This resource examines five interrelated concepts that underpin equal opportunity policies and practices in higher education and research industries: intersectionality, equity, diversity, inclusion and access.

You are on Chapter 2 of 5: Equity

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction and intersectionality
  2. Equity (current page)
    1. Gender equity in service
      • Text Box 3: How to implement gender equity in hiring and promotion
      • Text Box 4: How to reward public service and activism
    2. Motherhood penalty
    3. Fatherhood bonus
      • Text Box 6: How to promote equitable parental leave and part-time work options
    4. Work/ life balance
  3. Diversity
  4. Inclusion
  5. Access
  6. Notes

2. Equity

Equity refers to identifying barriers, issues and solutions to structural disadvantage.

It is well-established that wherever women are employed in low numbers, they face greater stress, pressure to conform, to be perfect, to not draw attention to themselves—all the while being more socially isolated, judged against negative stereotypes and denied professional credibility (Rosabeth Moss Kante Kanter 1977).

Then again, women and femmes of colour, along with other gender minorities, are ‘presumed incompetent,’ routinely questioned by White women and men faculty and students about their credentials and seen as a ‘tokenistic’ or ‘affirmative action’ hires (Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012). The latter myth persists even though White middle class women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action initiatives (Victoria Massie 2016; Tim Wise 1998). Common experiences include a Black woman professor told to drop her research to teach summer courses because she is ‘nurturing,’ and a Latina lesbian discouraged by White women and men from applying for tenure and told to abandon her feminist research (‘too controversial’). The ‘physical manifestations’ of racism shows another intersection: disability and race. Racism in academia leads to higher rates of physical and mental health illness for women of colour academics.

Women and femmes of colour experience extreme isolation (including by White women), professional disrespect, ignorance on the gender equity issues they face – such as competing demands of family, community and career needs, and they are ‘underemployed and overused by departments and/or institutions’ (Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner 2002).

The majority of equity and diversity policies in academia cater to women in dominant groups, usually White, middle-class, cisgender able-bodied women. First Nations and other women of colour do not necessarily feel protected by these policies, and they are often isolated from women’s groups that are run by, and for, White women.

In short, it is not enough to look at equity as a gender issue in isolation. Instead, we must address how gender inequity and racism are compounded by disability, sexuality, class and other social disadvantages (see ‘Chapter 3: Intersectionality’).

‘Fix the women’ approaches don’t lead to institutional changes

Programs that try to address equity have what I call a “fix the women” approach. There are four issues with this approach. First, they are tunnel-visioned by the erroneous view that equity is solely about gender, and specifically women’s rights in relation to men. In this sense, women are positioned as a monolithic category. This means other axes of oppression are ignored. To put it another way, many equity programs don’t adequately address how women from majority or privileged groups have some structural advantages over other minority women due to dynamics such as race, class, disability, sexuality and so on.

Second, equity programs almost exclusively focus on cisgender White women (that is, women who are not transgender or gender diverse). This definition of womanhood ignores the additional hurdles that women of colour face, and does not address the needs of other gender minorities, including femmes (feminine-identifying people who may or may not be cisgender women), transgender women, intersex people, agender people, and others who experience gender inequity. Women and femmes are disproportionately affected by gender inequity, but race in particular narrows life choices, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and femmes, Black, other women-identifying folk of colour.

Third, most gender equity programs are overly focused on individual training, such as building up women’s confidence to ask for promotions – but this misses the point. Women face structural barriers and individual approaches that expect women to change themselves (often to emulate masculine norms) do not get to the cause of gender inequity.

Longitudinal research finds that advances in gender equity have had limited impact. Where there has been improvement, the focus of programs has been mostly on approaches that have limited benefit for White women (Frank Dobbin, Soohan Kim and Alexandra Kalev 2011). For example, schemes that focus on mentoring alone do little to help women of minority backgrounds, who face not just sexism, but also racism. Similarly, training programs alone have no systematic benefits for disabled women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) women and femmes, and other minorities who cannot push for change as individuals. Why is this the case?

