Grant Guilford. If you haven’t heard the name before, he’s the Vice Chancellor, aka, the guy who gets shit done. After seeing Grant tweeting about International Women’s Day and the He For She campaign, it seemed a better time than any to track him down for a chat. With the disparities between male and female academics coming into the spotlight, we wanted to learn more about what Victoria is doing to achieve gender equality on campus.
And so there we were, on an overcast Thursday morning, walking into the grandiose Hunter Building to meet the man himself. Neither of us had met Grant, but with his popularity around campus being of urban legend status, combined with a strong Twitter presence, expectations were high.
Sure enough, we were greeted with a warm smile and a handshake, before being ushered into a conference room where Guildford told us he “sometimes does TV interviews.” It’s at this point that it’s worth noting said conference room featured a huge-gigantic-enormous Colin McCahon painting. Just chilling on the wall like it was no big deal.
Grant, when asked, said that he doesn’t identify as a feminist (no subtle opening questions here guys). Eschewing the label, he preferred to state that he was “someone who cares very deeply about equal opportunity.” It is at this point that we should all ask ourselves, WWGSS (What Would Gloria Steinam Say?—the rubber wrist bands are already in the works).
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Gender equality is something he sees as a duty, and an issue which he needs to take an active role in. He is closely following the He For She campaign, fronted by Emma Watson. “The aim of the He For She campaign is to ensure that males step up and take an active role in the issue. It can’t just be left for women to deal with.”
He spoke extensively on the importance of having women in senior leadership roles, an area Victoria is actually doing well in. He said the university works hard to ensure the opportunities are there for women. With that being said, he stressed the importance of men and women alike not being judgemental of a woman’s decision [e.g. to have babies].
Being careful to speak “delicately” when broaching the subject of women in academia, he told us, “if the opportunities are there and a woman chooses to go all the way to be a professor, that’s great, but if a woman chooses not to do that, taking a part time role and raising a family, and that’s her decision, then there shouldn’t be any judgement over that either.”
“The other side is that there is some judgement that’s put on people who make that decision, they can feel lesser in themselves about that decision, and that shouldn’t be right either.” He really just wants to remove the obstacles, after that, woman can choose what they want to do.
Do you think fewer female professors is just a natural drop off?
Yeah, there’s a challenge. We’re seeing good response to a generational change in the university. We now hire more lecturers who are female and we’ve got more and more senior positions being filled by women. I’m pretty sure that senior lecturers are close to 50/50. In the Associate Professor range we start to see the males being more dominant. Over the last five years there’s been a steady change, and there are more and more females coming through. Our biggest equity issue is getting women into those senior positions. Some of that is starting to improve over time and a catchment of very talented young women start to go into senior positions. But there is more pressure from our society at the childbearing age for the woman to take the key role in that family raising. That’s a conversation between a couple, but it is one that holds women back because, and again, it’s quite delicate and one that’s hard to express correctly, when we’re looking at who should be a professor or not we have a committee that’s very balanced. We try to have other disadvantaged groups represented as well. But no one on that committee wants us to have two sets of standards for male and female. We can’t have a separate set of standards because no one would want that. We want everyone to have the same benchmark that’s true of professors around the world.
I’ve raised this with our Māori, Pasifika, and female staff, and there’s an argument about achievement and opportunity. So, do you feel comfortable with the idea that if you go off and raise a family you’ve got less opportunity, therefore we hold you to a lesser standard. If you’ve spent half the time raising a family you only need half the credentials of a ‘real’ professor, but they all say no of course not. It would undermine us as a population. We have to have the same standards.
So then you’re in a tricky situation where you might accept a trajectory difference—something we definitely accept—some universities are quite hard on trajectory. It you’re 55 or 60 they won’t let you get there. We say no, you can take as long as you’d like. What that does mean is all our efforts to reduce that gap may not get it to zero, we may not ever get there, but we’re making progress. We might get there if society reaches a point where raising children have to be shared equally, but again I don’t want to be judgemental about that, that’s an individual woman thing. What is it that I want from my life? Who is making these decisions for me? Am I a failure because I’m not a full professor, or am I a success because I’ve gone through and been a successful academic, I’ve done my research, I’ve done my teaching AND I’ve raised a family or done something else outside of work that’s fulfilling. If that is a full life then who is to say that’s a problem? Unless of course that individual thinks otherwise, in which case it comes back to my role. Spot, surveil, find those obstacles and remove the ones I can.
