Giselle Byrnes is an internationally recognised historian with senior management experience in universities in Australia and in New Zealand. She is not afraid to take strategic risks for career growth, welcomes ‘big, meaty roles’ and likes being pushed beyond the limits of her comfort. Currently, she is Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research, Academic & Enterprise) at Massey University.
Giselle comes from a family that values education as a social motivator and mobiliser. From a young age, they instilled in her the belief that education was ‘the key to social mobility’ and a force for change. Giselle’s love of learning, reading and thinking led her to undertake a BA in English Literature and History, and she went on to complete an MA in History, and a PhD in History. She has a strong commitment to the role of universities in advancing equity (for women and minority groups) and believes they play a critical role in making positive social change, for communities and individuals.
Giselle’s academic career began at Victoria University in Wellington, where she taught for 10 years. During this time, she established her research and teaching career and had her two children. A senior lecturer, she was appointed to a Chair at the University of Waikato, becoming professor before the age of 40. She has held a range of leadership responsibilities in universities, ranging from Head of Department, PVC (Postgraduate), Faculty PVC and now in senior leadership. In 2011, she moved from New Zealand to Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory, Australia. This was a bold but deliberate decision; the role was broad and challenging and re-confirmed her values around applied teaching and research, meaningful commitment to non-traditional learners and first in family learners, gender equity and indigenous education. She returned to New Zealand in 2016, where she was appointed to a broad senior leadership role at Massey University, an institution strongly connected with these values.
Giselle is fortunate that her husband is supportive in their partnership. He has been, for the past 20 years, fulltime house husband when their two children were young and maintains this role with regards to all domestic duties. They have attempted to time and align career moves with the stages of their children’s development.
Giselle believes in the importance of having a clear career plan. She has always had five-year goals, and maintains focus on achieving milestones – while acknowledging the need for flexibility. She feels that women are socialised to say ‘yes’, a behaviour that seeks to please but is not always strategic. By knowing where she has wanted to go, she has been able to identify, weigh up and seize opportunities that align with her aspirations.
Giselle is committed to advancing the agenda around equity and access to higher education. She is a strong advocate of the critical role played by universities in creating social, cultural and intellectual capital for public benefit and economic well-being.
Giselle has mentored formally and informally across a range of disciplines, and has helped academics through key challenges such as the compatibility of family and career, decisions about career opportunities, and stepping into leadership roles. Her mentoring approach is to build a trusting environment and connect with her mentee to understand their ambitions, goals, challenges and expectations. While she sees mentorship as an opportunity to learn, her focus remains on the mentee and the insights she can ‘pay forward’ to help them with planning and decision-making.