When the gender and equity strategy at Macquarie University was first formed in the 1960s, there was hunger to be a different kind of university than others at the time – a university that hosted Australia’s first female vice chancellor, and a place where women felt comfortable bringing their children to lectures.
“So we had this leading position [in the 1960s] and we felt that we had lost some of that leadership,” says Nicole Gower, Executive Group sponsor for the Gender Equity Strategy at Macquarie. “We were keen to take it back.”
In 2015, a small group of like-minded and passionate people at Macquarie came together with one idea in mind: to take a more holistic approach to gender equity and diversity. Among that group was Professor Lesley Hughes and Nicole Gower. Skip forward six years, and their idea has evolved to take not only a holistic approach to gender equity and diversity in STEMM, but more broadly within their university.
“About four years ago, we brought in a new promotion policy,” says Professor Hughes. The policy is based on Boyer’s four areas of scholarship (Discovery, Teaching, Application and Integration), which were adapted to the Macquarie University context. Macquarie added a fifth category, Leadership and Citizenship, which allows staff to capture how they model Macquarie’s values and support each other toward personal and institutional goals. This meant more equitable opportunities for professional staff who work outside research.
“It was an example of taking one of our systems, interrogating it, and bringing in a new system that we felt was more holistic,” says Professor Hughes. “Within the first three years, the number of women that applied for promotion increased by 87%, which was even more amazing than we had hoped for. And the success rate of those women was very high.”
Macquarie University has adopted a university-wide ‘Fix the System’ approach to diversity and inclusion. The approach seeks to address the causes of gender inequity, rather than the symptoms.
“It has been challenging at times because it does require an interrogation of broad systems,” says Gower.
They have taken a distributed leadership approach, engaging people throughout the entire university to play a role in tackling inequity. “As you work through the strategy, be prepared to give up some control,” says Professor Hughes. “You can’t control all of the actions – you actually rely on others to generate ideas, to drive progress.”
Though Macquarie is on the right track, both women agree that the pace of change needs to quicken – and involving everyone in the discussion around inequity is key.
“I would love to see that openness for people to keep exploring, keep learning, keep challenging, keep asking the hard questions,” says Gower. “I think we’ve created that context for people to do that. I’d love to see more of that and beyond.”