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Webinar #15: Organisational strategies, policies and practices for supporting women in research

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

What can we and others in power do to better support women researchers at the level of the department or university? What recruitment, flexible work arrangements or other practices and policies make a difference to the careers and lives of women researchers, and how can we help?

Host of the Women in Research 'Small wins' webinar series, Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellow and Director of the Centre for Transformative Work Design Professor Sharon Parker shared some of the research evidence around what organisational strategies make a difference to women’s experiences and careers.

She was joined by Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical & Statistical Frontiers and former ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Peter Taylor.

Evidence-based tips from Sharon:

In creating greater equality, Shared highlighted it is important to focus on ‘what workplaces can do’ (and not just ‘what women can do’). She reminded us that many of our prior Women in Research webinars cover organisational and workplace factors that shape women’s experience. These factors can and should be modified!

There are different levels of strategies for changing organisations and workplaces:

  1. HR practices, such as recruitment approaches that increase the diversity of the pool

  2. Formal and informal mentoring initiatives

  3. Tackling indirect discrimination e.g., implicit bias training for faculty members

  4. Positive action towards women e.g. leadership development for female academics, women-only appointments.

  5. Validate and promote an enabling leadership style

Sharon gave various examples of these strategies. She also noted the importance of involving men in gender policy and practice, and cited research about when men are more likely to be supportive. She urged continuously evaluating any new organisational/workplace programs to determine if they are effective and for whom.

Peter's experience with supporting women researchers from an organisational perspective

Peter shared the experience of University of Melbourne’s School of Mathematics and Statistics when it advertised female-only continuing positions back in 2016.

  • The ‘level-playing field’ sounds great in principle. However, when we think about what it actually means we immediately see that it is not a helpful concept. In reality everyone has to compete in different ways to put together a `paper record’ and it is true that members of some groups, for example female STEM researchers, generally have to overcome greater hurdles than members of other groups.

  • The initiative was intended to change the playing field by taking steps to create an inclusive and equitable workforce in the School, both then and in the future.

  • Similar initiatives to promote diversity in sports have proven that diversity quotas can and do work. Most importantly they can transform culture.

  • Advertising for female-only positions contributed positively towards the external perception of the school and more importantly, inspired an internal culture shift.

  • For a successful application of a female-only hiring strategy in Australia, see here.

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