20 May 2016

Women only job ads for University mathematics roles

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:25 pm on 20 May 2016

Melbourne University has taken the bold move of opening up jobs to women only.

It's all part of an attempt to redress the gender imbalance in fields such as mathematics. The university is advertising three positions in its School of Mathematics and Statistics for female applicants only. The head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics is Professor Aleks Owczarek.

Read an edited excerpt of the interview below:

Why are there so many more men than women in mathematics?

It’s an historic situation, it’s gone back in many fields of course, not just in mathematics. This has changed, but it’s only moving very slowly in mathematics and we’re attempting to address that slow movement and speed it up a bit.

When do women tend to peel off from mathematics? Is it primary school or secondary school, or university or post-grad?

We know the problem starts certainly at school, between the upper primary where girls are very excited by mathematics just as much as boys are, and as they progress through high school for reasons which I’m not going to speculate on they change and they get put off. Whether that is due to societal pressure or some feeling that it’s not an area they should be continuing on with, we don’t know. But it’s certainly happening at high school, girls taking the highest level of mathematics here in Victoria is only about a third and they continue on to our undergraduate and graduate population it’s no different, it’s around 28 percent across the sector of Australia of students studying mathematics are female.

Does that suggest that the change should not happen at academic level, and not academic hiring level, but at high school level? Presumably there are not enough people in the industry to fill these jobs that we are talking about.

You have got to ask how you drive change, and you drive change by providing role models and mentors for young female students to aspire to and see that this is a discipline that is for them as opposed to something that they might see as simply male. What we hope by taking this bold step of hiring three women (and we think we are going to get a fantastic field of applicants from all around the world because it is a global marketplace) we have no fear that we are going to get fantastic applicants from across the world. But what we hope is by hiring these three early and mid-career academics (and us providing also mentoring for them), then being able to inspire our female university student population and then further go out and inspire high school students to continue studying. We’ll also hope by being a beacon for these three new academics into our school that we will attract more female academics to come for any new position we advertise in the school. We hope that it will create its own momentum and help change, not only for the academic population but our undergraduate population and in due course the high schools.