How Sydney is taking the lead in gender diversity

8 March 2019
Gender parity for the first time on 3 University of Sydney boards
More than 230 University of Sydney staff have signed the Panel Pledge, making a public commitment to pushing for gender equality on speaking panels.

Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM has signed the Panel Pledge.

In Australia only 15 percent of panellists are women. Since the University of Sydney launched the Panel Pledge last year, over 200 staff in academic and professional roles have signed the pledge to address the underrepresentation or absence of women at public forums.

The initiative is one of the first at an Australian university and was inspired by the Male Champions of Change movement. It gives staff a checklist of questions to ask before organising or committing to speak on a public panel.

“Whether it be at a public event or international conference, too many panel appearances are offered to men while too few are offered to women,” said Professor Renae Ryan, Academic Director of SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equity).

Professor Renae Ryan was one of the driving forces behind the Panel Pledge.

“We need to make all-male panels, or ‘manels’, a thing of the past. By limiting the range of perspectives to that of only half the population, we’re limiting the quality of the conversation.”

The uptake of the pledge comes at a significant time in the University of Sydney’s history.

For the first time since opening its doors in 1852, the University’s key decision-making bodies (Senate, University Executive and Academic Board) have reached gender parity. 

Women represent fifty-three percent of members of Senate and the University Executive, and 52 percent of Academic Board members are women.   

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence, lead sponsor of the Panel Pledge, said, “We cannot continue to tolerate the silencing of talented women. We have to shift the dial to achieve gender balance, particularly in some disciplines and industries that are historically male-dominated.”

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence is a lead sponsor of the pledge.

Senior Manager of Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Abbott, said the Panel Pledge is a practical tool that academic and professional staff can use to encourage better gender balance.

“The absence of women perpetuates the absence of women. A young woman in the audience is much more likely to speak up or ask a question of a diverse panel than an all-male panel.”

“When a senior academic who is asked to speak on an external panel says, ‘I’m happy to be involved, on the condition that the panel is a gender-diverse one’ that really encourages the organisers to think seriously about diversity.

“Similarly, when a panel organiser builds diversity right up front into their planning, it ensures a better outcome.”

A Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology and signatory of the Panel Pledge, Professor Renae Ryan has enacted the pledge’s commitments, highlighting gender imbalances at recent international conferences.

“Whenever I’m on a public panel, I’ll ensure the first question is directed to a women or early career researcher rather than a man or senior academic.”

Chair of Applied Matematics, Professor Nalini Joshi, said, "Often it's the little things that make the change. Using the Panel Pledge is common sense, part of my leadership role and I've seen that it works."

Professor Nalini Joshi, Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow in mathematics, signed the Panel Pledge.


Professor Jacqui Ramagge, Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, said, “I recently turned down the opportunity to attend two major conferences in order to speak at a small conference designed for young women in one of my research areas, which young men were also welcome to attend.”

The Panel Pledge is a joint initiative of University’s SAGE program, Diversity and Inclusion, and the Culture Strategy.

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