Three UNSW Canberra researchers have been recognised by the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM) for their excellence in public sector research on women in public administration.

Associate Professor Sue Williamson, Dr Helen Taylor and Dr Vindhya Weeratunga were awarded the IRSPM Rosemary O’Leary Prize for their article “Working from home during COVID-19: What does this mean for the ideal worker norm?”, published in Gender, Work and Organization in 2023.

The award was established in 2019 to recognise excellent scholarship on women in public administration. This is the second time Associate Professor Williamson has won the award, having previously won in 2021.

The IRSPM said the winning article particularly stood out for “its scholarly rigour and innovation”.

“It makes an important, evidence-based contribution to reducing harmful gendered workplace practices which has the potential to substantially progress gender equality,” the organisation said.

The researchers, from the UNSW Canberra School of Business, examined survey data from almost 5000 Australian public servants and found that hybrid working offered great benefits to women, especially those with a disability or with caring responsibilities.

They also looked at the concept of the “ideal worker”, which traditionally refers to a man who works long hours, has a ‘wife’ to look after family and domestic duties, and is constantly available and highly productive.

But this research showed that women who worked from home were significantly more productive and better able to balance their work and outside responsibilities. Their productivity more closely resembled that of the “ideal worker” and demonstrates to employers that offering hybrid work will benefit them and their employees.

Associate Professor Williamson said she and her colleagues were honoured to receive the award.

“It’s especially pleasing to be recognised by our academic peers from across the world,” she said.

“The pandemic completely changed workplaces and the way people work and these will likely never return to how they were. Our research shows that’s a good thing.

“Hybrid work allows more people, particularly those who might have been underutilised or held back before, to contribute in more significant ways, while also better managing their needs and responsibilities outside work.”

Associate Professor Williamson also cautioned however, that the ideal worker norm creates harmful workplace behaviours, such as working long hours. But with various groups of women showing they can be ideal workers, the norm is starting to lose currency, which can only be positive for employees.