Leading the cultural shift
For Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Sullivan, empowering women is both a career and a personal passion.
Australian Centre for Public and Population Health Research
Liz has spent nearly three decades on the national and international frontlines in advancing public health and equitable access to healthcare for women, particularly those that are vulnerable in terms of their reproductive health. Her work is deeply infused with a personal commitment to social justice; she has brought diseases of inequity and poverty to the fore — including rheumatic heart disease in pregnancy, of which as many as 78 per cent of cases in Australia are found in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. She has championed a women-centred approach to care that is responsive to patient needs.
Her research into Aboriginal mothers in prison has shone a light on the lack of culturally safe care, giving them a voice for their experiences in a system that was failing them — both while in custody and on re-entering the community.
“I've always been committed to empowering women and the importance of education, and public health was a natural fit in terms of being able to affect change at a population level where the greatest gains can be made,” Liz explains.
Liz joined UTS in May 2014 as Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Health, attracted to the university’s youth, dynamism and interest in solving wicked problems and doing things differently. Today she is Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Director Australian Centre for Public and Population Health Research, where she has proudly led the development of the cross-disciplinary UTS Health Strategy and is part of the executive team steering the university’s rapid ascent to becoming a world-leading university of technology.
Liz balanced parenthood with studying and working full-time in academia, and understands the value of equity programs in helping women to clarify goals, build strong networks and navigate the pathways to career progression. As Academic Lead and Chair of the Self-Assessment Team for UTS’s Athena SWAN Pilot Program — which aims to drive improvement in gender equity policies and practices in STEMM and get more women into leadership roles — she is relishing the opportunity to lead pan-university cultural change that makes a real-world impact on gender equity.
“The university-wide program is driven by both the evidence and privileging of the lived experience — largely of women — at a time where UTS and society as whole is more ready for change,” she explains.
The evolution of sustainable university-level governance structures for ongoing gender action clearly signal that gender is everybody’s business and responsibility.
“One of the best things to come out of the Athena SWAN, in my personal opinion, is that it has legitimised discussion about gender. In two short years at UTS, the dialogue on gender has normalised to ‘business as usual’; it’s no longer seen as a women’s issue. This is a significant milestone, as is the evolution of sustainable university-level governance structures for ongoing gender action that clearly signal that gender is everybody’s business and responsibility.”
Photographer: Andy Roberts