Professor Sara Charlesworth originally trained as a social worker before working as a researcher both within industry and government.
Australian Research Council Future Fellow and a Professor in the School of Management where she is in the Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work.
Professor Charlesworth’s primary areas of research specialty are employment and anti-discrimination regulation, job quality, equal pay, and currently, gender, migration and paid care work.
She has a PhD in Legal Studies from Latrobe University and with her background in political science and industrial relations, she became a lay member of the Equal Opportunity Board of Victoria, the first anti-discrimination Tribunal in Victoria.
"I was on the Board for 4 years or so and became curious about different perspectives on the problem of sex discrimination in the workplace," says Professor Charlesworth.
"At that time, it seemed to me that many industrial relations practitioners did not really understand or ‘get’ discrimination, whereas many human rights practitioners did not really appreciate how workplaces functioned.
This led me to pursue a PhD to explore how the disjuncture between industrial relations and sex discrimination regulation plays out within workplaces."
Professor Charlesworth’s research has focused on job quality, part-time work, work-life balance, sex and pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment and has been used by the media to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of these issues.
Her research is highly policy relevant and has been used to inform recommendations made by a wide range of government inquiries, decisions of the Fair Work Commission and strategies of the Fair Work Ombudsman as well as various human rights commissions across Australia.
It has also been used to inform policy initiatives at the workplace level, including in Victoria Police, Sydney Water and GM Holden Ltd as well as in a number of aged care service providers.
In 2012 she was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship for a project on ‘Prospects for decent work and gender equality in frontline care’. The project aims to identify the main policy paths shaping regulatory responses to gender inequality in frontline care work in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and to provide practical policy alternatives that link decent work for frontline care workers to an improved quality of care in services.
"Much of my current work focuses on ‘frontline’ care workers, a group of workers assumed by funding systems both in Australia and in other OECD countries to be ‘low-skilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’. This undervaluation is reflected in lower rates of pay and poorer working conditions for these workers compared to many other groups of workers.
I’m very interested in this predominantly female occupation because the work of care workers looks like the work many women do for free and as a result it’s profoundly undervalued; in an industrial sense and in terms of protection of those workers."
While in Australia sex discrimination laws have been in place since 1977, Professor Charlesworth asserts gender inequality is still a persistent issue that is being reproduced both within labour markets and workplaces today, particularly through insecure and precarious work.
"A lot of gender equality research is focused on the lack of representation of women in management. While that’s an important issue, in the sense that it is a canary in the mine that tells us that we are still a long way from gender equality, it's not my passion. I’m far more interested in the working lives of the great mass of women who never make it to that level.
To try and reimagine what the prospects for gender equality might look like I have been drawing on the International Labour Organization’s idea of decent work. Gender equality is at the heart of decent work; basically you can’t have decent work if you don’t have gender equality. So the issue becomes how can we mainstream gender inequality as a central concern of employment regulation and practice?
RMIT is a good fit for me because I’ve always understood RMIT to be about applied knowledge; it’s about the production of ‘useful knowledge’, and I think that is what I do. My work hopefully contributes to theorising the problem of gender inequality, but my main interest is in having a practical real world effect, on policy and in the workplace."