With Jeanette Hoorn

March 11 / 56

Professor Jeanette Hoorn is Head of Cinema and Cultural Studies and Director of Gender Studies in the Faculty of Arts.

Improving Gender Equity at the University of Melbourne

The centenary of International Women’s Day in Australia has led to a new government focus on the participation of women in the upper levels of corporate life in Australia. The percentage of female membership on the boards of Australia’s corporations is about 11 per cent.

Her Excellency The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has called for a discussion on the issue of instituting quotas around female participation in the nation’s boardrooms in order to raise the figure to levels that approach gender equity. This suggestion has been taken up with lively debate appearing in the electronic and print media.

At the University of Melbourne, there has been widespread improvement in the participation of women within the senior levels of management throughout the University and among the professoriate. Fay Marles became the first female Chancellor of the University, serving from 2001-2004, and Justice Susan Crennan and Elizabeth Alexander are Deputy Chancellors. Susan Elliott is a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Ruth Fincher is Vice-President of the Academic Board, and Rachel Webster is the Board’s Deputy Vice-President.  The last decade has also seen female Deans and Deputy Deans in Arts, Architecture, Building and Planning, Law, and Business and Economics.

There has been a marked increase in the appointment and promotion of women to the professoriate throughout the University, with the strongest gains occurring over the last decade in Arts and Law while significant improvements have taken place in Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. Last year saw Arts lead the way with more than 43 per cent of the professoriate occupied by women. 

This is a great improvement on the figures for 2005 when only 26 per cent of the professoriate was female, and a remarkable leap from 2001 when only 13 per cent of the professors in Arts were women. Law is also in the forefront with DEEWR figures listing 11 out of 25 professors as female in 2010, where there were only 6 out of 20 in 2008 and 3 out of 12 in 2001. Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences has the largest professoriate in the University and has also seen greater participation of women across the first decade of the new millennium. In 2010, there were 133 professors in the Faculty, 30 of whom were women. This is an advance on 2005 figures when only 15 of the 82 professors were women, and 2001, when only 9 out of a professoriate of 64 were women.

If we look at female participation in its most powerful boards, the University exceeds the national average of 11 per cent quite comfortably, with about 25 per cent of the membership of University Council consisting of women, while 18 per cent of  the Academic Board’s membership is female. These figures reflect the growing influence and power of women within the life of the University, but much work is still to be done before gender equity is a reality in the daily lives of most women working at the University of Melbourne. There is no room for complacency. The achievements of the University’s Equal Opportunity officers, such as Dr Maree Gladwin who held this post for over a decade, have been central to the gains in equal opportunity. Mentoring women in leadership and maintaining policies in which gender equity is protected are essential strategies, all of which must be continued into the future if real gender parity is to be achieved.

Gender equity has become a priority, with Gender Studies undergoing a period of expansion through new appointments and planned curriculum renewal in the Faculty of Arts.

These developments aim to promote equity through ensuring that gender is more broadly represented in the teaching and research of the University.

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