Monash University has been awarded a coveted SAGE Cygnet Award for improving equity in academic promotions, becoming the first Group of Eight university to win the award.

In the higher education sector, women are underrepresented at Associate Professor and Professor levels. Women are also three times more likely to work part-time than men, and are more likely to experience longer career interruptions associated with caregiving responsibilities.

SAGE presented Monash with the Cygnet Award for its work over the past five years to lift the understanding of the University’s Achievement Relative to Opportunity Framework (ARTO) for promotion applicants and decision-makers.

This framework is a key enabler that facilitates more fair and equitable assessment of career progression and achievements given the opportunities available to staff. It helps to ensure that the overall quality and impact of achievements is given more weight than the quantity, rate or breadth of particular achievements in the context of a person’s personal, professional and other circumstances.

The framework was formally introduced more than decade ago, but Monash worked to improve staff understanding of the underpinning principles in order to promote the policy’s wider adoption and uptake. This included implementing a range of measures over the past five years from developing ARTO online training, improving guidelines for decision-makers, launching an equitable decision-making site and senior University leaders shining a light on achievement relative to opportunity.

SAGE CEO Janin Bredehoeft congratulated Monash on their achievement.

“SAGE is delighted to offer this Cygnet Award in recognition of Monash’s work towards more equitable promotions processes. The changes they have introduced allow their promotion panels to see and consider the whole person, and recognise the achievements they have made in the context of their lives. It’s an important shift.”

““We’re more than just our metrics”

The SAGE Cygnet Award recognises the impact that Monash’s efforts have had on the staff experience.

Cancer immunologist Anne Fletcher was promoted to Associate Professor at Monash University in July 2023 and disclosed relevant circumstances in her application for the promotion. “We’re more than just our metrics. There is a story behind the numbers for everyone,” Associate Professor Fletcher said.

In addition to running a lab and leading a team researching new drugs to make immunotherapies for cancer more effective, Associate Professor Fletcher is the mother of three sons aged 9, 7 and 2. She took three career breaks after having her children, worked part-time for a short period, and had additional caring and home-schooling responsibilities during the lockdowns in Victoria in 2020 and 2021, while her partner worked shifts as an essential worker.

“My record would stand up against anyone if you look at the entirety of my career. Research is so highly competitive that if you’re not taking career breaks and other interruptions into account, you’re not rewarding the best and brightest, you’re just rewarding those who are not interrupted,” she said.

The University’s promotion panel considered Associate Professor Fletcher’s research publications over a longer period of time in order to mitigate the impact of career interruptions, and effectively recalibrated her academic achievements in light of the career-impacting circumstances associated with caregiving.

Years of effort

Monash University Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Elliott AM said the award was the result of multiple years of targeted initiatives.

“Monash is committed to achieving a lasting transformative change across all facets of gender equity, diversity and inclusion. This award recognises the proactive steps we have already taken to dismantle systemic and cultural barriers to women’s representation.”

Associate Professor Laura Jobson, Chair of Monash’s Athena SWAN Steering Group, said “we’re really proud to be awarded our first Cygnet Award.”

“We’ve seen real change since the measures were introduced. Applicants of all genders are now opting to include the relevant circumstances in their applications.

“From 2020 onward, promotion success rates also improved for candidates who included relevant circumstances in their applications. And we’ve seen an improved application and success rate for applicants working part-time,” she said.


  • At Monash, representation of women at Associate Professor level has lifted from 36.2 per cent in 2017 to 45.7 per cent in 2023. In contrast, between 2012 and 2016, the percentage shifted only by 0.8 per cent in total.
  • At Monash, representation of women at Professor level has lifted to 31.8 per cent in 2023. This is an improvement on the past five years when women’s representation among Professors was virtually unchanged (ranging from 28.2 per cent to 28.6 per cent between 2017-2022).
  • The Cygnet Awards recognise organisations that demonstrate impact in addressing specific barriers to gender equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Universities and tertiary institutions must already have achieved Bronze Status to apply for Cygnet Awards, and once they achieve five Cygnet Awards they are eligible for Silver Status. So far only four other universities in Australia have achieved a Cygnet Award: Edith Cowan University, Griffith University, Newcastle University and RMIT University.

Heather Champion |