The ANU was scrutinised by female leaders for its efforts in achieving gender equality at the ‘ANU Under Review’ panel discussion held on Tuesday 7 March. The PARSA-organised event held at University House for Women’s Week was attended by students, staff and the wider Canberra community. An all-female panel of ANU community members described their experiences at the ANU and expressed how the University could improve. Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, speaking at the event, responded by condemning inequality and pledging his personal support for women’s issues.
Several panelists recounted their experiences of sexual harassment, with Associate Professor Jodie Bradby of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences speaking of being harassed at a research conference and how the experience framed her understanding of interactions with male academics.
Anthropology Professor Margaret Jolly spoke about her sense of hope when comparing her experiences in the 1980s at the ANU to the present day. This was a sentiment echoed by Carolyn Farrar of ANU Counselling, who stated that the issues of female inequality were now in a more public sphere. Farrar also praised the connections made between ANU Counselling and broader Canberra services such as the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, and the ANU executive’s support of the service’s actions.
Bradby also praised the Science in Australia Gender Equity project – better known as SAGE – which requires STEM faculties to scrutinise gender inequality. She felt the university was ‘standing on strong ground’. This optimism and praise for positive changes was shared by all speakers.
Another key theme was the need for men to spearhead advocacy. Jolly spoke of the need for the university executive ‘to work top-down as women work bottom-up.’ Bradby drew on her experiences of advocacy in physics, speaking of a need to shield women from the embarrassment of self-advocacy and provide active support.
Schmidt said that we are ‘so far’ from where things need to be. He decried ‘male cultures’ in STEM and spoke of the systemic issue of women being less likely to obtain tenure. He pledged to be a partner to female academics, saying ‘I need to be told when the university is letting you down’.
The resounding message from the event was the necessity of community support for initiating change, with ANUSA Women’s Officer Holly Zhang emphasising that ‘community is so important to gain the possibility of empowerment’.