but what can I do?

The theme of International Women’s Day 2015 was “Make it Happen“. Over the past few months I’ve been asked to speak on that topic at my home institution, and at other venues in Australia and in the UK. In those talks I report the stats and reasons for the poor progression of women in academia and also suggest how individuals and institutions might make change happen. After those talks I am invariably asked to provide copies of the “what can I do” slides. I’ve been asked so many times now, that it seems easiest to post these ideas on my blog, so that I can point all future requests here.

This is a living document. My slides are updated regularly, whenever I come across new ideas that may help address the status quo and overturn gendered stereotypes in academia. I will do the same with this post and welcome suggestions from others.

This list is a collection of ideas brought together through my reading, correspondence and thinking about where we are now, where we need to be and how to get there.


If we don’t actively and intentionally set out to include women, we will unintentionally exclude themElizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

1. Make gender equity a priority. Don’t put it last on the strategic plan. Don’t consider it last on appointment shortlist processes or when deciding departmental/panel speakers. Put it first. Select women first. It matters.

2. Publish rates of pay online for men and women at each level of appointment in your institution. Is there a gendered difference? If yes, develop an action plan to address the gender pay gap. If there isn’t, shout that news out to the world. Celebrate that you have solved this very tricky problem. Explain how you achieved that momentous outcome, so that others can learn and solve the problem too. Be a beacon.

3. Publish workforce gender statistics online. For each level of appointment in the institution, publish the percentage of women and men. Separate these into academic and professional staff appointments. Comment on any vertical segregation of women (do women predominate at undergraduate, postgraduate and lower levels of appointments but not higher levels of appointments?). Comment on any horizontal segregation of women (do women at higher levels of appointments tend to have more teaching focused or service-oriented rather than research positions?). Highlight online the gender equity issues that need to be addressed and outline the agreed diversity goals. Update these statistics annually, and measure progress. Make a competition of being the best at supporting diversity. If you are part of an Athena SWAN program you will no doubt be doing this already.

4. Include Gender Equity as an agenda item on all decision-making committees. Consider how decisions made in these committees will impact on women. Make sure there are sufficient women on those committees so that the question can be answered with credibility.

5. Train all decision makers in unconscious bias management. Then continually monitor the process to ensure it is working.

6. Ensure sufficient, affordable, high quality childcare places to support your students and workforce who have family responsibilities.

7. Develop a central webpage for women. Highlight the support the institution provides for women and families – specifically those on parental leave, those returning to work from parental leave, and those who have primary carer responsibility. Explain how career disruptions are managed in promotions and appointments. Provide parental leave statistics (what is available, how many men and women take this leave each year of those eligible). Outline the number of family/lactation rooms available per FTE, and where those rooms are located. Describe the flexible work options that are available. Highlight the domestic violence leave. Yes it’s a thing. In the future, women and men will be looking for the best family friendly workplaces. Be ahead of the curve and your institution will have a competitive advantage.

8. Panel pledge. Make a commitment to sponsor or support only those conferences and panels that have appropriate speaker gender balance and anti-harassment policies and processes.

9. Run a Wikibomb to create Wikipedia pages for women. There are very few women scientists/academics visible on the internet. Search google images for “professor of (your science/research)”. It’s depressing. Let’s change that, one wiki page at a time.

10. Establish new metrics that reward service, support, good mentoring. Add these to traditional metrics to value all the work staff do and use them actively in promotion and recruitment processes.

11. Evaluate staff recruitment statistics and processes. How many women applied for an advertised position relative to men. If the ratio doesn’t reflect the percentage of women and men at the appointment level below that advertised, you are doing something wrong. Look at the language and the process used in recruitment (check out this great infographic). Modify the language and processes to address gender imbalance. Consider making every post part-time and/or flexible.

12. Institute a “women only” promotion round to address historic imbalances. Yes. For real. Do this.

13. Participate in Athena SWAN/SAGE Forum. Aim for gold – be a beacon for gender equity.

14. Lobby higher education ranking agencies – state, national and international – to include professorial gender balance and professorial gender pay gap as part of the ranking equation. Yes, they will listen; I’ve done it myself. And the more institutions and individuals that ask, the more likely these will be included. Let’s make academic gender inequity history.


1. Recognise your biases. No, saying “I’m not biased” will not cut it. Everyone has biases. Good people. Men and women. Learn about your own (take the Harvard implicit association test) and then do something about them.

2. Do something about discrimination. Speak up – call out inappropriate behaviour, unconscious bias, gender stereotyping. Remember the words of David Morrison, Australian Chief of Army, and Male Champion of Change: The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”. In Europe, 75% of women in management and higher professional positions experienced some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetime. 75%. Find out and implement your institutional sexual harassment policy. When you experience or witness sexual harassment or microagression in the workplace, or at a conference, don’t let it slide. Explain that it is inappropriate. Ask for an apology. Report to an organiser/someone in authority. Ask for the harassment policy to be made more visible. If you are the organiser/someone in authority, don’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.

