Professor Belinda Tynan has been working in the education sector for more than 30 years.
“I’ve been in higher education since 1998,” Professor Tynan says. “Prior to that, I was in education but I was a school teacher. So I’ve worked across the full dimension.”
In her 18 years working in tertiary education, Professor Tynan has encountered her fair share of challenges in the workplace.
Obtaining the role of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) at RMIT in May this year, Professor Tynan is part of a minority. Only 27 per cent of RMIT’s Professors are women.
Data from Universities Australia released last year shows Professor Tynan’s story is not uncommon among women working in the tertiary education sector.
The 2014 data reveals there is a significant imbalance between the number of women working as academic staff, and the number of women working as professional staff, in Australia’s universities.
While women dominate professional staff roles, they remain significantly underrepresented as academic staff across the sector.
This picture becomes increasingly problematic when looking at senior roles. In these higher positions, women are marginalised in most areas.
Academic ranks in Australia are classified from level A up to level E, with level A signifying a tutor or associate lecturer, and level E indicating a Professor.
Women are most underrepresented at Professoriate level. For full time employment at level E, the gender composition at Victorian universities is somewhat similar to the national sector average.
According to Universities Australia’s data, Swinburne University of Technology and Monash University have the fewest number of women in these roles. But other Victorian universities perform well in the report, with almost 50 per cent of Australian Catholic University’s level E staff being women.
In the report, Universities Australia says, “there have been signs of a steady increase in female representation at more senior levels for both professional and academic staff at a sector-wide level”.
Notably, only 22.5 per cent of CEO roles across Australia’s universities are occupied by females.
When asked why she thinks women are still underrepresented in these higher roles, Professor Tynan says women can often be overlooked or blocked from senior positions.
But universities are looking to improve these statistics.
Many Victorian universities, from Swinburne to Monash, and ACU to La Trobe, have developed workplace gender equality strategic plans. In general, these plans set a framework to encourage more women in to senior positions.
Earlier this month, Professor Tynan was a keynote speaker at an event launching RMIT’s own Gender Equality Action Plan. She says the plan aims, among other things, to address the gender pay gap, ensure promotion panels have 50/50 gender representation, and make RMIT a more attractive workplace for women.
“We see it as being a really important thing that we need to address within this organisation,” Professor Tynan says. “When you have a look at all those figures we benchmark just the same as everyone else in the sector. So we said, ‘that’s not good enough. We need to do something about it’.
“For me being part of that, and being able to champion that, I’m just really pleased.”
Professor Tynan says although she’s experienced many gender related challenges in her 30-odd years working in education, in recent times she has seen change for the better in the attitudes towards women in the workplace.
When asked what advice she would give other women looking to take on more senior positions, Professor Tynan says having self-confidence has helped her secure higher-ranking roles.
She also tells what career advice she would give her younger self.