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Gender equity: South West uni leads the way

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A South West university leader has helped the campus to become the first tertiary institution in Australia to be recognised for supporting gender equity, diversity and inclusion.

Edith Cowan University has been awarded the inaugural Cygnet Award after years of work to create better support for people of all genders, especially within the STEM sectors.

Led by ECU’s Bunbury-based vice-president Cobie Rudd, the university has worked towards a sustained commitment to gender equality through the internationally accredited Athena Swan program.

Professor Rudd, who has led the university through the rigorous Athena Swan accreditation process, said the benefits of inclusion and equity were felt through all levels of the university’s community.


“This is direct testimony to our commitment to helping progress people of all genders — including in STEM where there’s often a male domination — helping them to achieve their career goals without barriers and obstacles that have historically been blocks,” she said.

Professor Rudd has been working towards this accreditation since 2015, saying there was a trend in STEM areas.

“We see more women in certain STEM programs and courses at the start of the journey, but as time goes by, they are less likely to graduate and go on to senior positions,” she said.

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“Some something happens along the way for women, where the barriers of lack of capacity for flexible work impacts on them, more so than men.”

“When I started this work in 2015, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of rooms that would be named after men or, you know, you’d go into rooms where all the photos of the top people or the top researchers, they were male,” she said.

“The environment itself didn’t actually kind of do that ‘You can be what you can see,’ because you actually couldn’t see women leadership happening.”

She said real change came down to management at a staff level, the context of the COVID-19 pandemic having serious gendered impacts on workplace equality in all sectors.

“People in the institution are our most valuable asset, and that’s what drives our collective commitment and shared motivation to achieving gender equality, diversity and inclusion,” Professor Rudd said.

“The achievement of this Cygnet Award provides an opportunity to congratulate all of my colleagues who have worked so hard to reduce gender inequalities — this award is for everyone in the university.”

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