Understanding change and telling the full story – profiling Kirsty Dwyer at the University of Canberra

Chief Executive, People and Diversity at the University of Canberra, Kirsty Dwyer, is extremely proud to work at a university that is recognised as a leader in equity and social justice.

The University’s strategic plan – Distinctive by Design: Our Strategic Plan 2018-2022 – includes five interconnected streams of strategic intent, the first one being about how important people are to its success.

Shaped by the ingenuity of its people

Mrs Dwyer said the university’s success had been and was shaped by the ingenuity of its people.

“We have an ongoing commitment to empower individuals – whoever they are and at whatever level they work at in the university,” she said.

“People are seen as the drivers of the university’s success and we live the values of gender equity, diversity and inclusion.”

The university has a demonstrated Reconciliation Action Plan and has been reaccredited for the White Ribbon initiative, too.

Kirsty Dwyer, University of Canberra

Kirsty Dwyer at the University of Canberra: “We have an ongoing commitment to empower individuals.”


Hard work for the SAGE SAT team

“We are also pleased to be part of the SAGE Pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter here in Australia.

“The SAGE Self-Assessment Team at the University of Canberra has worked hard for over two years towards the Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation,” she said.

Kirsty Dwyer’s role holds responsibility for the university’s people, with the portfolio covering people and workforce strategy and design, safety and well-being, diversity, equity, inclusion and access, talent attraction and retention, engagement and development.

She took over the SAGE Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation work as part of her role in January 2018, with the submission due in March the same year.

Unfortunately, the University of Canberra did not quite achieve Bronze Award accreditation last year, but was recognised with a 2018 SAGE Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Certificate for progress towards accreditation so far.

Huge opportunity for the University

“Not receiving the Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation has actually provided a huge opportunity for the university, the SAGE SAT team here, and myself – a real opportunity to learn, grow and work towards even better initiatives for gender equity and diversity moving forward.

“Everyone in the team here has been fantastically responsive, which has been wonderful to see,” she said.

For the university and the team working on the SAGE pilot there have definitely been some big learnings.

“It’s been a big learning curve for us, but also a huge and welcome opportunity as well.

“We are now on the path to resubmission for Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation.

“This time round, there is a really strong focus about telling the full and very good story about gender equity, diversity and inclusion in STEMM here at the University of Canberra,” she said.

Non-traditional Higher Education employee

Mrs Dwyer has worked at the University of Canberra since February 2014, initially as the Director of Human Resources. Her work experience spans private and public sector organisations across the spectrum of business management including operations, line management, people management, sales and account management, financial performance and customer service delivery.

“I’m really a non-traditional higher education sector employee – having worked in a restaurant chain, government service and the transport and aviation industry,” she said.

She has a Bachelor of Business majoring in Human Resources and Psychology from the University of Southern Queensland, and a Masters of Management – Human Resource Management from Monash University.

“I studied for my Masters while working full-time and being a mum too, so I’m fully aware what women need to do to keep everything going in their career from my own experience,” she said.

Pizza Hut and Centrelink

A role as a fast-tracked manager at Pizza Hut provided a lot of good experience, as did being a Team Leader Manager at Centrelink.

“At Pizza Hut I learned the value of good management, project management and quality; and at Centrelink managing teams, understanding behaviour and work culture helped greatly in my work,” she said.

A role in Sydney followed where she headed up people and change, working on transformational change in a very large organisation.

“Implementing the transformational change was difficult and I was commuting to Sydney from Canberra. My husband was still working in Canberra and the kids were at Canberra schools.

“It was full-on and, after lots of discussion, we had decided to move the family to Sydney,” she said.

Kirsty Dwyer, University of Canberra

Kirsty Dwyer: “I love a challenge and I enjoy working on change in any sector.”


Executive search and a new role

Then on the drive home to Canberra one night just before Christmas, she had a call from an executive search company offering her a role at the University of Canberra.

“Literally, the week before Christmas – with our move to Sydney already booked, an offer on a house in Sydney in progress and the kids already signed up for new schools – I got a call,” she said.

“They were looking for someone who understood change.”

Things then moved very quickly and, after interviews in January and lots more family discussions, she ended up taking the role at the University of Canberra and the family stayed put.

“I love a challenge and I enjoy working on change in any sector, so it’s been fantastic to work on this in higher education as well.

Entrenched barriers and deep-seated issues

“In many organisations including universities, there are a lot of entrenched barriers to women and minorities, and issues with diversity and inclusion as well.

“These are deep-seated issues that need to be addressed properly and collaboratively,” she said.

Mrs Dwyer said she was pleased to be in a role where she could make a difference for women coming through.

“I enjoy my role as Chief Executive, Diversity and People – helping to create a system that is inclusive, offers more choices and is more flexible for everyone.

“It’s good to be having these different and sometimes difficult conversations, opening things up for people and taking barriers down,” she said.

Better for everyone where you work

“This results in gender equity, diversity and inclusion being built into the organisation’s DNA and ends up being part of the organisation’s business as usual – which is exactly how it should be.

“This is ultimately what we want and every single person in the university benefits.”

The University of Canberra team is resubmitting its application for Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation and is committed to achieving Bronze in 2019.

“It is really great to be part of this very important process,” she said.

“There is a real joy for me being involved in this innovative initiative and seeing things move forward for the better for everyone where you work.”