That’s a wrap – highlights of #GSWC2022

Over 400 delegates from around the world gathered on Tuesday to discuss gender and sexuality inclusion at work.

Accelerating Gender and Sexuality Inclusion at Work was the theme of Tuesday’s Gender and Sexuality at Work Conference, which brought together presenters from 12 Australian universities, 7 international universities, 7 government agencies and 15 private sector organisations (both for-profit and not-for-profit). The conference attracted over 400 delegates from around the world in a great demonstration of research collaboration, and respectful and rigorous debate.

Conference organisers
Conference organisers Dr Melissa Wheeler, Dr Victor Sojo, Professor Michelle Ryan

Conference organisers Dr Victor Sojo (UoM), Dr Melissa Wheeler (Swinburne), and Professor Michelle Ryan (ANU) said the event was a brilliant success and saw a large group of people from a variety of sectors unpack how gender and sexuality impact our work lives. Dr Sojo said, “We organised this conference to create a professional and respectful space to connect and exchange knowledge with the community about the complex and pressing issues surrounding gender and sexuality inclusion at work. The high conference attendance and level of engagement from the participants are indicators of the community’s thirst for knowledge about these topics and the calibre of the program we curated for them.”

The day included 12 academic presentations, 12 government/community/industry-led workshops, and a plenary panel discussion with academics, legal and policy experts of the highest calibre. Wurundjeri Elder Tony Garvey embraced conference delegates on Tuesday morning with a warm Welcome to Country, followed by a University of Melbourne welcome from Professor Paul Jensen, Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Business and Economics.

The first keynote address was kicked off by Professor Rae Cooper from The University of Sydney with her topic: Building Back Fairer – Applying a gender lens to the post-pandemic future of work. Professor Cooper’s research analysed the impact of Covid-19 on women and detailed how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women, looking at job losses, the feminised frontline (healthcare, aged care, and education), shouldering (even more) of the unpaid labour in the home, and the ‘shadow pandemic’ of stress and violence. Professor Cooper has described this as ‘the perfect storm’; one that is overly impacting women.

It's not all doom and gloom, however, Prof Cooper says. “Australian women are the best educated in the world, (according to almost every index out there) and are the most educated they have ever been at any point in history. We also know women are achieving higher levels of education than men,” Prof Cooper said. However, the most feminised sectors of our economy are still the lowest paid, Prof Cooper explains, i.e., healthcare and education – sectors which are extremely important to us in terms of how our society and economy work. The pay gap between men and women also drives the superannuation gap, which has resulted in a growing trend of women retiring later than men, and retiring in poverty. There’s work to do yet. Prof. Cooper’s research team asked a group of women what they wanted out of their careers and discovered that: respect; a good, secure job; pay reflecting their value; good flexibility to meet needs; and a care infrastructure that worked, were the top five priorities.

The morning’s breakout rooms saw a number of lively discussions take place on issues like managing menstruation in remote field work, or “breaking the silence around blood”. Associate Professor Meredith Nash from the University of Tasmania argued that the lack of acceptable toileting and menstruation management in remote field work, and the non-existent infrastructure to support menstruation, is a form of sexism.

Doctoral student Amanda Klysing from Lund University in Sweden joined the conference in the middle of the night to discuss normative gender bias in linguistic representation. “How familiar are you with non-normative pronouns like hen or ze?” Klysing asked. “Language used between organisations, employees and potential employees, signals how inclusive that organisation will be for individuals with non-normative gender identities,” Klysing said.

The midday keynote speaker, Assistant Professor Thekla Morgenroth from Purdue University, presented on the maintenance of the gender/sex binary. “We, as humans, really like systems and predictability, so the gender binary is a system that helps us navigate our complex environment,” A/Prof. Morgenroth said. The gender sex binary as we know it is not necessarily accurate, though. We know that sex is more diverse than just XX and XY chromosomes; sex is a spectrum rather than two groups. And yet the inner workings of the gender/sex binary and how it's maintained is a very widely held belief, despite evidence to the contrary, they argued.

A/Prof. Morgenroth used the metaphor of theatre to explain the idea that gender isn't something you are, but something that we do as a form of impression management. “You do it as a sort of social act for others, to help social interactions and to communicate something about yourself… without this performance of gender, there would be no gender at all.”

Group of staff standing in a row
Conference staff: Kristy Horne, Prof Michelle Ryan, Dr Victor Sojo, Dr Medo Pournader, Georg Tamm, Natalie Barr, Dr Melissa Wheeler

In the afternoon, Caitlin McGrane – a feminist researcher, activist and PhD candidate at RMIT University’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre – discussed the online safety for women in politics and the evidence which has been mounting for some time that women are often targets of online abuse whenever they assume a position of power. Gender Equity Victoria has been analysing this cyber hate in politics for some time and argue that online harassment should be considered an occupational health and safety issue.

University of Sydney Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr Briony Lipton shared a presentation on #MenInHeels, looking at how challenging sartorial codes might destabilise organisational norms around gender and sexuality. The study focussed on a series of heterosexual, cis-gender men participating in a social media movement where hashtags like #degenderfashion, #meninskirts, #clotheshavenogender and #meninheels were shared widely on Instagram. The visibility of this movement, Lipton discussed, was helping to dismantle gender norms in fashion and dress codes at work, as well as in our everyday lives.

The Gender and Sexuality at Work Conference for 2022 concluded with a plenary session followed by a ceremony where two papers were presented with “best paper awards” by the Academic Executive Committee (AEC), exclusively based on the assessment and feedback provided by two independent reviewers of each paper.

The Winners of the Best Paper Awards were PhD Candidate Amanda Klysing – Lund University, Sweden for her paper Normative gender bias: Effects of pronoun forms on mental representations of individuals with different gender expressions. And PhD Candidate Mx Robin Ladwig – University of Canberra, Australia for their paper Trans and gender diverse work experiences and career development in the Australian work environment.

Both awards included $2,000 in prize money and a certificate for their respective research teams. These awards were sponsored by the Australian Journal of Management and the Melbourne Social Equity Institute.

Learn more about #GSWC2022 here.