3. Be fair: Assess applications for academic positions, grants, fellowships “Relative to Opportunity”. Don’t write gendered references.

5. When there aren’t enough women (invited speakers/on a panel/in a shortlist), ask why. If the invited speaker list does not reflect the audience diversity, raise the issue with the organisers. Ask for the policy on speaker invitations. I’ve written about this before. At least twice. Ask for data on speaker gender balance to be made public on the society/institute website. You pay a registration fee to attend a conference; you should expect value for money and you should expect a speaker diversity that roughly reflects that of the audience. If all or most of the speakers are old white men and the audience isn’t, ask for your money back. Vote with your credit card. There are way too many conferences vying for your business; support the ones that best support speaker diversity.


“›A powerful decent man is one who cares about sharing power and sharing leadership” Liz Broderick

›“Let’s not pretend that there aren’t already established norms that advantage men. Men invented the system. Men largely run the system. Men need to change the system.” Gordon Cairns, Male champion of change

Keep these quotes as your two guiding principles. Recognise that you have privilege, power and advantage simply because you are male. Consequently, you have more opportunity to make change happen and implement processes that lead to equality. Take those opportunities.

››1. Become informed about women’s issues and gender equality. Whether you are a leader, a decision maker, a mid-career researcher or a PhD student, find out why women have been marginalised and silenced throughout history and how gendered stereotypes continue to limit innovation and progress.

2. ›Treat everyone with courtesy, dignity, respect, trust. I shouldn’t even need to say that. But I do.

3. ›Call out sexism, harassment, discrimination, condescension, bias. When you witness it, don’t let it slide. Don’t say “Just ignore that” or “It was just a joke”. Call. It. Out. It is not acceptable.

4. ›Listen to women’s stories. Believe them. Give women a voice.

5. Take the panel/conference pledge. If you are in the fortunate position to receive regular invitations to speak and present at conferences and panels, make your first response to every new invitation “May I see the speaker policy?”. Don’t accept an invitation unless there is a reasonable gender balance. If there isn’t a reasonable gender balance, suggest an alternate female speaker or three. That’s what Liz Broderick’s male champions of change do.

›6. Access flexible work arrangements. Ask for these and use them. Shorter working days, parental leave, holidays and time off with your family. Normalise the sight of a man caring for his children and family. Make it a priority.

7. ›Lean in at home – share the unpaid work equally. Globally, women spend 2.5 times more hours on unpaid care and domestic work than men. In Australia, it’s 1.8 times. In the US the total value of unpaid care for children in 2012 was estimated at $3.2 trillion. That’s 20% of GDP. The UN reported that the average global gender pay gap is 24%. In Australia it’s 18.8%; with a superannuation gap of 47%. It’s been estimated that, in Australia on average, a woman needs to work an extra 15 years to retire with the same average superannuation as a man. 15 years. The UN also reported that the penalty of unpaid work is borne by and unfairly punishes women, regardless of their work status. The 2014 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia survey found that “women do more paid employment, housework, childcare combined than men, regardless of whether the man is the main earner, the men and women earn equal amounts or the woman earns more“. What can you do? Share the load. Clean the toilet, do the shopping and laundry. Not as a one off for Mother’s Day. Forever. Plan family events. Share childcare. Don’t say you’re babysitting when you care for your own children. Pack the lunches, cook the meals, organise the plumber, pay the bills, do the tax forms……

8. Take notes. In committee meetings, take notes yourself. Richard Branson does. Pour the coffee. Serve the drinks and food. Don’t stand by and let the woman do it.

(Added on 30 May 2015 a fabulous list of 35 more things)



1. The first and most important rule. Should you choose to share your life with a partner, choose a supportive partner. As the great Kathleen Lonsdale – first woman Fellow of the Royal Society and crystallographer extraordinaire – said “(Your partner) must recognise your problems and be willing to share them”. From personal experience I can tell you choice of partner makes one hell of a difference to career trajectory. Maybe one day I’ll share that story with you.

2.  Allow your partner to help. Let them do the chores their way. Yes, I know it’s difficult when you have a particular way of doing things, and it’s not the way they do it and you’re a perfectionist. Believe me, I’ve been there. But the alternative is to do it yourself. Quite simply, you don’t have enough time.

3. Minimise domestic duties. Ironing is banned in our household. That is, unless my husband is being interviewed on telly. Then he has to iron his shirt himself. We have a very high tolerance for dust, a robotic vacuum cleaner, a very quiet dishwasher, and a sort-of regular but not very frequent routine for cleaning.

4. Be your authentic self. Be true to yourself. Even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. Don’t let others tell you that you can’t do (whatever) because you are a woman. They have no vision. Don’t limit yourself by following outdated stereotypes. Carve your own path in life. After all “Well-behaved women seldom make history“.