Equity and diversity training programs mostly ask minorities and White women to change themselves to be more like the ideal (like cisgender White men), without asking the institution to change. Even when women do follow masculine expectations, they are punished. 

Studies show that women are seen as aggressive or rude when they exert their freedom to be more confident. This includes a corpus of 450 million words published in both fiction and non-fiction books, where women are called “pushy” at twice the rate of men (Nic Subtirelu 2014a), and the same goes for “bossy” (Nic Subtirelu 2014b). This comes through in performance reviews studies, which analyse the language used by managers (Kieran Snyder 2014). Men are praised for showing initiative and more positive language is used to describe their achievements. Whereas managers tend to speak more critically of women for speaking up, and negative language is used to describe not only their ambition, but performance reviews focus less on their skills and more on their personality: a team player versus too aggressive.

As we see, ‘fix the women’ approaches do not lead to widespread change.

Gender equity issues are not just individual women’s issues. They affect everybody, including cisgender men and gender diverse people. In the rest of this section, I outline issues that lead to entrenched gender inequity in academia, from the unequal allocation of service work, to public service, to parental leave to work/life balance. But if you’d like to get started on institutional change, Text Box 3 below provides some useful strategies that target gender equity issues at the structural level, starting with hiring and promotion.

Text Box 3: How to implement gender equity in hiring and promotion

Australian law allows for targeted recruitment of women and Aboriginal people; this should be used as a recruitment asset. White women are not a proxy for any other underrepresented group; that means, hiring a White disabled woman does not achieve equity for Indigenous or other disabled people of colour. Considered recruitment efforts must be made to ensure minorities apply for jobs.

Make a public commitment to targets and quotas in the recruitment, promotion and retention of minorities and White women.

  • Increase secure funding for ongoing Indigenous-identified positions at all levels, with immediate attention to senior and Executive roles.
  • Contracts with recruitment companies should stipulate equity and diversity targets, which, if not met, means the company will not be used again in future by the institution

Implement best practice in hiring. 

  • De-identified application processes can reduce bias, but long-listed and short-listed candidates should be monitored for intersectionality at every step.
  • Lack of intersectionality of short-listed candidates should be reviewed and formally reconsidered.
  • Unsuccessful minorities and White women candidates should receive detailed and constructive feedback, with high-potential candidates enthusiastically invited to apply in future rounds for similar roles.
  • Indigenous and other women of colour may benefit from receiving kind and constructive personalised outreach by a member of the institution to strengthen their next application.

Remove exclusionary questions and bias from interviews. Asking people to account for career gaps sends a negative signal, especially to women who are used to being penalised for taking time to care for children. Similarly asking people if they have a disability sends a message of discrimination. Even if presented as ‘we need to know if we need to make special adjustments,’ disabled people often face prejudice.

  • Promote such adjustments in job advertisements, as well as clearly state the institution’s commitment to making workplace adjustments.
  • Workplaces should make buildings and roles accessible from the outset and then make additional modifications as required
  • Include a list of possible adjustments for each phase of recruitment, such as varying assessment tasks for neurodiverse people, dimmed lighting for visually impaired people, the ability to conduct all phases of recruitment via Skype or using other technology.

Make adjustments ‘relative to opportunity.’

  • Funding applications should include a provision for researchers to signal they’ve had a career gap but demonstrate this is not seen as a deficiency.
  • Allow ciswomen, gender minorities, disabled people and others to pick the years of research output that they’d like to be judged against.
  • Develop explicit guidelines so that quality not quantity of publications matter during grants review.

Assemble diverse hiring and promotion panels.

  • Panels should not only have broad gender representation, but also include disabled, Indigenous people, and other people of colour.
  • To avoid overburdening underrepresented faculty, minority and White women academics should either be remunerated for this corporate labour or institutions should bring in panellists from other agencies or institutions.
  • Recruitment and promotions panels should be required to write to the Vice Chancellor or Director of the institution to formally explain any recruitment action that favours White men over minorities.

Provide mandatory unconscious bias and other cultural awareness training about all protected characteristics.

