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Melbourne Uni Opens Women Only Jobs

23 May 2016 at 11:21 am
Wendy Williams
The University of Melbourne is asking for women only to apply for maths and statistics jobs in a bid to beat the male-dominated culture.

Wendy Williams | 23 May 2016 at 11:21 am


Melbourne Uni Opens Women Only Jobs
23 May 2016 at 11:21 am

The University of Melbourne is asking for women only to apply for maths and statistics jobs in a bid to beat the male-dominated culture.

Currently, only around one-quarter of the academic workforce in mathematical sciences is female.

This has prompted the School of Mathematics and Statistics to advertise three positions for female applicants only.

The jobs, in pure mathematics, applied mathematics and statistics, range in level from lecturer, to senior lecturer, to associate professor, depending on the candidate’s experience.

Head of the school, Professor Aleks Owczarek, said he was determined to create momentum for change.

“I think that the underlying situation is very clear, only one-quarter of the academic workforce, both here at the University of Melbourne and more broadly within the sector in Australia in mathematical sciences, is female,” Owczarek told Pro Bono Australia News.

“At the higher level is it lamentably low, fewer than one in 10 of the full professors here and also in Australia in the mathematical sciences are female.

“So we have a clear problem. This is also reflected in the student populations both at the university and also in high school so it runs deep, the issue. And we are under no illusions about that at all, but we wanted to do something that would start the ball rolling, do something that would start momentum here and really create momentum for change.”

Owczarek said he hoped that encouraging more women to join the faculty would also provide good role models for young women considering a career in the STEMM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics and medicine] sectors.

“Through doing something that will not only bring three outstanding new female academics at the early and mid-career points, where we can provide mentoring to them, for them to continue into the higher level where we have a lamentably low number, the professorial level, but also for them to be able to be beacons and role models and mentors for our PHD students, for our undergraduate and postgraduate students and for our potential students from high school.

“For young female students studying mathematics to think, oh yes, look, the University of Melbourne is doing that, there are some fantastic role models that are coming round to my school, or they can see them at the university open day and think, this is something I can do, and I should continue studying in high school.

“We are under no illusions it is a small thing but it should hopefully be of positive feedback so that we create, as I said, some positive momentum.”

Owczarek said the problem was part of a societal stigma.

“I think in most of the STEMM areas there has been historic issues which are systemic from very early on, we see this mathematical science and it is true especially in engineering and computer sciences as well, there is societal stigma about young women studying mathematics and as a consequence there is either active or passive discrimination or guiding young women not to continue on, that’s not something for you, I can imagine occurring,” he said.

“My colleague Lesley Ward, from University of South Australia, who is the chair of the Women in Maths Special Interest Group of the Australian Mathematical Society, points out that there is a lot of research done on the unconscious biases that we all have, both women and men, in terms of what we perceive as the right jobs for certain people and that must play into the messages that young women have about studying mathematics.

“I think it happens at an early age from the end of primary school, secondary school and then that piles up. It is not necessary that, once you get to the workforce that there is any active discrimination, it’s not that we see that is necessarily what is happening, it is what is happening in society, but that is no reason not to address it from our point of view.”

The initiative comes as the university has signed up to the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative of the Australian Academy of Science, which provides accreditation to organisations that focus on gender equality.

“That’s happened simultaneously,” Owczarek said.

“It fits in well with the university’s agenda and very proactive sort of hands up and let’s get into this and do something very positive here. I should stress that it’s not something on its own, it is not the only thing the university will be doing I am sure there will be a suite of activity in this space.”

It is understood that the University of Melbourne positions have been advertised using a special measure of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act which allows organisations to take actions to promote equality.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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