International Women's Day Breakfast

Speech by Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell, March 2020

Colleagues: thanks for joining us to celebrate International Women’s Day, albeit one day late. There were other important events around the world to recognise the day yesterday. On that point, congratulations to the Australian women’s T20 cricket team on winning the World Cup in front of a huge crowd at the MCG last night. I had the privilege of being there, and it was a great game.

May I start this morning by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to Indigenous elders, past, present and emerging.

I welcome all women who are here this morning. I also warmly welcome, and thank, everyone who is working towards building a stronger culture of diversity and inclusion at the University of Melbourne for all our people, no matter what their gender.

I especially welcome our guest speakers, amongst whom is Professor Nicole Bell who was last week awarded the Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science. Congratulations Nicole!

I also acknowledge the many efforts across our community to support International Women’s Day through this week. For example on our digital channels, including Pursuit, you can find many stories featuring research by or about women. There is a lot of interesting work to learn about so I encourage you to engage with our digital channels this week.

I am also delighted today to be able to recognise and applaud the great work that has gone into the University of Melbourne receiving recently its first Athena SWAN Bronze Award.

I want to pay tribute to all those who have worked consistently and with great purpose across our institution for several years now, to help secure this important accreditation.  I especially acknowledge the leadership here of Marilys Guillemin.

The Athena SWAN charter is important because it is one of the major recognised metrics the sector uses to assess a university’s performance in promoting gender equality in the academic profession, especially in the sciences.

It also provides a recognised measure ofinstitutional commitment to change, on the gender pay gap and career progression for women.

We need these objective measures. They help to provide hard evidence of what many of us think we know, and they keep our noses to the grindstone to make sure that we improve our performance in these crucial areas.

The Athena SWAN Award system gives institutions real goals to aim for, which are rigorously assessed. So winning Bronze Award accreditation is a significant achievement for our community here at Melbourne. Well done to all who have supported the application. This is the start of a long road, and I sincerely hope that we will achieve Silver then Gold Award standard in the near future.

I also want to say today that while these metrics, and gathering data, are crucial to making change, there are other aspects that we need to focus on that are also very important.

The simple fact is that we need to change our culture. I am here today to listen and to learn, from women and from around our community broadly, about the challenges that we face.

Culture change is our most crucial task.

In recent times we have done a decent job of holding up a mirror to ourselves as a community. We have scrutinised where we are doing well and where badly on women’s leadership and gender equity and on diversity and inclusion.

Now the real work begins – embedding change, building a culture that supports women, and of course others who face unfair hurdles, to overcome those obstacles, to believe in themselves and in their ability to lead and to shine at the top of their profession.

We need to cultivate that culture in all our faculties and divisions, amongst our students as well as amongst our staff, and this means it is the responsibility of everyone here to ask what can I do in my local area to make change real, and step up to the task.

I’ve started today with this big picture message because it is fundamental in considering what we want this University to be, and how we are to be regarded amongst our peers.

One group of people I am very keen to hear about and from today is the 26 female University of Melbourne academics who have been promoted to Level C. Congratulations to each of you.

We focus on women at Level C in our system in particular today because all the data shows this is the major point in the academic career life-cycle where the career trajectories of men and women start to diverge. Through the years of being undergraduate students, doctoral candidates, to post-doc researchers and early career academics with salaried positions, women hold their own and better with men.

It’s at Level C and above that gender equity starts to fail. We don’t know exactly the reasons why, but we know it’s a pattern across many institutions, and it is certainly the pattern at Melbourne. This is illustrated by the fact that at Level E, only around 30 per cent of appointees are women.

We have known about this problem for years. And many really positive steps have been taken to address it. In the faculties of Science and Engineering, for example, there have been great initiatives in the past four years to improve recruitment and promotion of women at senior levels.

There are also University-wide steps to inform and encourage women about seeking success and promotion. If we keep up our efforts on many fronts, we will no doubt start to see more positive equity signs at Levels D and E as well.

But the fundamental challenge, as I said earlier, is that we have to change our culture, while also changing our processes. We have to reach the point where encouragement to women to see their career futures as lying in leadership positions comes from multiple directions – not just the official commitments of the University.

We need to create an environment where women are supported in their aspirations for leadership. We need a situation where women feel confident to apply for promotion, even if they don’t feel they tick every single box on the selection criteria.  This is something that does not deter many men from applying for and getting jobs at these levels.

This brings me to the broader work on diversity and inclusion at this university.

If we think about changing the culture, we also need to think more broadly than only promotion of women into leadership. We need to look at all the obstacles preventing people from being their best while working and studying here.

We need to think about the whole culture around diversity and inclusion. We are gathering momentum now on this front through the work of the diversity and inclusion steering committee led by Julie Willis, supported by many talented people including Project Lead Christine Dew who was appointed last year.

We also took the important step last year of surveying staff about their experiences of diversity and inclusion. One insight the survey taught me was that people in higher up positions generally think things are much better than do people further down the ranks.

And the more you identify with a minority experience, the less inclusive you find this place actually is, to work in and to be in.

We have hard work to do here as a community, and again I acknowledge the leadership shown by many people here to change the culture for the better.

But change of this order needs buy-in from all the leaders, professional and academic, and from all faculties and divisions and from people on all campuses across the university.

So, on this (morning after) International Women’s Day let’s celebrate the women here who have reached this great milestone on their academic paths, and wish them much further success with their careers.

Let’s also celebrate the great work that’s being done across the community to close the gender gap at senior leadership levels, particularly in academia.

And let’s commit to doing everything we need to do, and then some more, to ensure this community walks the talk on diversity and inclusion.

Let’s make Melbourne known internationally as a place where everyone who comes here receives respect.

Let’s make it a place where you are encouraged to succeed, whatever your background, faith, sex or gender, age, nationality, or any other point of difference might be.

Let’s make it a place where everyone gets the same opportunity for success.

Thank you all for being here this morning to mark International Women’s Day.