Episode 8: Equity at the top and bottom

While a number of Australian higher education and research sector organisations have started their journey towards gender equity, gender imbalance at senior leadership levels remains a challenge to overcome.

In this episode of Think Difference, guest host Liz Foschia from the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) spoke with two medical research institutes and SAGE subscribers who are working to reverse that trend.

“As we move further up the hierarchy of individuals in the organisation the percentage of women who are at senior levels drops below that which we would want,” said Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute, based in the United Kingdom.

“It’s easy to hide behind a few individual successes. When we start to look at the data, when we look at career progression and compare salary rates for both men and women, we can’t hide away from that.”

She said that programs like Athena Swan which provide an important framework to measure success against were important in effecting change.

“You want to be seen to be part of that framework, and you want to be seen to be doing at least as good as your next research colleague.”

Headshots of Robyn Norton and Steve Wesselingh.
Left: Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute.
Right: Steve Wesselingh, inaugural Executive Director of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

Steve Wesselingh, inaugural Executive Director of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), says that measuring the effects of gender equity was eye-opening.

“One of the big things that Athena Swan made us do was to measure what we were doing and when we measured it became apparent that we weren’t doing as well as we thought,” he said.

“We found that we were ‘missing in action’ in some of those areas, and that enabled us to then put programs in place to try and change that. The thing we did learn was that it’s a slow process, but unless you start, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Interest from medical research institutes in participating in SAGE is increasing, thanks to the experience of pioneering institutions that have attained the Bronze Award – including SAHMRI and The George. Currently, 12% of Australian medical research institutes have subscribed to SAGE.

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