Most common issues when allocating workload

Most common issues when allocating workload - header image

According to the Athena SWAN Bronze Award applications from the SAGE pilot, the top 3 issues with staff workload allocation are:

  1. Service work is not evenly distributed;
  2. Workload components are distinctly gendered;
  3. Women are more likely to be overloaded with committee work.

Download the infographic below to learn more about these issues and other common themes.

Data Corner #1: Comparing gender representation in universities between 2014 and 2018

Has women’s representation in higher education improved over the course of the SAGE pilot? It’s still early days, but data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) show promising signs of progress.

Scissor graph of male and female representation for university students and academic staff.
Figure 1. Changes in gender distribution of Australian university staff and students between 2014 and 2018 across all Fields of Education (for students) and Academic Organisational Units (for staff). Source data: Higher Education Statistics, Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE).


From the scissor graph (Figure 1), we can see that the gender ratios of students and Level A academic staff didn’t change much between 2014 and 2018. At Level B and above, however, there were visible increases in women’s representation. The greatest increase was observed amongst academic staff above Level C. There is, however, still a long way to go to achieve equitable representation at senior levels.

We calculated the 5-year change to the gender gap at each level using this formula:

Equation for gap change

If the gap change has a positive value, it means the gender gap is widening. Conversely, a gap change with a negative value signifies that the gender gap is closing. The heat map in Figure 2 illustrates the changes in the size of the gender gap at each level between 2014 and 2018. Do note that the gap change value does not, by itself, indicate whether the gap favours men or women.

Heat map showing gender gap changes for university students and academic staff by level.
Figure 2. Gender gap changes across academic levels. Source data: Higher Education Statistics, Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE).


When all disciplines are considered, women make up the majority of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and Level A and B academics. This trend is reversed at Level C and above. However, if we consider gender balance to be 40% women, 40% men, 20% people of any gender, the gender distribution at Level C still falls within the acceptable range; gender inequity is only apparent above Level C (i.e. at Levels D and E). Applying a 40:40:20 approach is inclusive of those identifying outside of the gender binary, which is a key principle of the Athena SWAN Charter. Compared to a 50:50 approach, it also better accommodates minor fluctuations and is more realistic when working with small numbers.

These changes in gender representation suggest good news for the sector, but there are limits to what this data can tell us. Academic staff numbers at Level D and above are only provided as an aggregate in this data set, so it’s unclear what the gender distribution looks like at each individual level. While we suspect that the number of women decreases as level increases, disaggregated data is essential to verify this and herein lies an important attribute of the Athena SWAN approach.

Furthermore, the DESE data appears to exclude research-only staff.[1] We know from SAGE Athena SWAN Bronze Award applications that women are generally underrepresented amongst research-only staff and overrepresented in teaching-only staff. This will likely mean that women’s representation is inflated in this data set. And, of course, this data set only captures binary gender data.[2] We suspect that disaggregation by all genders would not change the overall picture substantially, but nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge the limitation.

Are some disciplines making more progress towards gender equity than others? In the next Data Corner, we’ll take a closer look at how the gender gap has changed in the Engineering disciplines.

[1] DESE Staff Time Series | Definitions and Notes: Data Notes

[2] The data notes for the student data state that “Students who have requested their gender to be recorded as neither male nor female are counted as female.” We could find no indication that this is different for the staff data.

LitBits #1: Women-only leadership development programs

Welcome to LitBits! When devising ways to improve gender equity, diversity and inclusion, we’re always asking ourselves: will this action work? And if you’re an old hand at SAGE Athena SWAN: how will I prove that it does? Chances are, someone has already asked the same question. It’s worth checking the academic literature for best practices to try (and which ones to avoid). But with so many studies out there, there simply isn’t enough time to read them all. We’re going to help by breaking down some of the latest research into bite-sized LitBits.

