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Academic women's promotions in Australian universities

Hilary Winchester (University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Shard Lorenzo (University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Lyn Browning (University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Colleen Chesterman (Women's Executive Development Program,Australian Technology Network of Universities, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 1 November 2006




The purpose of this research is to examine the hypothesis that under‐representation of women in Australian universities reflects barriers in the academic promotion process.


This study uses three complementary approaches. Promotion policies and guidelines are examined using content analysis of documents from all Australian universities. A sample of 17 universities was selected for interviews with key gatekeepers to examine promotions practice. Data on promotions by level and gender were analysed for 16 of these universities 2000‐2002.


The analysis of promotions policies and guidelines established a range of practice. Policies supporting women's participation and success in promotions included explicit consideration of part‐time and non‐traditional careers, clear equity statements, and gender representation on promotions committees. Interviews emphasised the importance of support for and identification of female candidates, and the need for the establishment of institution‐wide and performance targets for senior managers. Implicitly, most interviewees accepted the premise that women experienced barriers in the promotion process, including reticence in applying and stereotypically gendered notions of merit. However, the analysis of promotions data showed a more encouraging picture. Application rates and success rates for women are similar to men's and, at professorial level, slightly higher. Nonetheless women remain under‐represented at senior levels, comprising only 16 per cent of the professoriate.

Practical implications

The study provided a report to the Australian Vice‐Chancellors' Committee (AVCC) with a number of recommendations for improving University promotions policies. These recommendations are available on the AVCC website and have applicability beyond the Australian university sector.


This study is an original study across all Australian universities which has international applicability and policy relevance.



Winchester, H., Lorenzo, S., Browning, L. and Chesterman, C. (2006), "Academic women's promotions in Australian universities", Employee Relations, Vol. 28 No. 6, pp. 505-522.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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