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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

Established in 2021, the Gender Equality in Working Life 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 Initiative offers unique, research-informed insights, developed using new workplace data, to produce targeted and effective gender equality interventions. This initiative will bring together world-leading research capability with practical, evidence-based analysis working across three key themes:

  • Designing gender equality into the future of work
  • Addressing gender disparities and segregations to build equal, sustainable careers
  • Building alignment in work and care regimes that work for women, men and workplaces

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 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.

Alice Muller

Alice Muller is a Research Officer for the GEWL Research Initiative. She joined the team after working as a management consultant and contracted researcher in London. She received her Masters in Gender, Development and Globalisation from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Visit Alice'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.

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.

Visit Sally's academic profile.

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.

Visit Ethan's academic profile.

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.

Our research

Across the globe, organisations are being encouraged to ‘build back better’ and address gender inequality for a resilient post-COVID economy. There is a significant business case for this approach, with organisations that are more gender equal outperforming their peers across key financial, governance and risk measures (WGEA 2018).

Australian women are amongst the most highly educated and skilled cohort in the OECD and represent an important resource for Australia’s future prosperity. Removing the barriers and disincentives to women’s full workforce participation could add $25 billion per annum to the Australian economy.

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.

Research themes

The gender pay gap remains stubbornly entrenched in Australian workplaces. This is despite more than three decades of legislation to address wage discrimination (Foley and Cooper 2021).

High quality flexible work is undersupplied. Workers, particularly parents of young children, find themselves choosing between a job commensurate with their skill level and one that provides the flexibility they need.

The Australian labour force is gender segregated both horizontally (where men and women dominate in different jobs, industries, and sectors) and vertically (where men take the lions’ share of management and senior leadership and director roles). Male-dominated sectors and jobs are better paid, have higher status, exercise more influence, and have more obvious career paths to leadership than feminised sectors and jobs.

Disrespect and harassment of women at work are pervasive in Australian workplaces. This has significant and long-lasting consequences for employee well-being, productivity, and engagement. Our own research shows that specific cohorts of women workers are more likely to suffer from this pernicious influence warranting sector specific analysis.

Women perform the majority of unpaid work in the home and do most of the care of children, the elderly and ill. Prior to the impact of COVID-19, the International Labour Organisation estimated that women, on average, do almost four times the amount of unpaid care work compared with men. This shapes women’s labour market engagement. Early indications are that during the pandemic, the number of hours of unpaid work by women has increased suggesting a persistent and potentially growing challenge to women’s economic participation and security. Inadequate access to high quality, affordable early childhood education and care, and other care supports remains a challenge throughout working life.

The cumulative effect of these inequalities impact women at every stage of their career and into retirement, threatening women’s economic security, increasing the risk of poverty in old age, limiting opportunities in the most lucrative and strategic jobs, and constraining productivity gains as organisations underutilize their talent pool.

Action to address these pervasive drivers of workplace gender inequality is urgently required to build back better and fairer from the COVID pandemic.

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 Katie Booth, Media and PR Adviser (Business School), at katie.booth@sydney.edu.au.

Media enquiries

Katie Booth

Media & PR Adviser (Business School)

Donation enquiries

Nalan Ozacardi

Associate Director of Development

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Professor Rae Cooper
Professor Rae Cooper AO
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Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill
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