  • Training for all executives, managers, and anyone sitting on recruitment, funding  and promotions panels.
  • Focus on the strengths, talents and unique needs of Indigenous people, as well as other gender, racial, sexual, and disability training
  • This training is not enough. It must be coupled with a practical plan of action for achieving change (such as key performance indicators) to be implemented as part of training.

Ensure equitable promotions is a core business goal.

  • Ensure people at all levels clearly understand the concrete requirements for promotions.
  • Promotions of minorities and White women should be tied to key performance indicators for all managers, so they invest in diversity.
  • Remove tacit expectations and other barriers that presume women should emulate White men to get ahead (for example, the need to be more ‘assertive’ or self-interested).
  • Provide peer-to-peer buddy system with recently promoted staff, as well as mentoring and networking opportunities on improving applications and to practice interviews.
  • Showcase the career outcomes and opportunities of minorities and White women in career development events.
  • Default minorities and White women for consideration of promotion at regular intervals.
  • Alternatively, senior managers can annually review the CVs for promotion. If staff don’t feel ready, compassionately listen to their reasons and encourage them by providing opportunity for training and mentoring to get them ready.
  • If the barrier is presumption that senior roles preclude work/life balance, review senior positions to implement equity.
  • Provide promotions at all levels for both teaching and research staff.
  • Make available one-on-one coaching for women and gender minorities.

Weave equity into the induction process. 

  • Ensure induction covers various policies in an engaging and interactive way, rather than simply asking new staff to read volumes of dry text they will soon forget.
  • Include case studies to make salient key messages on rights and responsibilities.
  • Refresh equity policies and training at regular intervals, especially for all managers.

2.1 Gender equity in service

There is a massive problem with academic service and the undervaluing of minorities and White women’s “invisible labour” – that is, the administrative and pastoral care work that goes unrecognised.

Women do more unpaid academic service and emotion work

Women in general do more academic service than men (Cassandra Guarino and Victor Borden 2017). Women as a whole also do teaching than men; they are more likely to be on administrative committees that don’t advance their careers; and they have less time for research. In general, women are expected to do unpaid emotion work in the workplace. This includes managing our own feelings in unfair settings against social expectations of what we ought to feel (‘feeling rules’), looking after the feelings of others, and anticipating other people’s needs whilst subverting our own emotions (cf. Arlie Russell Hochschild 1983). This unpaid labour has high costs on workers’ mental health, especially those who have less organisational power but are expected to smile, overlook or otherwise fight professional gaslighting (George Simon 2011; Samantha Young 2016). In research and academic settings, this might mean spending long hours listening to grievances of colleagues, mentoring students even when they are not a direct supervisee, and managing the inner turmoil of not being listened to and looked after by the organisation.

Women publish at similar rates as men but are not rewarded

Yet despite all this unpaid admin, pastoral and emotion work, women still publish at comparable rates to men, when viewed relative to women’s proportional representation in different sub-fields (Karen Schucan Bird 2011). Men might publish in greater absolute numbers (which is an outcome of gender imbalance and therefore evidence of inequity), but women are cited more frequently (Elizabeth Culotta 1993). The issue is not that women cannot match the volume of men’s work, it’s that they do much more work on top.

Research suggests women academics are more collaborative and publish prolifically as co-authors, but they are less likely to be listed as first author, at least in “prestigious” journals (Leslie Rigg et. al. 2011). Men are also gaming the system; from the year 1779 to 2011 (that’s the majority of formal foundation of Western academia), men are 56% more likely to cite themselves in comparison to women who cite their own works (Molly King et al. 2017). This is another indication of gendered notions of what it means to be collegial.

In short, women’s research is not sufficiently recognised nor valued by our universities or the academy.

