An ongoing drive for equity

Pro Vice-Chancellor, Equity Trudie McNaughton reflects on the ways women have and continue to shape the University in its commitment to being a safe inclusive and equitable place.

In the early days of Auckland University, and indeed when women were first making a foray into tertiary study anywhere, some equity issues were clear. Underrepresentation, lack of recognition, and no opportunity to even participate issues were very obvious barriers.

As society changed, so did gender issues/priorities, and by the 1960s sexism, tokenism, and exclusion were among the recognised signposts of inequality. Women’s voices were heard more than previously, but still not consistently. While highly educated Pākehā academic women were starting to get better representation, there was still significant direct and indirect discrimination.

It was when alumna Professor Margaret Wilson, then a senior lecturer at Auckland Law School, wrote a report on the Status of Academic Women in New Zealand, that equity work at the University of Auckland began to be formalised. The first Equal Employment Opportunities Officer was appointed and Trudie McNaughton, who took up the role in the late 1980s, developed the University’s first equal employment policy, accepted by Council in 1990. This was prior to the Human Rights legislation of 1993, and explicitly addressed discrimination on a range of grounds including sexual orientation.

Trudie subsequently returned to the University in 2007 as Pro Vice-Chancellor, Equity. She is a member of the Senior Leadership Team and with her colleagues in the Equity Office – Te Ara Tautika, works on staff and student equity strategies, policies, planning, monitoring and reporting.  

“Current gender equity work recognises that the University, as a microcosm of NZ society, must ensure that we consider all issues that impact women - such as family violence and abuse, disproportionate load of unpaid work, and fertility issues including increasing use of assisted reproductive technology”.

Trudie McNaugton, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Equity)

“It’s also important to ensure that diverse experiences – like stopping work to parent or to care for an aged relative – don’t disadvantage people who haven’t had a linear career trajectory,” she says. “This is reflected in the Merit Relative to Opportunity policy.”

Now, equity work that began with a focus on gender issues for women has expanded to include equity issues with Māori, Pacific, people with disabilities, LGBTI, low socio-economic status students and those from refugee backgrounds.

University of Auckland’s equity work benchmarks well for its wide range of initiatives against comparable international universities, including from the Asia Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Trudie reports.

“We look back to our earliest days and recognise the huge accomplishment it was for women to even attend classes; this 125 year anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of generations of students and staff”, she says.

“Our University will best honour their legacy by remaining aspirational. In 2019 each faculty and service division will include gender equity goals in their annual plans. I look forward to seeing dramatic gender equity progress in coming years."