Episode 10: UNSW Dean of Science, Emma Johnston

Achieving gender equity is a team sport.

In the tenth episode of SAGE’s Think Difference podcast, Professor Emma Johnston, Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney, speaks about the concerted and collective effort needed to achieve gender equity.

“You need to get everyone on board and have multiple approaches,” says Professor Johnston. “But when you do that, you can make good progress quite quickly.”

“It’s really about the team spirit.”

Professor Johnston became Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney in 2016. During her tenure, the percentage of women at the professorial level has risen from 17% to 27%. She attributes this rise not to any one policy, but to a combination of top-down and grassroots approaches across the faculty.

a portrait photo of a light-skinned woman with white, short hair, wearing a silver double-breasted suit
Professor Emma Johnston, Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney. Photo: UNSW Sydney.

“We try to support our academics to give them the skills to be able to progress, but also to give them the confidence to see themselves as someone who can be a senior academic—someone who can be a successful academic.

“With the support of the equity and diversity inclusion working group […] I went through the whole lot: recruitment policy, retention policy, promotion policies, travel policies—everything! I went through them with an EDI [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] lens.”

She says workplace flexibility can be a core framework for women’s career aspirations and advancement within a business. “[If you] don’t have that flexibility, it’s a big part of being able to work and juggle other things that we might want to do, including carer responsibilities.

“We have introduced a new flexible work policy at the university level. Everybody can have some increased flexibility in their workplaces, in their working hours, as long as they can get their job done.”

She recommends that all research institutes consider joining SAGE. “It’s programs like SAGE that encourage an entire sector to move in that direction that are really going to make a big difference in Australia.”

“Everyone needs to move forward for us to make real advances of any area of equity, diversity, and inclusion. You need to get on board […] because what we are doing is sharing best practice: what needs to be reported, how often it needs to be reported, what our targets should be, what are the best strategies? What are the best activities?

“This is all about sharing that so that we can all move forward as a sector. I think the faster you do that, the more benefits you’ll get.”

Listen to episode ten now or catch up on previous episodes. You can also subscribe to Think Difference on Google PodcastsApple Podcasts and Spotify.