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Melbourne Business School News How we're improving gender equity among business academics

How we're improving gender equity among business academics

Melbourne Business School and the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Business and Economics are launching a new strategy to improve gender balance and equity.

Melbourne Business School Dean, Internal Caron Beaton-Wells and Faculty of Business and Economics Deputy Dean (Faculty) Paul Jensen

Under the strategy, the two institutions will recruit, develop, support and promote more women to senior academic and leadership positions.

"Society is crying out for leadership on gender equality, from our political, business and community leaders," says Caron Beaton-Wells, Dean, Internal, at Melbourne Business School.

"Gender equity is essential to our integrity and credibility as a School that prides itself on educating the leaders of the future."

While the position of women in academia has improved in recent decades, Faculty of Business and Economics Deputy Dean (Faculty) Paul Jensen says much more needs to be done.

"Having been an academic at the University for almost 20 years, I have seen huge changes in terms of the support for women in the workplace. There’s a long way to go, but this fact serves as inspiration for continuing to drive this agenda in the future."

Women academics face persistent obstacles to advancing their academic and leadership careers, relative to their male counterparts, Professor Beaton-Wells says.

"Dismantling these barriers requires us to be vigilant and systematic at every stage of the academic career lifecycle, whether it be in relation to the unconscious bias that may affect recruitment processes, in the approach taken to promotion assessments or in the way in which we structure workloads and responsibilities for leadership positions."

Women currently occupy about a third of academic positions and a smaller proportion of academic leadership roles at the two organisations, but Professor Jensen says the joint Enhanced Gender Balance and Equity Amongst Academics strategy will do more than rebalance the books.

"We obviously want to see more women in leadership roles, but I think the types of change we want to see run much deeper than that. We really want to see a change in our culture and processes such that all women are appropriately supported and nurtured to achieve their professional goals."

Securing a change in culture is the measure of a success for any organisation, says gender expert Isabel Metz, who is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Melbourne Business School.

"Change is not easy, and it has to be embedded in the culture. It's not something achieved at a point in time – it's ongoing. A healthy culture respects women, just as it respects men. It lets them speak up at meetings, as it lets men, and it shows in the everyday behaviour of an organisation."

Professor Metz says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pressure on women working, including women academics.

"It's not just about greater responsibility for caring for children but the management of the household in general and caring for parents and extended family members. When working from home, that position becomes more pronounced because you can't get away from the homeplace."

Professor Jensen says that ensuring academia remains a viable career choice for women is one of the challenges the strategy is designed to address.

"There are so many opportunities for women with PhDs that academia simply isn't a very attractive opportunity. We need to rethink how we become a more attractive place for women to work – which requires us to think deeply about gender pay gaps, work-life balance issues, direct and indirect support for women during child-rearing, and a whole host of other factors."

The first step in implementing the strategy is to create action plans around its main elements, which include creating a workplace where women are welcomed, valued, rewarded, respected and supported.

"We need to take the vision and turn it into a series of action items that will serve as the blueprint for gender equity," Professor Jensen says.

"That will require us to be bold and innovative, and to look around the world for inspiring examples of institutions that have made great strides in this domain."

Professor Beaton-Wells says her measure of success for the new plan will be when there is no longer a need for it.

"We will know there has been tangible, meaningful progress when there is no longer a need to have a strategy to address the issue. The most positive sign is the openness to having the dialogue and accepting that change needs to happen."

For media enquiries relating to the strategy, please contact Andrew Ramadge on a.ramadge@mbs.edu.

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