“HR have indicated that these figures are correct, but refuse to consider the possibility that this wild discrepancy could be a result of conscious or unconscious bias or discrimination.”
A La Trobe University spokeswoman said the university “strongly denied” staff on parental leave were targeted. She said nine of 143 positions made redundant during the process were on maternity leave.
‘To treat women staff members like this … and pretend that bias plays no role whatsoever is an insult to our intelligence.’
Letter on behalf of mothers offered redundancies
“We are working to ensure our structures, our processes and our policies are not indirectly or inadvertently discriminating against any particular groups,” she said in a statement.
In the letter to Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar, academics called for the appointment of an independent investigator to examine if “conscious or unconscious bias is at play here” and demanded he work with the Australian Human Rights Commission to select the investigator.
Advocates for the mothers, who do not wish to be identified while redundancies are finalised, say the commission accepted the complaint more than a month ago and is examining the “disproportionate” number of mothers who were not given roles during restructuring.
The staff letter said “women and people with caring responsibilities and other marginalised staff make a huge contribution to this university. They must be treated fairly.”
Anthony O’Donnell, an academic who worked in the La Trobe Law School for 14 years and is now an adjunct senior lecturer, said he signed the letter due to the disparate impact on “women exercising their right to parental leave”.
“Talking to these mums on parental leave during a time of pandemic and restructuring, they were justifiably distressed and uncertain as to their future,” he said.
“I’m hoping that management will review the way it manages workplace change, and its gendered impacts.”
The fact some mothers were given the choice between redundancy or competing with their colleagues for a small number of jobs, possibly at demoted status, in a “spill and fill” process, was “brutal” according to their advocates.
A spokesman for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission said it does not comment on current matters.
He said the commission had received a range of employment-related complaints during the pandemic, particularly concerning access to flexible work arrangements.
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Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer.