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Nurturing dreams of gender equity

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini loves it when Leyla, his elder granddaughter, comes to visit him at work (one-year-old Ania is still a bit too young to pop by the office).

Five-year-old Leyla is bright, inquisitive and sharp, full of questions about her Pops’ job leading one of the world’s top 100 young universities.

“She came in last week and wanted to see my meeting room, she’s heard about how I’m in meetings a lot” Professor Saini said. “And she immediately said, ‘oh, you must sit over there’ [pointing at the head of the table] so you can see everyone, and they can see you!’”

Doting on the children his granddaughters are today, Professor Saini is also looking forward to a future when they’re young women, about to enter the workforce.

“My dream is that when my granddaughters enter the job market, gender equity won’t even be an issue anymore,” he said. “I hope we have reached a point by then that we won’t even need to talk about it, because equity will just be the norm.”

There’s a way to go before that dream can be realised though. Professor Saini is doing what he can to drive change in the area of gender equity, via the University of Canberra.

His latest endeavour? Becoming a Pay Equity Ambassador under the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

While the University has been an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality under the WGEA for 11 years in a row, this appointment means that the University will undergo another pay gap analysis this year, with the aim of bridging the gap.

For Professor Saini, the subject of equity is deeply personal.

“When it comes to my own conduct in the workplace, I’ve lived my life blind to differences of colour, race and gender.”

“I grew up in India and have worked around the world. In the course of building my career, I have faced some discrimination. It’s impossible to be unmarked by that,” he said. “Of course I would have the desire to level the playing field, however I can.”

For Professor Saini, supporting equity is based on two fundamental notions.

“The first is: what do you believe in? Equal pay for work of an equal value, in all forms, this is the right and just thing ,” he said. “I am interested in the value of people as human beings, and the value of the work they produce.”

“The second reason I believe in equity is a more pragmatic one – treating people fairly is an operational necessity.”

“Every workplace is increasingly diverse nowadays. Without equality, we lose our competitive edge – so supporting equity is simply a matter of enlightened self-interest. It is truly a no-brainer, so it baffles me that it is something that’s even up for discussion.”

Even as Professor Saini looks to further strengthen the University of Canberra’s already progressive Gender Equality Strategy, every visit from Leyla reminds him that he has very personal reasons to stand for gender equity.

The old Greek proverb goes: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Hopefully, their granddaughters will enjoy that shade.

Words by Suzanne Lazaroo

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