The University of Adelaide’s search for engineering academics to fill vacant positions is being viewed as an opportunity to address its gender gap.
For the first time in its history, the University of Adelaide is seeking only women candidates for open academic positions in its Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences.
The job ads are looking for candidates to join the faculty as lecturers through to associate professors in a variety of disciplines – from aerospace engineering to software and structural engineering, to cyber security, statistics and probability.
Deputy Dean for Performance and Infrastructure Peter Ashman said gender balance in its STEM disciplines is something the university has struggled with for a long time.
“It’s been an issue since I was an undergraduate 30 years ago. There was a big push in those days to attract more women into the engineering profession as students but also as staff, and while we’ve made some progress over that time it’s still woefully inadequate,” he told the ABC.
Recruitment and retention
According to the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training data, only about 40 per cent of the university’s academic staff are women. That number drops to 16 per cent for the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences, and the gap is also noticeable in senior roles.
“Faced with the ongoing challenge of gender equity in our faculty … we wanted to do something that was very visible and would give female applicants some confidence that we are looking at them seriously,” Ashman said.
Besides increasing the number of women academics in the Faculty, Ashman added that he hopes the job ads will have ongoing effects by increasing the number of women who enrol in engineering disciplines at the university.
“One of the reasons [women] don’t come through is because they don’t see the role models,” Ashman said.
Faculty Deputy Dean for Students Professor Katrina Falkner told The Advertiser that having more women role models would have had a “significant” effect on her career. She added that it could be isolating for women trying to network when they were “the only woman in the room”.
“We know any kind of business team performs better when you have good gender balance. This could be a positive step for the university,” Falkner said.
The ads also highlight university benefits such as “a dependant travel fund for staff with caring responsibilities” and “a staff research support transition scheme for those returning from parental leave” — important provisions not just for recruitment, but retention of women in engineering roles as well.
Job ads that preclude certain people from applying are not illegal. The Equal Opportunity Act allows special exemptions for schemes that benefit a “particular disadvantaged group”. A university representative said the job ads were created in consultation with the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner.
University of Adelaide isn’t the first institution to try this recruitment method. Back in 2016, the University of Melbourne posted job ads seeking only women applicants for jobs in its School of Mathematics and Statistics, which at the time had only 10 per cent women professors.
“We clearly have an issue with attracting female applicants appropriately to our workforce,” said Professor Aleks Owczarek, head of the school.
“This is an agenda to address that.”