On International Women’s Day 2017, what does gender equality really mean?

This year on International Women’s Day, I was invited by our Faculty of Science and Engineering to speak at their event to celebrate the day and launch Macquarie University’s Workplace Gender Equity Strategy. I was asked to talk about the kinds of support I’d received that had helped me succeed in my career up to now. It was all the more relevant given that that day just happened to be my first day back at the university after seven months of maternity leave.

In thinking through what to say, I realised that the support I’ve received is actually only half of the equation. The support my husband had received, which in turn has allowed him to support me, is the equally important other half. Indeed, I firmly believe that one of the keys to having been able to maintain my career, and indeed flourish, since finishing my Ph.D. and having our first child eight years ago is the flexibility we’ve both been fortunate enough to have.

I’m blessed with an incredibly supportive husband. When we first had children, my husband – who’s a fellow academic – and I decided that although our careers were very important to both of us, we also wanted to ensure that one of us was caring for our children as much of the time as possible. I feel really fortunate that our university and funding agencies’ willingness to be flexible with parental leave leave and part-time work for both of us has meant these aren’t mutually exclusive goals.

As many professional women who have championed the cause of gender equality in the workplace have said – including Annabelle Crabb, Cheryl Sandberg, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, to name just a few – a critical part of the equation for women continuing their careers while raising families is more equal roles for men and women in caregiver roles. And this often means men taking a step back from work, just as women have traditionally done. Now, after having lived it, I believe 100% that supporting men in doing so is just as important as supporting women.

These policies have collectively had a hugely positive impact on:

  • our children’s lives, by having both parents very present with them,
  • my and my husband’s overall happiness, by decreasing the stress associated with achieving work-life balance…allowing us to be more creative and productive in our work,
  • and, importantly, my professional development, by allowing me to continue to pursue my career while being actively engaged in raising our young children.

Sadly, this is still quite exceptional. When I tell friends and colleagues in other institutions, professions, and countries about how I’ve been able to work over the past 8 years while raising small children – i.e., various levels of part-time, interspersed with multiple bouts of parental leave, with a husband who’s also taken parental leave when I went back to work – they’re often incredulous. This quote from Cheryl Sandberg’s excellent book, Lean In, sums it up all too well for many of us:

Today, despite all the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing insider the home, they don’t have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential.

Of course, not everyone wants children, but during the courses of our lives many of us will face some sort of carer’s responsibility, for example, caring for elderly parents, or even ourselves…so this is not just an issue that’s relevant for parents of young children. It will matter to just about everybody at some point.

In the future, I hope that more and more people – and in particular, my own children – will have the kind of support that we’ve had that allows them to both be present with their own family while pursuing their career passion, rather than having to make a choice between the two. Everyone – both institutions and employees alike – will be better off this way.

Bridging the science-policy gap

From left to right: Dr. Selma Klanten (University of Sydney), The Honourable Mark Butler (Parliamentary Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water), Prof. Dave Booth (University of Technology, Sydney), Dr. Elizabeth Madin, and Mr. Steve Doo (university of Sydney)

From left to right: Dr. Selma Klanten (University of Sydney), The Honourable
Mark Butler (Parliamentary Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water), Prof. Dave Booth (University of Technology, Sydney), Dr. Elizabeth Madin, and Mr. Steve Doo (University of Sydney)

This week I had the pleasure of being part of a small contingent from the Australian Coral Reef Society to brief The Honourable Mark Butler, the Parliamentary Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water on the threats facing Australian coral reefs and possible policy-based solutions. It was a rare and welcome opportunity to do my part to help bridge the science-policy gap! Mr. Butler was well-informed and interested in what we had to say, asking great questions and likewise helping us to understand the political considerations surrounding coral reef conservation policy. Hopefully this will be the start of an ongoing dialogue between the Shadow Minister’s office and our scientific society.

UPDATE: Now, two weeks later, the Labour Party has announced that it will pledge $500m over five years to support scientific monitoring and science-based management of the Great Barrier Reef. Labour leader Bill Shorten said the GBR is now one of party’s ‘highest priorities’. Hopefully we had some role in helping make that the case!

