The Science Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative based off of the Athena SWAN Charter started 10 years ago in the UK. Since the pilot in 2015, there has been a yearly SAGE symposium and this year was in Brisbane. I had applied to attend the STEM Superstar Communicator workshop and failed, but ended up getting a free ticket to the rest of the symposium. Never hurts to try!
It was a whirlwind two days and covered much more than women in the workplace such as LGBTIQ, disability, and indigenous issues. For example, I had never thought of the stress of not being out at work, dealing with water cooler talk about your weekend, the assumptions about the sex of your partner, and how that might affect your everyday work life.
From the very opening, a spell-binding welcome to country by Songwoman Maroochy, the day provided a lot of new perspectives. Hearing white men championing the issues was something special like Adi Paterson, a white, male, CEO question why there was no child care facility at his office and discussing intersectionality was jaw-dropping. There was a lot of emphasis on top-down values and change at these institutions which is sadly very pivotal and more effective than the possibilities at the worker level. Seeing men and women at those upper echelons of power at large organizations who were thinking about gender equity was encouraging. By the end of the day, I was suffering from 'CEO fatigue' and it was a godsend that they had two students speak during the closing.
The attendees were 90% women which is not necessarily right, but to be expected at a gender equity conference and it was also 95% white. There was a diverse set of speakers all day from white men to indigenous community members yet that diversity was not reflected in the attendees. Despite that, the actions to make the event inclusive were noticeable with a preferred pronouns on the name tags, child care, closed captioning, and Auslan sign language interpreters all day. The Brisbane Convention Center was a gorgeous, tech savvy venue, but do they really need to put to-go coffee cups when they also provide enough 'real' cups?
It was interesting to see some of the inner workings of a university or a large organization. Flexibility was a key theme, in work hours and in leave, not limited to maternity leave, but also paternity leave and carer's leave and flexibility to address nuances for every individual situation. There seems to be a delicate balance between policies and flexibility. Diversity and inclusion across the board is the goal, but getting to that point is still a long way off. The symposium was amazing to see all these people switched on about the topic, but there is always an element of preaching to the choir at these events. Progress is slow, but an everyday task. Combat everyday sexism, understand the different perspectives of people different than you, and one day we might get there.