That includes sexual harassment as well. That’s a terrible thing that undermines the success of women in big organisations and small organisations. It has a huge impact on professional confidence.
Does the university have anything in place to help prevent such things?
We’ve got a lot of procedures in place for our staff. In our strategic plan what I was really pleased with was that the values became the big talking point. In there are simple things like respect, responsibility, and integrity. They flow through into the way we manage our human resources issues when they crop up. We take very serious action for people who misbehave in these ways so there’s evidence that we’re not just all talk, but we still have a long way to go.
In our staff engagement survey it was generally really positive. 97% said they thought teaching was critically important to the place. There was evidence in patchy parts that some people were still feeling a little bit of ‘does the university have in place effective processes to manage bullying/discrimination?’ And we got quite low results there, about 50-60%. We were way higher than the benchmarks, but I’m still not happy with it. I want everyone to know, if you come across a circumstance, there is a process to deal with it. Always a work in progress.
The stats are great. You start at the council, we’re the only university now at 50% women. The Chancellor and I actively went out to achieve that by the way we set up this new council under the new legislation. Through our nominations panel we can let them know what we want. It’s the first time in New Zealand I think we have a 50/50 Council. It took us what, 120 years, but we made it.
Then in the Senior Leadership team my aim is the same. We’re still 40%, but the critical thing is I’ve got a way we’re going to get there by next year which I can’t disclose cause it’s verging on top secret. The key thing there is the the Provost Wendy Larner is second in charge of the university and oversees everything academic. She’s a Chief Academic Officer. Vice Provost Research and Vice Provost Academic are both women. We have lots of strong female leadership at the top. They’re all appointed of honourability. They’re all talented people.
This idea of a bulge of talented women coming through is now starting to show up.
If we step outside male/female diversity the Māori and Pasifika and Asian populations have not been represented on our council so we’ve finally managed to get at least one appointment to bring the Māori worldview around the table—we were aiming for two, but we’ll get there eventually. We’ve got an Asian voice around the table as well. It’s really important because your governance decisions need different perspectives, they can’t all be white male.
Aside from gender and diversity, what are you big goals for the university this year?
It’s implementation of our strategic plan. We’re moving on well in most of the areas. We’ve got a settled team. If you run through them, one of the areas is academic influence. In the world now, universities have to have a few things they’re really really good at. We’ve chosen those to sit around the Capital city idea. We want to be good at public policy, public law, international relations, issues around trade. Capital city things. Also the creative and liberal arts. Capital cities are rich in culture. We’re also taking a real leadership role in sustainability issues. We’re also focusing more not just on research quality, but research impact. How do we have an impact not only on our disciplines, but our communities. Linking what we do to changes in policy or better quality of life for New Zealanders.
We also want to offer a student experience second to none. We’ve got really strong support from the city on how to make more jobs available that are useful in the sense of internships, summer scholarships, work experience. We’ve got some issues, what worries me mainly with the alcohol thing is it zaps the rest of the city’s desire to get behind the rest of the student body, but you have to be pragmatic and understand that these things will continue to happen. We just want them to be as lower level as we can possibly get them. The city feels really positive about having students here, it’s prepared to put rates dollars into things that benefit students. The university’s going well, more people want to come! Which caused a few growth pains. We’ll get more accommodation in. I’ve got a few things bubbling with the City Council around accommodation post-halls.
Fun facts about Grant
- He works a lot
- He doesn’t sleep much (probably like Francis Underwood from House of Cards)
- He and his wife own bush up north and in the Nelson Lakes region
- He is a “closet greenie.”
- He doesn’t dream when he sleeps
- He likes Salient