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Gender Inequalities at University Still Apparent

Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

Image courtesy of The University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne recently lodged its mandatory annual report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) revealing structural gender inequalities in the university as a workplace.

The university has a good recent record from public organisations in relation to gender policies. It has received the WGEA award of Employer of Choice for Women in every year of application, based on its vast range of gender equality policies and flexible working arrangements.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recently named it one of only two “outstanding” organisations in regards to its establishment of gender equity policies. The university has also received the Fair and Flexible Employer award from the Victorian Government.

However there are some issues with relation to gender in the university as a workplace. A university analysis of its pay gap has revealed a gender pay gap of 16.9 per cent, which sits only slightly below the national average of 17.1 per cent.
This discrepancy points to another problem for gender equality at the university—the underrepresentation of women in senior academic and professional positions.

According to the report, the wage gap can be attributed to the disproportionate presence of men at the highest academic and professional levels. Women currently hold 26 per cent of the most senior professorial positions (Level E) and 35 per cent of senior academic positions (Level C and above). There is an upward trend in the appointment of women to these roles, with a three per cent increase in the appointment of women to Level E positions in the past year.
The underrepresentation of women in senior positions extends to the university’s peak governing body, the Council. While the Council is chaired by the university’s female chancellor, only three of its 16 members are women.
The state of lower level academic positions is more positive, with women holding the majority of such appointments. In some areas, they receive higher average salaries than their male counterparts. However, other issues are at play.

“You have to look at how that breaks down between contract employees and permanent employees,” says University of Melbourne Student Union Wom*n’s Officer Stephanie Kilpatrick. “A large number of women are only given contracts which afford no real long term job security.”
Questions also arise around disadvantages faced by female academics in part-time positions. At the time of the university’s 2012-2013 submission to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 60.5 per cent of continuing part-time academic positions were held by women.
Dr Olivia Carter, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Melbourne School of Social and Psychological Sciences, says that part-time workers can have difficulty finding time for tasks like writing papers and applying for grants.
“You end up using all of the part-time hours doing the aspects of your job that are considered fundamental to the role,” she explains. “Your achievements can look disproportionately low based on actual fraction of time spent working.”
The disadvantages of part-time work would also affect men in such positions.
Efforts to address such disadvantage are apparent in the university’s “performance relative to opportunity” policy. The university’s recently lodged gender equality report says the policy has “been used to particular effect by female academics, seeking promotion, who have experienced career interruptions”.

However, Dr Carter remains concerned about the subjective nature of judging “performance relative to opportunity”. She says that while she believes parenting responsibilities are definitely taken into consideration during things like promotion review, she has also heard that the extent of this depends a lot on the individuals reviewing the applications.

The university’s Equity and Diversity Framework 2013-2016 outlines its goals for gender equity and a number of strategies which, in addition to already-established policies, aim to continue to address issues such as the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in senior roles. Manager of the University’s Fairness and Diversity Unit Lara Rafferty says that “the university recognises that much more needs to be done to lift the representation of women in senior academic positions.”

The university currently runs two programs focusing on gender equality: the Academic Women in Leadership Program, established in 1997, and the Professional Women in Leadership Program, created earlier this year. Surveys of participants in the Academic Women in Leadership Program from 2007-2013 show its benefits, with 66 per cent of academics reporting that it aided their promotion.

While women remain underrepresented on senior university committees, the university has reached the target set in 2013 of women comprising at least one third of committee members. According to Rafferty, these targets will be reconsidered in the evaluation of the current Diversity Framework and may be increased.