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This week our Chancellor, Sir Neville Jordan, has been quoted as saying he’s “not hung up” on the fact that the University Council has a despicable gender balance (currently 13 men, six women).
Before I get into a discussion about another white dude in power, I’ll let you know a little bit about me. I’m a Pākehā (my Dad was born in Holland, as were my mum’s parents—so about as white as you can get), towards the straight end of the Kinsey Scale, and am an able bodied cis male with money in my bank account a roof over my head and the odd Apple device. While I’m not a trust fund kid (my mum has had a teacher’s salary most of her career and dad earns shit-all growing organic veges) I fully acknowledge that I’m in a very privileged position at the top of an organisation.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel really bizarre even writing this column about women in governance, given that I’m not one. But I think it’s crucial that dudes call other dudes out on their bullshit as long as we don’t speak over women in the process.
Sir Neville Jordan, is in an extremely privileged position. While he has built up a huge amount of wealth and power, in my interactions he comes across as a humble, kind-hearted generous person. However, he doesn’t appear to acknowledge the doors that were open, simply because he’s a white dude, that helped him achieve what he has.
By not acknowledging the issues with the gender balance on University Council, the Chancellor is demonstrating ignorance of the systematic barriers faced by women (and virtually anyone who hasn’t won the privilege lottery). He is not alone in this. Overwhelming male dominance in positions of power is a global phenomenon as a product of the glass ceiling effect. Universities have a role to play in changing this dynamic. If Vic wants to be a leading capital city university, then surely the person at the head of the institution should at least have a solid understanding and consideration of gender equality.
In my short experience of University Council, the critical mass of old white dudes around the table normalises casual sexism to the extent where it’s not vocally challenged despite the many silent cringes. As Helen Clark said in a speech recently, “making progress for women can be accelerated when women have that critical mass of seats at decision-making tables.”
We need a Council that reflects Victoria’s community with an equitable gender balance. This year we have a chance to change the makeup of Council to address these long standing issues and I urge the Chancellor to rethink his position and support such moves.