1. ›Put gender equity first not last

›2. Old stereotypes die hard, stamp them out

3. ›Be aware of your own biases

›4. Challenge the status quo

›5. Don’t tolerate sexism and harassment

›6. When there are few women, ask why

›7. Identify obstacles to progress

›8. Change the way we do things now

To change the way we do things, perhaps we need to “man up” less and “woman up” more. But that, dear reader, will have to be the topic of a future post.

29 thoughts on “but what can I do?

  1. Jenny – as always – your comments, observations, suggestions and advice are excellent. Thanks for pulling this together and providing such valuable resources, which I will be using in my own talks and presentations.
    One other resource that I recommend (perhaps it is already in one of the links – in which case, my apologies) – which I use interactively in real time with students to show how evaluations of male and female professors are biased – is Ben Schmidt’s work (benschmidt.org). Ask a group of students (or faculty) to provide a word – enter it into the visualization and see how different disciplines show greater or less bias depending on the gender of the professor. Students find this very revealing.
    In addition, gendered language around hiring committees and processes can be hard to explain to others but this infographic – produced by University of British Columbia (http://wwest.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/05/Hiring-Committee-Information1.pdf) is very useful and I’ve shared it widely at my institution.

    Keep up the good work and hope our paths cross at some point!

    • Thanks so much. Excellent suggestions. I use bens website in my talks but didn’t include in the post. I will look up the other link. Thank you for pointing me to it. Would be great to catch up one day!

    • This is very useful indeed! I was once allowed 5 minutes to point out some of this to upper management (all male, and has changed little in 10 years), and there were gasps of disbelief. Always good to have the references to hand!

  2. Thing is, if men saw us as actual human beings instead of subsitute mommies/ general all round dick and ego servicers then they wouldn’t need all these lists and instructions telling them how to pretend that they think we’re people.

    This is not new either, do you think all those previous generations of women just weren’t asking nicely enough ? I wonder what difference you think it will make, that you keep on doing the same thing women have always done and yet expect a different outcome ?

    • I must disagree. Most of the men I know want to help build equality, and want to spend more time with family, they just don’t know how. Hence the list of suggestions for men and women and higher ed institutions. We all need to think differently because the way we do things now, the way we operate, is built on a very different work-life premise. Liz Broderick’s Male Champions of Change program is a great example of how powerful men can make revolutionary change happen. In my view, we need to work together to rewrite the rules as we move into this new space our society hasn’t inhabited before.

      • “Most of the men I know want to help build equality, and want to spend more time with family, they just don’t know how.”

        These are otherwise intelligent, capable men right ? But somehow the idea of women as humans just like themselves is waaaay too difficult. It’s rather like having to explain to someone how to stop kicking puppies while they are standing there claiming to be ever-so-caring about animal welfare. I really cannot square that circle.

        You also talk about moving into a “new space our society hasn’t inhabited before.”

        Why do you think we haven’t inhabited it before ? Not a rhetorical question. Why do you think now, all of a sudden men will listen to women ? Women have been “working together” (ie having all their time and energy sucked out by) men for millennia, and yet still it goes on.

      • To add, I first walked into the wall of misogyny that exists in STEM fields over 40 years ago. Men were claiming to be all about equality then too.

        Been there done that and nothing has changed.

  3. Thanks Jenny, that is very helpful. Last week a colleague shared this article http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6235/611.full?utm_campaign=email-sci-toc&utm_src=email

    This, combined with your post, and moderated by my own experiences indicates an interesting tension surrounding the phrase “relative to opportunity”. I’ve seen descriptions that could have been written better (by both women and men; proponents and appraisers) and spend hours deliberating on my own statements and helping others with theirs. It indicates that training in both articulating and understanding what “opportunity” means for individuals would be highly valuable. I don’t think the ARC advice on this matter is sufficient. Coincidentally, the best advice I have received on writing my own statements was from a male colleague…it was a simple, on-liner bit of advice, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it set me in a more constructive and focused direction.

    Thanks again Jenny, your efforts on this topic are very much appreciated.

    • Thanks Kerrie – I had seen that Science article and will now link it in the post. Are you able to share the one-liner piece of advice even if it won’t work for everyone?

      • The one-liner would be too easily misinterpreted, and to be honest, also misses the point in relation to why we need to articulate “performance relative to opportunity”. So I won’t share directly, but I will say that it has given me the confidence to present interruptions to my academic career as facts rather than excuses, or worse still, in the tone of an apology.

  4. This is a very clear list. Thank you. I would also add, that numbers alone are not important, but that bringing in women who are not afraid to speak out, speak up and disagree with you is very important.

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  7. Re: demerit points. I think this could be potentially easy to measure. Our annual evaluations already include feedback from students on our teaching performance and this is taken very seriously. Why couldn’t we implement similar feedback from colleagues who would be able to rate our collegiality, fairness, bullying behaviour etc. We could then identify those who perhaps need some coaching in management/interaction style.

  8. Pingback: Bias incognito: gender equity in science presentation at ANU | Megan Evans

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