Australian Catholic University (ACU) is proud to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, in recognition of the economic, political and social achievements of women throughout history.
With women constituting more than 60 per cent of the workforce at ACU, the University has long made an effort to contribute to gender equality through teaching, research, and in professional roles.
In late 2011 ACU was announced a winner in the 2011 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) Business Achievement awards.
The University won the Leading Organisation for the Advancement of Women (>800 employees) category.
Professor Anne Cummins, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching), accepted the award, and said the University takes the place of women seriously.
“We stand in the tradition of some great women educators, we believe in the family and we believe in the benefit of a diverse workplace – so for us, this is core mission business,” she said.
Each of ACU’s five faculties is headed up by a female executive dean, and 50 per cent of the University’s deputy vice-chancellors are women.
The University has some of the most generous parental leave provisions in Australia with 12 months paid leave, and was the first employer in the country to offer that entitlement.
Since the implementation of the maternity leave policy, staff retention has been 91 per cent. In addition, research awards are made available to female academics returning to work after parental leave, and women constitute 68.7 per cent of the workforce.
Professor Sandy Middleton, Director of the National Centre for Clinical Outcomes Research, said an advantage of working for ACU was the strong female role models and the support she has received from senior women at the University.
Professor Middleton, who was listed in The Sydney Magazine as one of Sydney’s most influential people for 2011, received $2.25 million funding for her landmark study on stroke patient outcomes.
She said her greatest challenge was combining being a mother with advancing her career.
“As a mother there have been periods when I needed to work part-time and also to study,” she said. “Even more difficult has been obtaining part-time jobs that actually grow my career as most senior jobs are often full-time.”
ACU Professor of Humanities Shurlee Swain lead research into Australia’s past adoption practises – which prompted the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne to apologise for their role in the practise of forced adoption.
Professor Swain, who is currently involved in a research project investigating the question of women’s leadership, said that it was difficult being a woman in a man’s world.
“The main barrier I have faced has been the assumption that somehow as a woman, and later as a mother, I was less career-minded than a man,” she said. “It’s never easy being a woman in academia because so many of the structures and assumptions continue to be gendered male.”
“ACU is unusual because it has a high proportion of women in leadership positions so it is harder for these assumptions to automatically apply.”