Aboriginal people’s scholarship is not valued

Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson is a Geonpul woman from Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), Quandamooka First Nation (Moreton Bay) in Queensland. Moreton-Robinson (2000) illustrates how Aboriginal women’s scholarly contributions encompass notions of relationality (generosity, respect, empathy, respect for culture, nurturing communities) and spirituality (country, mission and kinship). These central concepts which frame Indigeous contributions are not only de-valued in academia, they are openly disputed by White women and other non-Indigenous scholars, who continue to ignore or undermine Indigenous ways of knowing. Moreton Robinson argues:

“As keepers of the family, Indigenous women are the bearers of subjugated knowledges, and their experience speak of intersubjectivity between white women and themselves in white cultural domains…”

As a result, Aboriginal women deal with additional responsibilities, not just in mentoring students, but also in navigating service to their communities. This exemplifies First Nation women’s strong leadership; however, this cultural knowledge is not rewarded by the academy.

Watch the video below to hear Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, sociologist and Bundjalung and Worimi woman, talk about the methods, community service and insights that Aboriginal people bring to the academy, which are not adequately recognised.

Women’s public outreach is not recognised

Women academics’ outreach has been limited by media conventions, with journalists more likely to contact male researchers for stories (Lafrance 2016; Yong 2018; von Roten 2010). This is slowly changing with social media, with technology providing another avenue to engage with the public. Women and male academics use social media for public communication at equal levels (McClain 2017), though women are less likely to use blogging as opposed to Twitter (Sugimoto et al. 2017). Yet public outreach is more publicly recognised when male academics do it. Women in general are more likely to be informally sanctioned by their peers over their online public outreach (Johnson et. al. 2013). The stakes are higher for women of colour and other minorities, who are targeted for harassment with little institutional support (Zevallos 2017a, 2017b).

Minority people of colour do more unpaid human rights work

On top of routine work, people of colour, especially Indigenous and other Black women, take on academic activism (Zevallos 2017b), advocacy of human rights and additional mental health support of students and colleagues. Women of colour also do the highest-cost equity work (Sara Ahmed 2015) with diminished rewards and impact for themselves (Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner et al. 2011). This is despite the fact that they work on ’emancipative social thought’ and social justice alongside other equity issues (Yolanda Flores Niemann 2012: pp. 446-500). This additional emotion work by academics of colour takes its toll (Louwanda Evans and Wendy Leo Moore 2015). 

Institutions rely on minorities and White women – especially Indigenous and other Black women – to do the lion’s share of meeting their legal responsibilities and pushing change on equity. This work goes unpaid, or where there are equity and diversity officers, they are often inadequately resourced and not given authority to act on the inequities they witness.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics are overburdened by additional service requests, such as being asked to do Acknowledgement of Country (welcoming ritual to open events). Indigenous academics also face the burden of attempting to decolonise their academic disciplines, facing hostility or alienation for doing so (Kathleen Butler-McIlwraith 2006; Zevallos 2018). Further, Aboriginal people do extensive community organising, on top of other extra curricular activities. As Yiman and Bidjara woman, Professor Marcia Langton, explains in the Blackademia (2020) podcast below, being an Aboriginal academic means going to protests and showing up for community events, as much as attending meetings and conferences.

Murri woman from South-East Queensland, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks (2013), notes that non-Indigenous academics who espouse ideals of equity and social justice are just as likely to exercise racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars. Only eight years earlier, Fredericks and another Aboriginal woman PhD, Pamela Croft, were asked to do three days’ worth of unpaid work to review university policies. Their Aboriginal knowledges and expertise were expected to be gifted to non-Aboriginal consumption, as if the exchange was equal. It is not. While many academic tasks are not remunerated, Aboriginal women are asked to do the same unpaid work as other women, along with racial justice work. Fredericks writes:

Moreover, the whole argument that ‘you don’t have to be one to teach Indigenous Studies’ is negated when the issue of needing an Indigenous person arises for the purposes of equity, cultural diversity, representation, to sit on a committee, be a resource to assist in connecting students to community groups, or in this case to be a member of a review panel (Deloria 2004; Mihesuah 2004). In this there is a difference between authority and authenticity and legitimate and illegitimate knowledge.

