Inclusion is not easy

On Tuesday 9 March, the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) co-hosted a fantastic panel for International Women’s Day, along with the ANU Mathematical Sciences Institute and the ANU-ASD Co-Lab. The panel’s discussion ranged from personal inspiration, to what panellists challenge in their work lives in order to promote equity and inclusion (short version: listen more, stay open to learning, and speak back to cultural elements that are incommensurate with health and wellbeing). 

It was great to hear such a positive and inspirational discussion for International Women’s Day, particularly in light of the broader issues and conversations around gendered harassment and violence taking place in the media. I was also very heartened to see that of the 70-ish people who attended the panel, around 50% of those were men. This is a great sign of a community wanting to listen to each other and learn about diverse experiences. 

With students returning to campus (hooray!), teaching beginning for another year, International Women's Day, and the broader conversations around gendered harassment and violence in workplaces in Australia, many of us are looking for practical advice to ensure that everyone in our community feels safe and welcome. 

The recent release of the ANU Gender Institute's Gender Inclusive Handbook* is an excellent resource for us to brush up on our inclusive language, thinking, and practices. 

The Handbook is divided in two main sections, including broad advice on inclusivity, and specific positive actions and challenges for different Colleges.Much of the broad advice revolves around considering and changing linguistic habits that are not malicious, but reinforce the notion of male terms as the norm. Consider how often you might refer to a group of people of mixed genders as “guys”, or whether you use “he” as a default pronoun when giving examples, and how this may unconsciously exclude women and gender diverse people. 

The Handbook (page 5) acknowledges that gender inclusive language is a relatively recent endeavour, and that gendered language more likely belies our habits, rather than our beliefs about gender. I know I have referred to groups as “guys” in both casual and educational settings for decades! It takes intent, time, and practice to change these deeply ingrained linguistic habits. 

The Handbook has drawn the ire of some media outlets for its information on gender inclusive language for parents in particular, due to suggested language when referring to gender diverse parents in clinical or academic settings. 

While terms such as “gestational parent” and “non-gestational parent” are unfamiliar, and seem clunky, they reveal the extent to which we rely on male and female language with regards to parenting, and the complexity of parenting, birthing, and feeding as a person of diverse gender. 

As the Director of the ANU Gender Institute, Associate Professor Fiona Jenkins has pointed out: “such issues are likely only to affect a small minority, but that minority is growing and moreover deserves full respect and consideration even if it is a small group".

The Handbook focuses on language, because it’s something we can all learn to change and update in our everyday interactions that create an environment in which underrepresented people in our community feel they are valued and that they belong here. 

Language is very important, but it's not the only ingredient we need for an inclusive culture. Page 15-16 of the Handbook has some excellent additional advice on things CECS educators can do to create a welcoming environment for students:

  • Consider providing diverse application areas and examples in class so that students’ diverse interests are engaged.
  • Consider organising group work so there is diversity in each group, but make sure that you do not leave a minority student alone in a group. Structure group tasks in such a way that each group member can perform intellectually challenging work as well as the report writing work. This might include rotating roles.
  • Host explicit discussions about belonging and identity in the profession. Encourage students to identify with the area of study and promote diverse role models and interests through the visual materials placed around the classroom or on the LMS (Wattle/Piazza)  
  • Be explicit and train students in constructive collaborative behaviours (listening, inviting opinions, sharing ideas etc). Connect these behaviours to their identities as a scientist and as a future professional – industries demand and reward collaborative workIncluding questions for class reps around inclusivity in the course. This will help to gain student feedback on what is working and inform new strategies for encouraging inclusion.
  • Encourage students to access the range of ANU services available to support them through their studies, such as Access and Inclusion and ANU Counselling.
  • Consider who is represented as an authority in the feld. How can the materials, case studies, guest lecturers, visual materials, and scientists discussed in the course reflect gender diversity in the feld? How do they represent gender more generally? For example, hypersexualisation of female characters in computer games can reinforce gender norms and power dynamics.  

Developing and implementing these practices and changes takes time and resources - there is no expectation that educators will undertake all of this work on their own, or without support. There are multiple organisational units across ANU who have relevant expertise to support these changes, including the Centre for Learning and Teaching, the ANU Gender Institute, and the Respectful Relationships Unit. Within CECS, we have the Senior Services Consultant for Diversity and Inclusion (hello!), the Associate Director, Community (within the Professional Services Group), and the College Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

Any of these people will be very happy to discuss with you any initiatives or ideas you have to continue to build a safe and welcoming environment for everyone in our community, as well as the support we may be able to provide to enact those initiatives collaboratively. You can always get in touch via for suggestions, support, or if you’re looking for resources. 

So, no, inclusion is not easy. It’s complicated, and a continual process of learning and improvement - but it is much much easier as a communal, collaborative effort. 


- Dr Cathy Ayres, Senior Service Consultant - Diversity and Inclusion


*In light of the confusion around some of the terminology in the Handbook, it is currently under review. Its content and aims, however, remain extremely useful

Updated:  1 June 2019/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing