Women in a lecture theatre

Our commitment to gender equity during COVID-19

10 June 2020
Vice-Chancellor first to sign joint sector position statement
Understanding the COVID-19 crisis poses specific challenges for gender equity in higher education, the University has committed to action so we can continue to build on our significant progress to date.

‘Preserving Gender Equity as a Higher Education Priority During and After COVID-19’ is a joint sector position statement prepared by a new advisory group of equity representatives from a range of Australian universities.

The statement acknowledges the deep social and economic effects many women are currently facing and the potential for decades of progress towards gender equity in higher education to be impacted.

For example, in many universities women are facing greater employment instability and higher teaching and student-facing workloads that can then reduce time available for research with likely long-term impacts on promotion and networking opportunities and representation in leadership. A pay gap remains in the sector, and women are also over-represented in casual employment – compounded by evidence that women are doing the majority of unpaid care work, and that women from particular minority groups are experiencing additional vulnerability at this time, including being at increased risk from domestic and family violence.

All universities, key higher education partners and medical research institutions are invited to sign the statement, to acknowledge the effects of the pandemic on gender equity in the sector and to commit to five actions to mitigate the impact.

These actions include the equal representation of women in COVID-19 response planning and decision-making; monitoring and reporting on gender equity impacts of COVID-19-related decision making; continued participation in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Athena SWAN initiative where relevant; maintaining gender equity and diversity programs and key performance indicators; and preserving gender equity progress made to date.

Eight universities including the University of Sydney have already signed the statement – along with key sector partners including Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), the Academy of Science, Male Champions of Change Australia founder Elizabeth Broderick and Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia.

Our equity and diversity goals

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence AO, the first to sign, said the University remained committed to its equity and diversity goals.

“Our work towards gender equity at Sydney is well established, and we will continue our strong support for our initiatives already underway,” said Dr Spence.

We have achieved much. We have equal numbers of women and men among our senior executives, and almost half of our governing body – the Senate – are women. We’ve also significantly increased the number of female professors working with us. We do not want to lose momentum.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence

“Of course there are many competing priorities at a time like this, but we’re sincere in our ongoing ambitions and our efforts to achieve gender equity and will continue to strive for equitable representation of women at all levels and in all roles across our institution.”

Our gender equity programs

Sarah Abbott, the University’s Senior Manager of Diversity, Leadership and Inclusion, said this endorsement from senior leadership would help the institution to prioritise the next stage of the work.

“Despite current required savings measures, our gender equity programs will continue to be funded to further support and drive gender equity within the University.

“This is the work we will continue to pursue and prosecute, and adapt for our new circumstances – including our participation in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative and our Women’s Career Acceleration and Leadership Strategy.

“We’ll be transparent with our community and measure our progress, and report on it regularly.

“As an institution, we’re also very aware the pandemic has also resulted in increased vulnerability for other particular groups of people.

“We have carefully considered how our decisions might affect our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and have provided targeted support while working remotely – in particular for parents and carers, people with disability and staff who might be at risk of domestic and family violence.”

Research vital to understanding gender impacts of COVID-19

Universities also served a vital role in researching the gendered impacts of COVID-19 in broader society, said Renae Ryan, the University’s Academic Director of SAGE and a Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology with our Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“We know our own researchers are impacted by the crisis – for example in terms of challenges applying for promotions and grants and writing journal submissions, while juggling their teaching commitments with additional demands at home. These impacts will be long-lasting and we need to address this.

“With our experiences and our expertise, we’re also uniquely placed to provide insights and data to develop an evidence base that can guide governments and policy makers as they respond to the crisis and throughout the recovery.”

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