Gamilaroi woman, Bindi Bennett, along with Helen Redfern and Joanna Zubrzycki (2018) examined how Indigenous academics and practitioners contribute to culturally responsible methods of supporting students, families and communities in social work. For example, by emphasising knowledges embodied in land, animals, plants, waterways, skies, climate and spiritual systems, and an emphasis on culture and kinship. Intergenerational trauma means that young people need not just academic guidance but also cultural supervision (an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who can help them navigate their studies). They also need recognition of how their education and research interests align with their community ties, and anti-racism advocacy. Moreover, Indigenous scholars are often exposed to, and forced to speak up against, racism in higher education as well as correcting historical inaccuracies in curriculum.

All of this specialised cultural work requires additional knowledge, community training, labour and time that is not rewarded by the academy.

Studies demonstrate that minority academics face multiple forms of sexism, racism and homophobia that makes academia a hostile environment (Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs et. al. 2012). Daily interactions reinforce that minorities are not supported and valued (Brett Stockdill et. al. 2012). People of colour, especially Indigenous and other Black women, face a disproportionate amount of harassment.

Text Box 4: How to reward public service and activism

Equity work is the backbone of a fairer organisation, while public outreach brings esteem to the organisation.

Make the workload transparent.

  • Ensure teaching, mentoring, pastoral care and administration duties are evenly distributed across genders and at all levels.
  • Formally recognise and allow time for outreach and professionally-related social-media.
  • Anonymised workload should be accessible to all staff (at least broken down by gender, race, disability and other characteristics where the privacy of individuals can be protected).

Validate and reward equity work.

  • Adequately remunerate or prominently recognise equity work with high-profile organisational awards.
  • Empower equity and diversity workers to influence policy change and properly inform sanctioning of misconduct.
  • Social justice work by Indigenous academics, disabled scholars, and other minorities should be recognised as part of promotion opportunities.
  • Equity and diversity champions should be diverse. White men should not receive special kudos for this work over and above minorities and White women.

Support public outreach and social media professionalism of minorities and White women.

2.2 “Motherhood penalty”

As I’ve described previously, the motherhood penalty refers to the ways mothers are penalised at work. Shelley Correll and colleagues (2007) find that there is a cultural bias against women at work, and that the experience is especially acute for women who care for children. When sending fake résumés to hundreds of employers, including a line about being part of a parent-teacher association, CVs with women’s names were half as likely to get a call back as men. The presumption is that women are going to be too busy looking after their kids to devote themselves to the job. Conversely, potential employers perceive men with children as being stable and committed. To bring the point home: women with children are erroneously seen as unreliable and more easily distractible, while men with children are an asset to their jobs.

Womens’ earning potential worsens after having children, while men’s increases after fatherhood

Correll and colleagues’ research also finds that, on average, mothers are offered a starting wage $11,000 less than women who are childfree. Yet fathers were offered $6,000 more than nonfathers – and $13,000 more than mothers. This suggests some inequity between women once they have children, but an even bigger gap between women and men.

A longitudinal study from 1979 to 2006 finds that men’s earnings increased more than 6% when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased by 4% for each child they had (Michelle Budig 2014). The gap persisted even after controlling for factors like experience, education, hours worked, and spousal incomes. While some fathers sometimes work more after they have children, this only correlates with 16% of their bonus pay. While some mothers cut back on hours or accept lower-paying jobs that are more family-friendly, this explains only a quarter to a third of the motherhood penalty.

Indigenous mothers and other women of colour are most disadvantaged

Then again, women of colour suffer even more due to employer bias, especially Indigenous and other Black women, particularly those from working class and other minority backgrounds. This is true for all professions, including academia in Australia, the UK and the USA. Women of colour suffer greater disadvantages due to their family and community responsibilities, which are not supported by the academy (Sotello Viernes Turner 2002). ‘Family friendly policies’ often do not take into consideration women of colour’s leadership roles outside of academia, which are intricately interwoven with their academic life. For Indigenous scholars, their primary motivation for education and research is likely to be bound up with the cultural survival and resilience of their people; for Latin researchers, there’s a strong community affiliation and the need to give back; for Black academics it is racial justice and community strength. 

