The Faculty of Health Gender Equity Committee one year on

Over the past year the Faculty of Health Gender Equity Committee has been working hard to encourage more people to talk about gender equality and to work towards making a gender balanced workplace a reality.

As a female scientist, I have always been passionate about gender equality in the workplace at all levels. I also continue to be astounded that the workplace equality issues faced by my mother are still being fought by my junior colleagues today. I remember saying to Mum, “I thought you guys had fixed this!”

I think when you look around at the senior management of the University you can see how statistically male dominated it is. Although we are lucky at the Faculty of Health in that we do have a female Dean and a female Head of School – so we are heading in the right direction.

In undergraduate, honours, post graduate and early academic levels, there is at least 50/50 if not more women and then as you go up through the rank to senior levels we have mainly males at the extreme end – and this is not unique to UTAS, or even to the University sector.

In an effort to address some of the challenges of gender-inequity within the Faculty, the Faculty of Health Gender Equity Committee was launched in 2016 and comprises myself as Chair, Ben Canny (Deputy Chair), Chris Stirling, Damhnat McCann, Rochelle Einboden, Matthew Kirkcaldie, Jonathan Bugg and until very recently, Adele Holloway.  When we launched the Gender Equity Committee in March last year, we started with a bang with a Q and A forum, featuring some fantastic interstate speakers who are leading the field in gender equity at their educational institutions.

The forum was also opened and attended by DVCR Professor Brigid Heywood, who is also clearly passionate about this issue and shared her own story with us.

Another of the forum’s speakers, Professor Margaret Morris from the University of New South Wales, was a mentor for me over the years. Professor Morris said she found the motivation to push for gender equality in the fact that many women were dealing with the same issues and biases today that she faced as a junior academic over twenty years ago.

Professor Frances Separovic, the newly appointed Deputy Director of Bio21 at the University of Melbourne also spoke at the forum about her experiences.  She has a ‘women in science’ email list that she regularly communicates with.  Her most recent email highlighted a new piece of research demonstrating that including women in the conversation is good for business, which is well worth a read.

One of the recommendations to come out of our Q and A session, put forward by Head of Medicine Ben Canny, was that the Faculty Management Team had a composition of a minimum of 40 per cent of either gender.  That was endorsed by FMT at the end of last year and has been built on with the arrivals of Nuala Byrne and Katherine Hough to the team.

Following on from that agreement, the committee put up a proposal that 40 per cent of either gender, where possible, be rolled-out to all Faculty committees.

But more can always be done. 

IMAS Taroona03/11/2014picture by Peter Mathew

 The ‘merit trap’

Thinking about gender equity is something everyone can do. For example,

when forming a committee, or getting a list of guest speakers together for a conference, or accepting an invitation to speak at a symposium or conference.  It is important to check the list of speakers or committee members and encourage the organisers to aim for gender balance.

I am sure many reading this, at this point might say that speakers and committee members should be picked on merit, and not gender.  You might think “I don’t want to be asked to give that talk or go on that committee just because I am a woman, I want to be asked because of my science and skills.” However while there may be 20 people to choose from for the role, most people because of their unconscious bias will choose a male first and not an equally meritorious woman.  Sometimes you need to have ‘quotas,’ to force people to look beyond what they would normally do and step out of their comfort zone.

There is some very interesting work coming out from groups such as the Male Champions of Change (MCC) – a group of leading male CEOS across the country and the Chief Executive Women (CEW) group, who realise that you need to have women in the conversation and that it makes good business sense to do so.  The MCC and CEW groups commissioned a report on merit which is very interesting. The report highlights how subjective merit is and that merit has to be considered ‘relative to opportunity.’

Unconscious bias

Many of the gender equity issues we face come from unconscious biases.

These are biases that have been ingrained in us over the years, that we have learned from our parents and from our society, but that most of us are not even aware we have.

There is an easy way to check your own unconscious biases.  Simply use the free Harvard University Implicit Attitude Tool test. The outcomes might surprise you.  It can be confronting, but the important thing is that we become aware of our own biases and that in the future we try to learn to recognise our biases when making decisions.

The link to the test is:

To complete:

  • Under Project Implicit Social Attitudes select a country and click Go.  You don’t have to register, you can take the test as a guest.
  • Read the introductory message, then click on Go to the Demonstration Tests
  • Click on I wish to proceed
  • Click on Gender-Career IAT (You may also later choose to complete Gender-Science IAT or any of the other categories that interest you.)
  • Click on Click here to begin
  • Complete the test. Make a note of your results, and note how they compare with the large sample comparison group: your results will appear on the webpage but they won’t be saved anywhere.

Athena SWAN

The University is part of the Science In Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, based on the Athena SWAN program in the UK. We are one of 40 universities participating in the pilot.

Professor Brigid Heywood is Chair of the University Equity Committee and has oversight of the SAGE pilot. The academic leads for UTas on this exciting project are Prof Tania Winzenberg (who has a joint appointment in our Faculty and Menzies) and Prof Anthony Katoulis from SET.  The University self-assessment team for the SAGE trial has also been formed. Head of Medicine Ben Canny is a member of that team and is quite passionate about it.  The University will be assessed in 2019. More can be read about that process here.

Future Activities

Some of the committee’s other activities include continued policy analysis and workshop organisation.  Throughout the year, we hope to introduce several external speakers for workshops, and will keep the Faculty posted as they become available. If there is a particular issue that you would like to see the committee address, please drop Jonathan Bugg a line.

Positions Available

Importantly, the Gender Equity Committee also has two available positions and I encourage people (especially men as we need to correct our 40% either gender ratio) to apply.  This committee is not just about academics, it is also about professional staff who are strongly encouraged to apply. Please email Jonathan Bugg if you are interested in being part of the committee.  We generally meet eight times a year, which is not too onerous, and it is a very rewarding committee to be a part of.


– Lisa  Foa


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