequalities in emerging countries.

Sydney Colussi

Sydney is a Research Associate in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School and is a convenor of The Body@Work Project. Her research focuses on the relationship between gender equality, paid work and reproductive health across the life cycle.

Laura Good

Laura Good is a PhD candidate in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School. Her PhD research explores the gendered dimensions of skill within the retail industry. It seeks to understand how new technologies are re-shaping the skills profile of the industry and the implications of this for both workers and employers.

Susan Ellicott

Susan Ellicott has recently completed a MPhil thesis under the supervision of Professor Rae Cooper and Associate Professor Chris F Wright on the development of Australian Government workplace domestic violence policy, 2008 to 2018. Its focus on the high cost of domestic violence to workplaces and findings of how to ameliorate such costs contribute to an understanding of the interrelationship needed between policy orientation, mechanism and actor to advance workplace gender equality.

McCaye Nixon

McCaye is a PhD Candidate in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School. Under the supervision of Professor Rae Cooper and Dr Meraiah Foley, her doctoral thesis offers a gendered analysis of how power is understood and accumulated in the legal profession.

Alison Goodwin

Alison is working towards a Master of Arts (Research) with a thesis on workplace domestic violence provisions, particularly paid domestic violence leave. Her research focuses on the implementation of these provisions in workplaces and understanding how they operate in practice.

Visit Alison's academic profile.

Talara Lee

Talara Lee is a PhD candidate with an interest in gender, workplace relations and the future of work. Talara is undertaking a PhD on gender inequality in the legal profession, with a particular focus on the role of the client in shaping legal careers, which employs a mixed-method approach to data collection on designing gender equality into the future of work in the law.

Sally Sitou

Sally's research examines ways to achieve more gender and cultural diversity in elite professions that are male dominated. Her current research investigates professions such as investment banking which remain largely dominated by men and how to works towards more gender and cultural diversity in these industries.

Ruby Alexander

Ruby Alexander is a post-graduate student completing a Master in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

Her current research project is titled: 'To Manage or Resist: Women's Strategies for Balancing Work and Care in Late Capitalism'.

Ethan Gannon

Ethan's research investigates how "empty-nester" mothers experience gendered responsibilities for unpaid caring labour at different points in their lives, from family formation into mature age.

 
Agatha Court

Agatha Court is an Honours student in the University of Sydney Business School, interested in the working conditions of women in low-paid industries. She is researching the perspectives of union officials on collective bargaining under the Fair Work Act in the care sector.

Grants

  • ARC Discovery Project, 2022-2024. Chief Investigators: Elizabeth Hill, Rae Cooper, Ariadne Vromen, Meraiah Foley. Title: “Understanding gender inequality in the post-pandemic future of work”.

This project examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis on the working futures of young women and men in three advanced market economies where the pandemic hit with varying degrees of severity. Young people have experienced the greatest upheaval of all workers, and the impact has been gendered. Recovery strategies will have lasting consequences for women’s and men’s working futures. The project will produce macro-level mapping of post-pandemic national work/care regimes, and micro-level survey data on young people’s experience of and attitudes to the future of work in Australia, the UK and Japan, to deliver insights on the gendered economic and social impact of the pandemic and inform a more inclusive global recovery. (Project ID: DP220100657)

  • ARC Future Fellowship, 2022-2026. Chief Investigator: Rae Cooper. Title: “Smashing Glass Walls: Building gender equality in male-dominated jobs”.

This project investigates gender segregation, which is a remarkably resilient problem in the Australian labour market, despite women's increasing labour force participation and strong educational attainment. It examines this problem with a focus on women’s careers in very male-dominated occupations. In these contexts, women enter in low numbers, find it difficult to progress, and face extremely hostile working environments. Adopting a career stage, a worker- and industry-engaged, and a comparative design, the project will generate new insight into where and how sustainable careers for women are challenged in these contexts. This knowledge will inform strategies to build gender equality in jobs at the heart of the economy. (Project ID: FT210100356)

  • ARC Linkage Project, 2020-2023. Chief Investigators: Rae Cooper, Ariadne Vromen, Meraiah Foley. Title: “Designing Gender Equality into the Future of Work”.