Text Box 5: How to remove the motherhood bias

Commit to reducing the gender pay gap with honesty and transparency. 

  • Analyse and make public salary and benefits across genders, with some key references to marital status and family responsibilities

Promote clear and specific family-friendly policies in job ads. 

  • Include wording that welcomes people with career gaps to apply.
  • Highlight Indigenous family-friendly policies, including flexibility to bring children and other family members to work, special time off for sorry business (extended bereavement leave for community rites).
  • Showcase proactive policies via a special landing page on websites for applicants who wish to know more

Represent and support diversity amongst carers.

  • Consider and address the unique needs of people caring for children, parents, disabled family members, foster parents, and extended family in the case of Indigenous academics.
  • Make it easy to extend the period of tenure-track for all carers.

Support women’s transition to maternity leave.

  • Provide special fellowship or additional funds to hire a part-time or full-time research assistant to maintain funding requirements whilst on leave.
  • Where welcomed by the mother, offer a singular point of contact chosen by the woman to remain in touch whilst on leave, to the pre-arranged stipulation of the mother.
  • Ensure maternity leave equally covers adoption and foster care

Lift the workload of mothers returning to work.

  • Explicitly allow at least one day working from home in principle.
  • Partner returning mothers with other women who have previously taken maternity leave

Fund re-entry schemes to attract mothers returning after a career break.

  • Following extended maternity leave, allocate scholar reshment time for women to catch up on literature and developments in their field, as part of their return to work plan.
  • Provide relief or reduced load for teaching and administrative duties upon return to work for a set period

Special support for single parents and part-time carers.

  • Ensure parents, mothers and part-time carers are making full-use of flexible work options (see below), without career penalties or extra unpaid work.
  • Provide job-share and other arrangements to increase promotion of single parents and part-time carers.

Provide childcare.

  • Review the need for childcare at least biannually, with the aim to build or increase on-site facilities.
  • Otherwise create subsidies with nearby childcare providers or coordinate with other research institutions to build or lease new facilities.
  • All local conferences should provide childcare options or rebates. For smaller institutions, corporate sponsorship is a good way to fund this option.
  • Make travel bursaries or scholarships available to cover childcare

Cultivate a family-friendly culture.

  • Designate family spaces or special events where families can visit, where this poses no occupational health and safety risk.
  • Parents’ room in a toilet is not adequate for breastfeeding. Designate a clean, comfortable and lockable room for breastfeeding, with facilities to express milk (a mini-fridge, arm chair, and adjacent bathroom). Providing a confidential online sign-up sheet might help mothers to coordinate feeds or expressing.

2.3 “Fatherhood Bonus”

Robert B. Townsend (2013) finds that male academics who have children receive tenure, on average, two years quicker than women. His research shows that 25.6% of women history professors take leave following the birth of a child, while only 3.4%of male professors do the same. Moreover, 8.3% of women professors said that they had taken a leave for child-care reasons, while only 4.8% of male professors had done so.

Men spend less time on childcare and take less parental leave 

While both men and women work the same number of hours, women spend more time on child or elder care. Townsend finds that, at associate professor level, women do 13.6 hours a week compared to men’s 9.1 hours. At the full professor level, the gap is 5.2 hours a week compared to 2.9 hours a week. Townshend finds women were also more likely to leave a position in order to support their spouse or partner’s career. To make these differences even more visible, Townsend reports 85% of male history professors think women are treated fairly, whie only 55% of women professors agree. Jessica McCutcheon and Melanie Morrison (2016) have similarly found that women academics spend at least 10 hours more on childcare than men and this impacts negatively on their sense of productivity.

In another study by Steven and Christopher Rhoads (2012), the researchers find that 69% of academic women take parental leave after a child is born but only 12% of men do the same, even when it’s paid leave. When they do take leave, men are more likely to use this time to do research and finish off papers.

