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Melbourne University Advertises Female-Only Positions In Maths

The gender imbalance is so dire that they've decided to take further action

The University of Melbourne has made the controversial decision to advertise three roles in their Department of Mathematics and Statistics to only women, in an attempt to combat the gender imbalance in the industry. The roles are in pure mathematics, applied mathematics and statistics, ranging from lecturer to associate professor.

“We clearly have an issue with attracting female applicants appropriately to our workforce,” Professor Owczarek told ABC, who heads the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Melbourne.

“So this is an agenda to attempt to address that.”

And there certainly seems to be an issue, with only a quarter of mathematics academics in Australia being women. Lesley Ward, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of South Australia, told ABC more about the issue.

“At the first academic rank of associate lecturer it’s still only 30 per cent women, by the time you get up to the second highest rank of associate professor it’s down to under 20 per cent women,” Professor Ward said.

“At the highest rank, of professor, it’s 9 per cent women, according to the most recent data we have from 2014.”

Lesley speculates that a key cause of this could be unconscious bias that allows men to be promoted more often than women, amongst other complex issues.

There has been a lot of backlash since the announcement, with claims that advertising these positions to only women is ‘illegal’. However, according to discrimination lawyer Rowan Skinner, under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, an organisation is legally allowed to specifically engage in an ‘overtly discriminatory act’, as long as the purpose is to ensure that there is equal opportunity overall. 

At the very least, hopefully this move will help The University of Melbourne to provide opportunity for talented female academics in the field of mathematics, and also encourage young women to pursue a career in maths.

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