In our very first LitBit, we’ll take a look at Women-only Leadership Development Programs (WLDPs). These programs were mentioned in our webinar[1] as a way to increase the number of women getting promoted. WLDPs are often regarded with cynicism for appearing to “fix” women instead of the system. WLDPs might also prompt backlash from men who feel excluded from these opportunities.

A safe space for affirmation and shaping self-perceptions

Research suggests that properly designed WLDPs offer a host of individual-level benefits for women.[2] In mixed-gender situations, both men and women tend to downplay the existence of gender differences in career progression.[3] Women-only sessions provide a safe space for women to ask questions and exchange stories that they would not normally share at events where men are also present. In doing so, they validate each other’s experiences of being restricted by gender stereotypes rather than their abilities. This creates a conducive environment for women to identify their own authentic leadership styles without feeling pressured to conform to masculine notions of leadership. Being able to view oneself as a leader instills a greater sense of agency, confidence and self-awareness, and lays the groundwork for further skill development.

Designing a WLDP that works

Let’s look at an example of a well-received WLDP at an Australian university.[4]  This program builds on the belief that women are already leaders in some aspects of their work, irrespective of their formal job titles. Its objective, therefore, is to highlight women’s contributions and map them to the institution’s priorities.

This is accomplished through sessions where guest speakers (often senior leaders, promotion panellists or former participants) share insights on career advancement and leadership. Participants also receive leadership feedback from their peers as well as senior academic staff, have their academic portfolios assessed, and construct personal network maps in which they identify sources of support, information and repute-building. The sessions are spread out over 12 months, a design feature which most participants rated positively, though some noted that the course placed additional burdens on their time that male colleagues did not have.

Although participants considered the program very useful on a personal level, they did not believe that it resulted in significant structural changes. WLDPs can be a valuable part of an organisation’s gender equity initiatives, but should not be treated as a silver bullet.  

WLDPs may increase women’s promotion rates over time

The only way to be sure of “what works” is to measure impact. Certainly it is worth evaluating the course itself, for example by recording participation rates and surveying participants’ satisfaction with the course material. However, good attendance and positive feedback are merely pre-requisites to achieving the desired outcomes. By virtue of the name, we can assume that the goal of WLDPs is to increase the number of women in leadership positions. One way to measure this is by monitoring promotion rates into leadership roles over time.

A review of three WLDPs in the US found that academic women who attended a WLDP were more likely to be promoted to Associate Professor or Full Professor within the following 10 years than non-participant women.[5] Compared to their male counterparts, participants were also more likely to be promoted to Associate Professor and as likely to be promoted to Full Professor in that time. These results suggest that WLDPs can help increase women’s representation in senior faculty.

The review also identified challenges in measuring the impact(s) of WLDPs. First, there can be a lag time of several years between WLDP attendance and promotion. This highlights the need for continuous, long-term monitoring. Secondly, it’s difficult to demonstrate causality (although this is true of many gender equity initiatives), especially in WLDPs where participants are selected in a competitive process. At SAGE, we recommend conducting focus groups (or similar) with recently promoted women to find out what they feel helped or hindered their success. Even if we’re unable to isolate the effect of WLDPs on promotion success rates, we can at least rule out scenarios like a) the WLDP was actually counterproductive, or b) their promotion is largely attributed to other initiatives or an ability to work unreasonably long hours, as is the norm in academia. Those who wish to implement such programs should also examine the demographic differences between participants and non-participants in case there are intersectional barriers to participation.[4]

[1] SAGE webinar: Making use of gender equity data

[2] Debebe et al. (2016) Women’s leadership development programs: lessons learned and new frontiers, Journal of Management Education, 40, 3, 231-252.

[3] Tanton (1992) Developing authenticity in management development programmes, Women in Management Review, 7, 20-27.

[4] Parker et al. (2018) Frank and fearless: supporting academic career progression for women in an Australian program, Adm. Sci, 8, 5.

[5] Chang et al. (2020) Increasing promotion of women faculty in academic medicine: impact of national career development programs, Journal of Women’s Health, 29, 6, 837-846.