The ‘fatherhood bonus’ exists because heterosexual men who work full-time benefit from the unpaid domestic, emotion and childare labour of their women partners. Heterosexual men do not return this labour to their women academic partners, leading to physical and mental ‘burn-out’ (Gizem Günçavdı et al. 2017). Women are more likely than men to be married to an academic but women academics are also more likely to make career sacrifices than their partners (Mary Ann Mason et al. 2013). In short, inequity is built into both the working and home lives of academics. As such, the academy must act by reorganising its labour relations.

Structural dynamics limit personal choices

Often, dynamics of inequity are framed as a personal choice – women make a decision to have children and stop working to be the primary caregiver. Yet the choice is made under structural constraints created by the academic system. Research careers demand long hours, making it difficult to continue working full-time as a primary caregiver. Women academics are paid less than men. So when the decision comes to plan a family, the financial context makes it more likely that women will suffer. If the academic culture could shift to meet modern demands of family, then flexible work arrangements should make it equally likely that any parent of any gender takes time out to look after their children. Moreover, part-time options would be promoted to men and be supportive of single parents as much as it is for dual-parent families.

What might a more equitable paternity and part-time workforce look like? Read on below for some ideas your organisation might consider.

Text Box 6: How to promote equitable parental leave and part-time work options

Promote equitable paternal leave as an opportunity to connect with family, and remove pressure to work. Ensure paternity is equally accessible to transgender, same-sex and adoptive fathers. Do not disadvantage non-biological parents (foster and adoptive dads). Allow flexibility to share or transfer parental leave to free up men to be the primary caregiver.

Comprehensive parental leave pack actively promoted to men as well as others, including information on parental leave policies, flexible work arrangements, campus child care facilities, testimonials from executive managers promoting paternity leave benefits for diverse men and their partners, and case studies of men who have thrived by sharing parenting responsibilities as well as support for single parents.

Make part-time and shared-work arrangements universal. Advertise all positions as shared work. Executives should meet with managers and supervisors to encourage uptake. Where roles have unique needs that require full-time hours, negotiate alternatives, such as a fixed number of hours equivalent to part-time that must be met in six or 12 month blocks. Perhaps for parents this might mean a few weeks of consecutive work, with a couple of weeks off.

Regularly review part-time arrangements, so tasks and performance are judged fairly. Part-time carers in particular are penalised for their output if they work their required hours, as they are often judged against ideals set by full-time workers. Part-time workers often work full-time hours to keep up with funding requirements. Develop more equitable metrics to ensure part-time workers are free to work their best and be assessed against the hours they actually work.

Provide leadership opportunities for part-time and share-work staff.

Support fair transition from part-time to full-time workers. Senior managers should meet regularly to monitor and alleviate workload and any other challenges for staff that have chosen to transition to full-time work.

2.4 Work/ life balance

On average, senior academics work between 51 hours (Roderick Duncan et al. 2015) and 61 hours per week (John Zicher 2014), including weekend work. Most of this time is spent teaching in an environment that has become more strained than previous decades (Arthur Levine 2017). While men and women professionals work similar hours, especially at senior levels, men are more likely to report feeling pressure to work long hours (Erin Reid 2015). In general, men feel a sense of pressure to work 80 hours and a pressure to over-report the number of hours they actually work as a result.

Long working hours negatively impact on wellbeing and family

Where people feel in control of their work hours, health is less impacted (Andrea Bassanini 2014). This is true for academics who feel fulfilled by their job and satisfied with their institution (Andrea Brew et al. 2017). Work strain negatively impacts men and women academics alike (Ataus Samad 2014), though longer work hours are especially damaging to the psychological wellbeing of women academics (Victoria Hogan et al. 2015). There is a growing debate about longer hours and productivity, versus quality of work and wellbeing (Meghan Duffy 2015).  Work/ life balance have led to a growing call for ‘slowing down’ academic work (Ruth Müller 2014; Margaret O’Neill 2014)

There is also an increase among men to report wanting to share caring responsibilities, but feeling as if academia is not parent-friendly. Physics professor Philip Moriarty (2014) writes how he’s only been able to cut down on the amount of travel to conferences and workshops because he’s now more senior in his career. Yet he still feels he spends “too much time away” from his children.

