Vice-Chancellor Professor Patricia Davidson spoke at last Friday’s International Women’s Day Illawarra lunch at  the WIN Entertainment Centre and hosted a table of some of the 2020 UOW Vice-Chancellor’s Award winners.

The event was attended by a record crowd of 1,000 guests. It provided an opportunity for Professor Davidson to meet people within the region and get to know some of our high-performing academic, research and professional services staff while discussing important issues around gender equity.

Professor Davidson spoke to the theme of this year’s event, “Choose to Challenge”, outlining that International Women’s Day is still relevant because the world is not gender equal. While there has been encouraging progress over the years, the journey continues globally towards gender equality.

“Even here in Australia in 2021, at a place and time in which we are so privileged compared to many in the world, we still have some way to go until we achieve gender equality. International Women’s Day is a significant opportunity to raise awareness for the work we still must do to achieve gender equality,” said Professor Davidson.

Professor Davidson also shared her thoughts about effective ways to call out gender bias and inequality in our lives.

“We can’t grow and change without experiencing discomfort, so we all need to lean into constructive discomfort when it happens. To have conversations with our friends, co-workers, peers, and leaders at our workplaces and in society to highlight issues that need urgent attention.”

“We need to speak up when we see inequalities, whether they involve ourselves or others, and insist that they are addressed. We must work together with our male colleagues and partners to accomplish these goals. It is essential to have difficult conversations and call for action when we see issues related to inequity. Often action requires many, many attempts, and we must never give up.”

Touching on women in academia and any changes she has noted over her career, Professor Davidson shared that academia is no different from any other sector. Progress towards equality is positive, but women and are still disproportionately under-represented in some disciplines and levels of seniority.

“My perception is that the biggest challenge facing women in academia or any career is the stage of life they are at; balancing family and work is a big part of that. I urge all women to latch on to any opportunity they can, especially to work with others that build them up and support them.”

This year’s event was led by Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, who gave an inspiring speech about the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her teacher when she was just 15 years old, and the campaign she has been on for legal reform and survivor rights. International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide each year to acknowledge the gains women have made over the years and bring to our attention the issues that still face us. Most of all, it is a day to celebrate and recognise the difference and achievements that women have made and continue to make.

Everyone can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so in 2021, #ChooseToChallenge.