Prof. Tom Welton Speaking Tour 2017: Going for Gold – Just the Beginning

In January 2017 SAGE is pleased to sponsor the visit of Professor Tom Welton from Imperial College, London. Professor Welton will be presenting at SAGE member institutions throughout Australia on his experience with Athena SWAN in the UK.

The Imperial College, Department of Chemistry was awarded a Gold Athena SWAN award for good practice in supporting academic women in September 2013.  Chemistry was the first Department at Imperial to receive a Gold award and was one of the first four university departments across the UK to win an Athena SWAN Gold Award.

Tom Welton will discuss the work done in the Chemistry Department at Imperial College on valuing diversity and enabling all of the department’s members to reach their full potential, regardless of who they are. He will ask the audience to be actively involved in the discussion, to bring their own experiences and ideas and to steer the conversation into the areas that are most important to them.

Friday 13 January Melbourne
Monday 16 January Perth
Tuesday 17 January Adelaide
Wednesday 18 January Sydney
Thursday 19 January Brisbane
Friday 20 January Canberra

SAGE welcomes new team member Telitha Schroedl

telitha2Joining SAGE as the engagement and secretariat officer, Telitha Schroedl brings her expertise in stakeholder engagement and executive support. Telitha has a BA from the Australia National University and was the recipient of the Anthony Forge academic prize for Anthropology in 2010. Her knowledge of anthropology, psychology and gender studies gives Telitha a unique perspective on social issues. With a passion for gender equality and diversity, Telitha is excited to contribute to improving gender equity in science on a national scale.

Prior to her commencement with SAGE, Telitha was an executive officer at NICTA (Australia’s largest research centre dedicated to ICT) as well as the coordinator of NICTA’s ehealth living laboratory. Telitha has also worked for organisations such as the Australian National University and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

SAGE going forward

sage-115As we move into our second year of the Pilot with a newly appointed Expert Advisory Group and senior leadership team, our priorities and commitment to the 40 charter member institutes will be centred on the following four dimensions of support:

A. Enabling members to fulfil their commitment to the ten Charter principles by facilitating access to the UK Equality Challenge Unit’s resources and by developing guidelines, processes and best practices in consultation with the member institutions.

B. Encourage charter members to build institutional capabilities.  SAGE is developing engagement activities including national site visits and workshops led by leaders from the Australian sector with experience in Athena Swan; opportunities to workshop data analysis, issues identification and action planning; potential international visits from UK academics and researchers to share experience in Athena Swan; exploring networking opportunities with UK institutes experienced with Athena Swan; and other activities to be identified in consultation with the pilot charter members.

C. Shaping the future accreditation framework and model. We will do this by setting transparent and consultative processes and practices.  In addition to working closely with the SAGE Expert Advisory Group, we will seek input and feedback from our charter members. Establishment of the Panel of Assessors and resources is one such priority to be progressed over the coming months.

D. Evaluate our approach, practice and implementation of the pilot. We will commission an independent evaluation so as to ensure that we continue to deliver effective and efficient service to all SAGE members, funders, partners and stakeholders over the course of SAGE implementation and into the long term to support members on their journey to transformative change.

What are our next steps?

  • We will continue SAGE institutional visits to charter members throughout October, whilst also participating in the SAGE regional networks.
  • New recruits will join the SAGE team by early November 2016, ensuring enhanced capacity to support members and stakeholders.
  • We are putting together a sub-group of the Expert Advisory Group to advise on data to guide benchmarking, which has Prof. Sharon Bell and Dr. Roslyn Princely as members.  We welcome emailed nominations from all SAGE charter members to contribute to the work on data to guide benchmarking.
  • Planning and preparation for the Panel of Assessors has commenced; draft guidance and process documents will be shared for consultation.
  • The SAGE evaluation framework is currently being scoped with the view to release a request for tender to undertake an independent evaluation of the Pilot.  The draft scope will also be shared with members for consultation prior to going to market.