Men increasingly report missing out on family time

A study by Sarah Damaske and colleagues (2014) finds that the majority of academic men reported feeling “pull of fatherhood” was in tension with the demands of academic science. Sixty-four percent of men wanted to spend more time with their children, and 15% said they chose not to become fathers because they thought they could not balance this with their careers. A small number of men believed they may never have children because they saw fatherhood as incompatible with the demands of academic science. The researchers writes:

These findings suggest to us that the academy does not merely have a gender problem, but also a child-rearing problem — men who want to have and spend time with their children likely will face challenges in academic science.

Text Box 7: Actively promote work/life balance

I’ve shown elsewhere that simple changes can promote a healthy work/life culture. Some tips:

  • Analyse faculty and staff awareness of flex-work policies, as well as uptake and managerial practices. Reduce the need for formal approval of flex work for short periods. Develop teaching timetables in ways that provide flexibility and don’t penalise junior staff or carers.
  • Implement core hours. While this will depend on the business culture of your country, in Australia this might ideally be from 9.30am to 3.30pm, which aligns with dropping off or picking up kids for school. Important meetings and seminars should not be scheduled outside of this time. This ensures people with caring responsibilities do not miss out on activities that will impact their career progression. Do not schedule important meetings on days where part-time staff are out of the office. Vary meeting days to maximise attendance from a broad range of members. Consider timing of meetings so they do not regularly clash with prayer times and religious festivals.
  • No emails or corporate communications to be sent outside business hours, unless it is an emergency or time-pressured issue. Review circumstances and provide additional support to staff who consistently send emails on the weekend. Exemptions might be made as part of flexible work with a disclaimer, such as ‘I am sending this email now as it suits my work/life balance but I do not expect you to respond outside of work hours’.
  • Promote corporate activities to normalise working flexibly. For example, grey out calendars outside of business hours (9am to 5pm in Australia) to discourage meetings at unfriendly times, and to entice flexibility for start and end times (see Cindy Wiryakusuma et al. 2017). ‘Leaders leaving loudly is a practice where managers and executives have regular positive conversations with staff about the benefits of flex-work and ensuring they model behaviour by making a point to show they leave early.
  • Positively promote working-from-home arrangements. While some academic workplaces take it as a given that researchers can manage their work hours as they see fit, not all research workplaces implement this. In other cases, it simply leads to overwork. Publicising case studies where staff and students of all genders and backgrounds have accessed flexible work and furthered their careers to show others what possibilities are available.
  • Monitor and address the impact of flex work: part-time staff are often expected to work the equivalent of full-time staff, and are not given promotions opportunities. Similarly, people with disability are often denied access to flex work options, such as working from home for additional days, and using compressed or varied hours. Institutions should implement checks and balances to ensure part-time staff and people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities to progress into leadership, including through secondments, acting up and promotion.
  • Vary the times and types of social and corporate events. Always hosting dinner and drinks at night makes it tough for people with caring responsibilities, and it’s especially tough for single parents. Similarly, minimise breakfast meetings. These are exclusive to people who cannot afford a paid carer. Avoid scheduling staff celebrations during important religious or cultural holidays. Reconsider all-staff events on contentious dates, such as Australia Day (a day of mourning for First Nations), as this is both alienating and directly contradicts equity and inclusion.
  • Provide alcohol-free options. Corporate celebrations that always involve alcohol are prohibitive for Muslim and other religious minorities as well as staff managing alcohol dependency. For occasional evening events, ensure important speeches and awards are announced early so staff who may be uncomfortable around alcohol can enjoy the key highlights. Offer a fun and tasty range of non-alcoholic drinks, rather than simply just orange juice. If your workplace can afford beer and wine, it can also serve non-alcoholic “mocktails,” so that staff abstaining from drinking are not confined to a limited social experience.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction and intersectionality
  2. Equity
  3. Diversity
  4. Inclusion
  5. Access


To cite this article:

Zevallos, Z. (2020) ‘Equity, Diversity, Intersectionality, Inclusion and Access,’ The Other Sociologist, 16 February. Online resource: