Rebecca OliveYour name and position?
My name is Rebecca Olive and I’m a Lecturer in Socio-Cultural Studies in the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences. I've been in this role since February 2017. I’m also a Research Fellow with AustLit, working on a project about surfing in Australian Literature, and the Deputy Director (Public Engagement) for the Centre for Sport and Society.

What have been your key career achievements?
I feel like I’m still at the beginning of my career in academia, so this is a difficult question! My research focuses on women in recreational sport, exploring the barriers to participation and representation women face in everyday spaces and cultures. I was also stoked to co-edit Women in Action Sport Culture: Identity, Politics and Experience with Holly Thorpe (NZ). Our book was the first one to compile so many researchers working on action sports in one collection, and it includes a broad range of sports, scholars and perspectives. Through my work on surfing and writing in surf media, I’m really proud to be contributing to changes in surfing media and culture – in particular, whose voices are getting published. And I’m always proud to be a teacher in higher education. Higher education changed my life and gave me the courage and confidence to know that thinking differently doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. Given the impact it had on my life, I’m so proud to be part of that tradition for students today.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman?
Yes, certainly. Although sometimes the barriers are tricky to put your finger on, as they’re so easy to explain in terms of “but this happens to everyone”. But of course, it happens to some people more, and women are certainly one of those groups. Students respond very differently to me than they would to my male peers – sometimes I, and my male colleagues, are shocked at how some students speak to me. Being a feminist researcher can also makes things difficult in some spaces as feminism is still often misunderstood. For example, a female colleague and I were yelled at during a conference presentation about the marginalisation of women from management positions in a particular sport and were accused of making things up. That wasn’t fun, and we didn’t feel very well supported by the mostly-male audience at the time. In my public engagement work, it’s common for me to be given a hard time, called names or abused for talking about sexism in surfing or other sports. It can be horrible when it happens, but I’m getting better at seeing that this is part of the process of change and this is the value of public engagement; for every person who yells at me, there are more for whom the work is really meaningful.

What areas are you particularly passionate about that you would like to see change for women in the future?
In sport, it’s an exciting time where there are a lot of changes happening quickly. More women are reporting on sport in mainstream and digital media, more women are in the sport pages, and more money is being put into women’s sport. At the same time, these changes are opening broader discussions and opportunities for girls, women of colour, and trans people. It’s all far from perfect, but it’s a really exciting time, and it’s great to see women’s progress in sport achieving so much more for so many people.

Can you suggest how young women, at any stage of their career or study, can overcome barriers and progress towards gender parity?
Personally, my key bit of advice for young or early career academic staff is to develop great networks of women and male allies, including mentors. I’ve been lucky to have some really wonderful mentors who are smart and kind and generous and insightful, who I can turn to for help and advice. There is so much to learn about academia and research - research, grant writing, conferences, publications, teaching, service, public engagement, and how to negotiate all of that - so having people I trust, who have my best interests at heart, and who I can be honest with has been so important to me. I can’t really emphasise enough how grateful I feel to have them and don’t know what I’d do without their wisdom. I also have networks of colleagues, and we support each other. It’s easy to feel as though you’re in competition in academia, but we’re not, and it’s much better to support and encourage each other where we can. Not everyone has these kinds of networks, but I’ve worked hard to develop them and they’re precious to me. It’s taught me how valuable support and encouragement is, and how far that can take you. Like teaching, I love being able to provide this to others where and how I can. As I progress, I believe it is important to look around me to make sure that as I move along I’m being a good ally for people who continue to face discrimination, which can be different and more challenging than my own. Yes, women, but also people of colour, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ+ people, all have different experiences from my own, so any progress I make should be tied to the progress of others as well. I’m part of the UQ Ally Network who do great work in this space.

Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s your career, so whatever you do, make sure that you’re making decisions that feel like your own. Although I take a lot of advice from people, I’ve also walked my own line. You get told a lot about established pathways and ways of doing things, but I’ve found my courage (or craziness!) to follow my gut has yielded my most productive and innovative work. Although it’s changing rapidly, academia can still be pretty conservative, but there are increasingly diverse possibilities for how scholarship is done. Be curious, be open and be ready to be change your mind.

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