This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is a call to action for us to embrace equity. The World Economic Forum has estimated that closing the global gender parity gap will take 135 years to achieve. In Australia, the parity gap has widened over the last two decades. And as of August 2022 the national pay gap was 14.1%, an increase of 0.3% over the previous six months.

Our higher education sector in Australia has made significant strides in promoting gender equity, but there is still a long way to go. For example:

* Women remain underrepresented in leadership positions and continue to face challenges in achieving career advancement and equal pay.

* Any time our government increases the cost of a degree, women are disproportionately impacted as courses they frequently choose are shifted into the highest-paying bands.

* Female university graduates go on to earn less than men. The 2022 Graduate Outcomes Survey illustrates this on a discipline by discipline basis. This outcome is then compounded for women because they are more likely to take career breaks, take on carer responsibilities, or work part-time.

* During the pandemic women in academia were more strongly disadvantaged than men, taking on more teaching, less research, and often bearing the brunt of domestic labour.

*  Students perpetuate the gender bias by using gender as a measure of teaching quality. Studies consistently show that students’ evaluations of teaching rate female teachers lower than their male counterparts, a phenomenon that only worsened with the recent rise in remote learning over COVID.

What can we do to continue forging gender equity in higher education?

Collectively, academic, administrative, and professional staff have a vital role to play in promoting gender equity in higher education. There are several ways in which this can be done in the university sector including:

* Advocating for policies and practices that support gender equity, such as flexible working arrangements and equal pay.

* Benchmarking your institution’s practices to gender equity to ensure that women are well-represented and bias is mitigated.

* Supporting, mentoring, and celebrating women in your institution, particularly those in early-career positions or transitioning in or out of career breaks such as parental leave or carer’s leave.

* Educating our students about the journey of promoting gender equity in our sector and teaching them the skills needed to sustain and progress this important issue.

* Educating staff about the ‘seminal research and institutional leadership of women‘ who have pioneered on-line education and drawing attention to the fact that online learning was, and continues to be, a vehicle for student access and equity in higher educationparticularly for women.

As you get together with your colleagues for a morning tea this International Women’s Day, I have a favour to ask. Don’t just enjoy the free cupcakes. Make sure to ask each other what you’ll actively be doing this year to help promote gender equity in your workplace.

Associate Professor Dawn Gilmore, RMIT Online, Academic Director [email protected] @DawnGilmore9


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