Episode 15: Gender equity during COVID-19 – finding silver linings

At the University of Sydney, fairness and inclusion go hand in hand with merit and excellence.

In episode 15 of Think Difference, we spoke to Professor Renae Ryan, Academic Director of SAGE and Annie Fenwicke, SAGE Program Manager.

They spoke about how the University of Sydney has embedded accountability for gender equity and diversity across the university structure, the University’s SAGE action plan, and how they have worked to actively preserve gender equity during COVID-19.

The University’s SAGE action plan has 92 individual actions. “The responsibility and accountability for those actions really is spread across the whole institution,” says Professor Ryan.

Headshot of Renae Ryan
Professor Renae Ryan, Academic Director of SAGE at the University of Sydney.

The Inclusion in Action training initiative has worked exceptionally well for the University of Sydney.

“We had put a lot of effort and focus on that training and our action plan for promotions, panels, recruitment panels, academic board, and all the staff we wanted to engage in this training,” says Professor Ryan.

But like at many other institutions, the initiative was sidelined by budget cuts and an inability to conduct face-to-face training due to COVID-19.

The University of Sydney was quick to adapt to the situation.

“We did change quite quickly to try and we moved to online training. In the end, I think it’s actually going to work out better for us because we’re going to be able to get access to many more people across the university,” Professor Ryan says. “I really do think it’s probably for the better and will have a bigger impact across the university.”

The University of Sydney was one of the first institutions to sign the Joint Sector Position Statement, which commits the sector to actively preserve gender equity during COVID-19.

Its impact has brought benefits that the University of Sydney wouldn’t have dreamed possible in a pre-pandemic world.

“[The Joint Sector Statement] has included the voices of universities from right across Australia,” says Annie Fenwicke. “In a relatively short period of time last year, we were able to leverage off many of the SAGE connections that had already started to form and other connections to formulate and deliver what is a pretty comprehensive statement about gender equity, diversity and inclusion.”

Headshot of Annie Fenwicke
Annie Fenwicke, SAGE Program Manager at the University of Sydney.

They found that it has assisted in keeping gender equity, diversity and inclusion work on the agenda during the challenging times that the world has endured over the last six months. Their work is still continuing.

“We’re currently looking at ways of expanding the reach and the outlook of the group to work together on key issues that are facing the sector at the moment,” says Fenwicke.

Professor Ryan and Fenwicke both agree that the impacts of COVID-19 are going to be long-lasting, and as a sector, the way that success is measured in the future will be different. The University of Sydney is committed to taking these disruptions into account.

“That can be through things like promotion applications, annual reviews, and more broadly, fellowship applications,” says Professor Ryan.

“Different groups are affected differently by COVID-19,” she says. “We need to come up with ways that allow people to verbalise that impact, and also people who are assessing this to take it into account.”

To hear more about University of Sydney’s efforts to embed accountability across their institution and adapt to COVID-19, listen to episode 15 now. You can catch up on previous episodes by subscribing to Think Difference on Google PodcastsApple Podcasts and Spotify.