Inspiring the women of the future

We spoke to four UOW women driving change.

We may think everything has changed when it comes to equality, but there is still work to do. Meet the UOW women ensuring gender equality is a reality for everyone.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) recognises a diverse and equitable culture as critical to achieving our vision for the future. International Women's Day is an opportunity for us to evaluate our progress. When we look around at the women at UOW, we see many already living that vision and working hard to bring others into it too.

Jaymee Beveridge is a proud Bindal woman using her knowledge and experience to help other Indigenous women at UOW reach their full potential. Born to a teenage mother in social housing, it wasn't until she became a mother herself that she was driven to break the cycle of poverty and became the first in her family to graduate from university. Jaymee has since worked to dismantle structures that hinder access to equality, and in 2021 she was appointed the Executive Director Indigenous Strategy at UOW, along with her role as Director of Woolyungah Indigenous Centre. 

Jaymee understands the importance of female mentors who encourage and create growth opportunities. She says it's something we can all do to help elevate women's voices.

"I've been fortunate to have women see things in me and encourage me to push myself outside my comfort zone. They gave me the key to doors I never thought I would have access to. They've placed me at tables, even created them for me, that I never dreamed possible," Jaymee says. 

"International Women's Day positively and fairly positions women globally and reminds us that change doesn't happen by accident - it's about action."

However, women's rights are not just a women's issue. Men play a role in equality too. Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Medicine Theresa Larkin says she's had several unofficial mentors, both women and men, throughout her career. 

"I had a male and a female PhD supervisor who modelled a very respectful working relationship. They both had very successful academic careers but were always generous with their time and supported me while also encouraging independent work," Theresa says.

Theresa now teaches medical science and researches the role of hormones in physical, mental health, and wellbeing. She also advocates for equity, diversity and inclusion in her teaching and work.

"Working towards equality across genders, race, sexuality, and ability will improve all our lives in many positive ways. The only way to solve the problems in the world is to include all voices and ideas," Theresa says. 

Incorporating intersectionality 

Dr Nancy Huggett is the Chief Governance Officer, a proud Co-Chair of the University's Ally Network, and Chair of the Modern Slavery Working Group. She explains that overcoming gender inequalities also includes tackling intersectional issues. 

"I am a middle-class, cis-gender, white woman, so I have not had to overcome equity barriers like many of my colleagues," Nancy says.

"But I can hopefully play a part in raising awareness of discrimination as multi-faceted and encourage others to think about the intersections of gender, race, class, culture, disability and sexuality that have a compound effect on opportunity and experience."

"Gender and Aboriginality intersections are like oil-drenched ladders to equality. Do everything you can in various places and spaces to remove the need for ladders. Lift other women up," Jaymee adds.

Nancy encourages everyone to challenge sexism and prejudice where they have the power or position and to take the opportunity to celebrate diversity and support different communities. Simple actions include removing gendered or ableist language from our policies and procedures; attending International Women's Day, cultural celebrations, Ally or Disability and Inclusion events; and showing support through email signatures, pins, or lanyards. These small changes can make a big difference in dismantling systemic discrimination and helping everyone feel seen and supported.

"On International Women's Day and throughout the year, seek out, listen to and support women around you in all different areas of your life. Learn from First Nations women, international women, women with disabilities, trans women - your life will be richer, and your actions will be wiser," Nancy says.  

Mentors for the future

Professor Lisa Kervin built a network of inspiring women throughout her career, which motivated her to keep going, do better and aim high. However, her actions as a teenager also allowed women in her family to see a different path in life.

"I was born in country NSW and was the first in my family to graduate Year 12 and attend university. As the eldest child in my family, I knew my decisions and experiences opened new options and possibilities for my sisters. Two of my sisters now have university degrees," Lisa says. 

Lisa went on to dedicate her career to education and is currently a Professor in Education in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, as well as the Director of Research at Early Start UOW. Her research examines the role of literacy, play and digital technologies in childhood learning.  

"Throughout my professional career, I've chosen to work mostly in communities of poverty where there is an enormous disadvantage. I really want to understand what kinds of education, literacy and play experiences matter, how all community members can access these, and empower children and their families to take up opportunities that will count for positive life trajectories," she says. 

Often, the mentors in our early years can shape how our lives pan out. This is one thing Nancy can attest to. 

"One of my old high school teachers once told my parents I wasn't academic and should focus on typing or home economics classes. I went on to study three degrees and publish academic papers in my field thanks to the confidence shown in me by my parents, subsequent teachers, and my wonderful PhD supervisors. Overcoming barriers is easier when you find people who believe in you and can give you a different perspective," Nancy says. 

"The gift of confidence from a mentor is invaluable, and the best kind of mentor relationship is patient, generous and reciprocal."