ANU recruits global expert to drive women’s leadership institute

Ian Bushnell 7 February 2021
Professor Michelle Ryan

Professor Michelle Ryan: “I’m looking forward to working to bring together world-leading academics with policymakers, activists, and businesses keen to close the gender gap in leadership.” Photo: ANU.

One the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners on leadership and a former ANU graduate will return to the university to head up the Australian branch of the UK-based Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL), founded by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Professor Michelle Ryan, who famously uncovered the concept of the “glass cliff”, will join ANU as the Institute’s inaugural director to drive gender equality and break down barriers impeding women’s careers across the Asia-Pacific.

The glass cliff – which was shortlisted as the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016 – describes how women in business and politics are often put in leadership roles that are more risky or precarious, or during times of crisis when the chances of failure are highest.

ANU announced in 2019 that it would host the first “sister” institute of GIWL – based at King’s College London – and be home to the Institute’s Asia-Pacific node.

Chaired by Ms Gillard, GIWL aims to create a world where being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field.

The institute brings together research, practice and advocacy to better understand and address the causes of women’s under-representation in leadership positions across sectors and countries and how gender negatively impacts the evaluation of women leaders.


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Professor Ryan, who graduated from ANU with undergraduate and PhD qualifications, will join the university on 1 July.

She has spent the last 17 years in the UK. She will continue as a part-time Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter before relocating to Canberra.

“I am very excited to be returning to the Australian National University after almost 20 years working in Europe,” Professor Ryan said.

“The last decades have shown we have made significant gains in women’s leadership. However, sadly there is much more to do.

“Women leaders all over the globe have proven to be effective, inspirational and incredibly capable. The impediments women face are still too great in number and size. We need to keep working hard to change that and improve outcomes.

“I’m looking forward to working to bring together world-leading academics with policymakers, activists, and businesses keen to close the gender gap in leadership.”

Ms Gillard said progress on gender equality was slow and in some places it was reversing.

“Evidence shows the impact of the COVID pandemic over the past 12 months has compounded many of the pre-existing barriers women face in building careers and entering leadership roles,” she said.

“Michelle brings incredible experience and energy to the role, and I’m looking forward to working with her to address these urgent challenges and expand the reach of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership across the Asia-Pacific region.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said improving gender equality across Australia and the Asia-Pacific was one of the University’s highest priorities.

“Empowering women to use their talents to help improve the prosperity of the world is of the utmost importance,” Professor Schmidt said.

“Across the globe, there are many talented women who have the ability, the know-how, the skills and experience to lead and inspire. But sadly, all too often, women everywhere are being held back. We want to break the shackles.

“This is vitally important work and I can’t think of anyone better to lead this work here at ANU than Michelle. I am excited about what she and her team will achieve.”

GIWL Director at King’s College London Professor Rosie Campbell said Professor Ryan was a truly outstanding academic.

“She has a proven track record for producing world-class research that shifts public debate with a global impact,” she said.

“Her appointment as director of GIWL ANU will help us realise our mission, producing rigorous and relevant research to illuminate, and work to eradicate, barriers to women’s leadership.”


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