This project aims to investigate how women and men understand and experience the changing nature of work and their hopes and fears for the future. This project expects to generate new knowledge about the gendered dimensions of workplace change using an innovative and engaged research design that focuses on retail and the law, two areas where women are increasingly dominant but which are located at distinct ends of the labour market. Expected outcomes of this project include an enhanced and coordinated capacity to build gender equality into the future of work. This should provide significant benefits such as better living standards for individuals and families and improved profitability and productivity for businesses. (Project ID: LP190100966)

This project will investigate how employees and managers in the Australian retail sector understand, experience and manage sexual harassment at work. This research will inform targeted actions to address and prevent sexual harassment in retail workplaces through collaboration with key sector stakeholders.

Our keynotes and presentations

  • Committee on the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), 29 June 2022. A/Prof Hill contributing panellist "Shaping our workforce of the future: policy, practice and problem-solving - State of the Nation"
  • Health Services Union (HSU) Women’s Conference, 14 June 2022. Presentation by A/Prof Hill "Great Bloody Hurdle"
  • Gender and Cultural Studies Seminar, 10 June 2022. Presentation by Prof Cooper & A/Prof Hill "Gender equality, the future of work, careers, care OCVID-19 and the whole dam lot"
  • The Future of Work: Challenges of Regulation for the Albanese Labor Government, 2 June 2022. Webinar by A/Prof Hill: "A gender equal future of work: challenges of regulation" 
  • Champions of Change Coalition, Health leaders group, 31 March 2022. Keynote by Prof Cooper: “Gender equity at work now: Applying a gender lens to the post-pandemic future of work”
  • NSW Treasury, Women’s Economic Opportunities Review, 30 March 2022. Panel presentation by Prof Cooper and A/Prof Hill: “What women want at work: research findings and recommendations”
  • Industry Super Australia, 22 March 2022. Presentation by A/Prof Hill: “How making childcare cheaper can help close the gender super gap”
  • UGL International Women’s Day event, 8 March 2022. Keynote by Prof Cooper: “What do women want from work now?”
  • Industry Super Australia, 8 March 2022. Presentation by Prof Cooper: “Gender equality at work post covid”
  • Gender and Sexuality at Work Conference, University of Melbourne, 15 February 2022. Keynote by Prof Cooper: “Building Back Fairer? Applying a gender lens to the post-pandemic future of work”
  • Committee for Sydney, Sydney Summit, 7 February 2022. Keynote by Prof Cooper: “From weary and whiplashed to participating and productive”
  • Chief Executive Women Circle, 31 January 2022. Keynote by Prof Cooper and A/Prof Hill: “Building a gender equitable economic recovery: The research evidence”
  • ACTU Superannuation Trustees forum, 9 November 2021. Presentation by Prof Cooper: “Gender Lens Investing: What is it, why do we care?”
  • OECD Forum Network, 22 October 2021. Presentation by A/Prof Hill and Prof Cooper: Deep dive on the gendered pandemic and a gender equitable recovery”
  • Women in Super National Roadshow, 13 October 2021. Keynote by Prof Cooper and A/Prof Hill: “Women, Work & Economic Security: COVID-19 & the Plan for a Gender Equal Recovery”
  • Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), 7 October 2021. Presentation by A/Prof Hill: “GROWING MINDS, GROWING ECONOMY: CHILDCARE AND THE WORKFORCE” https://events.ceda.com.au/Events/Library/Past-Events1/LS211008
  • The Social Policy Institute at the Crawford School of the ANU, 23 July 2021. Keynote by A/Prof Hill: “COVID-19, Gender and Work: Policy, Risk and Opportunities for a gender responsive recovery”
  • ILERA World Congress, 24 June 2021. Keynote address by Prof Cooper: “Gender Equality at Work: Where are we now, where to next? (after COVID-19)”

Partnership opportunities

Collaborating with the University and the Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative offers a network of outstanding academics, students, and alumni, to generate new knowledge and deliver evidence-driven, multidimensional solutions for the future of work.

Donation enquiries

To find out how you can support our research, please contact Nalan Ozacardi, Associate Director of Development, at nalan.ozacardi@sydney.edu.au.

Media enquires

For all media enquiries, please contact Sally Quinn, Media and PR Adviser, at sally.quinn@sydney.edu.au.

Resources

COVID-19 research

Research-informed principles for a gender equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19, gender and work

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Building gender equitable workplaces

Facilitating men’s involvement in care work

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Building access to high quality, flexible work

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Recent research reports

COVID Casual: Refashioning professional attire in the age of remote working

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