Hey ladies, all those university degrees will only get you so far.

The number of women graduating from Australian universities with a degree is far out-pacing men. Two-thirds of university students are women and some people (men) are so alarmed by this that they are highlighting it as a gender inequality issue that has to be urgently rectified.

Yep, we’ll get right onto that.

Any hoo, if women are graduating from universities with all these degrees, what are they doing with them? We know they aren’t all using them because men are over-represented in most industries and get paid more to do the same jobs.

Then there’s the issue of tertiary institutions themselves and those students who want to enter research programs, achieve doctorates and maybe even become professors. It’s here, in the upper echelons of tertiary education in Australia, that most institutions more accurately reflect the rest of society.

There just aren’t many women getting to that level.

One of Australia’s top mathematicians is Nalini Joshi. She is a professor at Sydney University and also co-founding chair of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative. Professor Joshi says when it comes to female representation among professors, “Australia is frozen in time.”

Joshi at Press Club
Professor Joshi at the National Press Club. Image: ABC 24

“I am the first female mathematician ever to be appointed as professor at Australia’s oldest university. I was the third female mathematician ever elected to the Australian Academy of Science,” she told Fairfax. “But when I attend functions at the academy, wearing a black suit, with a name badge, I am often mistaken for one of the serving staff. And, I am not alone.”

Professor Joshi addressed the National Press Club last week, calling for an end to the marginalisation of female researchers in Australian universities. She wants a drastic change to this sector which hasn’t seen any improvements in gender relations since the 1950s.

“Research in modern science is still conducted within organisational cultures that resemble a feudal monastery,” she says.


More than 56 per cent of undergraduate degrees and 50 per cent of doctorates in the natural and physical sciences are awarded to women and yet only 14 per cent of professors are women. Professor Joshi blames this on poor rates of promotion for female deans and department chairs.

“Why? How did we, as a modern, progressive society, let this happen?” she asked.

“No matter how well-meaning the government or institutional gender equity or human resources policies are, they do not ask for reflection and change from individuals embedded in this culture, unless appalling behaviour comes to light.”

Professor Joshi is working with SAGE to increase representation of women in higher levels of tertiary institutions. Post continues after this video…

Video by Australian Academy of Science

Women make up just 17 per cent of senior academics in Australian universities, according to the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) report. We’re just not reaching the same heights as men. Is it because women often don’t have the flexibility to fulfill short-term contracts required for research? Is it the absence of maternity leave in these contracts? Are women being deliberately passed over? Are women not as good as men at self-promotion?

“Survival rests on competition, to achieve status or be noticed by a ‘nobility’,” Professor Joshi says, seeming to hint at all of the above.

The bottom line is that when it comes to research departments at Australian universities, they urgently need to become more family-friendly if they are to attract the best possible candidates and the best possible outcomes. The future of research in this country cannot be left in the hands of a male majority because last time I checked there are two genders. They each need to be equally represented.

I can honestly say that I never thought gender inequality would still be so rife in 2016.

In some parts of life we’ve seen progress on gender equality issues and in others, hardly any at all.

So before we tackle the decline of male students achieving university educations, lets ensure that equality exists first in the staff that teaches them and the people who run those departments and institutions.

For the good of both genders.

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