The Guardian UK: “Labor pledges $500m over five years to support Great Barrier Reef”

Great Barrier Reef is severely bleaching

Due largely to the record-breaking high temperatures we’ve had lately, large sections of the northern Great Barrier Reef have begun bleaching (i.e., expelling the symbiotic algae that live within coral tissue and serve as a life-support system for corals). This is very bad news. In past bleaching events like this, some coral reefs never recover and become seaweed-dominated reefs lacking coral. Most experts agree that the root causes of the high temperatures (and the resulting coral bleaching events) include the burning of fossil fuels and release of other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (e.g., through beef production)…which are both ultimately driven by human overpopulation and overconsumption.

Below are some recent photos taken by coral reef scientists Wen-Sung Chung and Justin Marshall (University of Queensland) from Lizard Island on Australia’s northern Great Barrier Reef. They tell a sad, rapidly-unfolding story of desperate corals.

A great time at the 2016 Gordon Conference on Predator-Prey Interactions

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I’ve just returned from the 2016 Gordon Conference on “New Frontiers in Understanding Predator-Prey Interactions in a Human-Altered World” in Ventura, California. It was an excellent meeting! This is the second meeting in this series (the first was in 2014) and it will be happening every other year into the future. This is one of my favourite meetings – it’s nice and small (with a cap of 200 participants), there’s plenty of time to have meaningful discussions with new and existing colleagues, and there’s a general sense of integration across disciplines that’s not often found at more system- or discipline-specific meetings. I presented our work on how human activities change marine ecosystems by altering predation risk (see poster above) and got some great feedback. Looking forward to the next meeting in 2018!

Inspired by Sylvia Earle and many others at World Parks Congress

From left to right: Tara Whitty (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Emily Darling (UNC-Chapel Hill), Sylvia Earle, and Elizabeth Madin.

From left to right: Tara Whitty (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Emily Darling (UNC-Chapel Hill), Sylvia Earle, and Elizabeth Madin.

This past week has been an inspiring one with thousands of conservation-minded scientists and conservation practitioners descending upon Sydney for the once-every-decade World Parks Congress. Meeting Sylvia Earle was a highlight (thanks, Lance Morgan!), but seeing so much green enthusiasm and action from around the world was equally great! Looking forward to the next one…

Elizabeth named Early Career Researcher of the Year

L-R] Vice-Chancellor Professor S Bruce Dowton, Professor David Christian, Dr David Gray, Professor Ian Paulsen, Dr Elizabeth Madin, Dr Blake Dear, Professor Quentin Andrew Parker and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius.

[L-R] Vice-Chancellor Professor S Bruce Dowton, Professor David Christian, Dr David Gray, Professor Ian Paulsen, Dr Elizabeth Madin, Dr Blake Dear, Professor Quentin Andrew Parker and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius.

Elizabeth has just been named Macquarie University’s 2014 Early-Career Researcher of the Year in Science and Engineering. The video about Elizabeth’s research that the university can be found here and a companion Research Excellence Awards spotlight article is here.

Cyclone Ita cuts our Lizard Island field trip short :(

Bob Warner and Elizabeth in between dives at one of our field sites in the lagoon at Lizard Island.

Pre-cyclone fun…Bob Warner and Elizabeth in between dives at one of the field sites in the lagoon at Lizard Island.

Bob Warner wrangling one of the model predators (thanks, Mark McCormick!!).

Bob Warner wrangling one of the model predators (thanks, Mark McCormick!!) before setting it off on the underwater pulley system to scare smaller fish.

Cycle Ita passed recently right over Lizard Island (far north Great Barrier Reef, Australia) where Elizabeth and colleagues Prof. Bob Warner (University of California, Santa Barbara), Dr. Isabel Downs, and Dr. Josh Madin (Macquarie University) were working on an Australian Research Council-funded collaborative project with Dr. Lexa Grutter (University of Queensland) to look at the effects of cleaner wrasses on changing predation risk for bystander species. Sadly, much of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed, however the Lizard Island Research Station fortuitously survived the cycle largely intact. Fortunately, we got a solid week and a half of work in before the evacuation…