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Professor Claire Surr on gender equality

In the first of our staff profiles focusing on gender equality, Professor of Dementia Studies Claire Surr, from our School Of Health And Community Studies, shares her thoughts.

Claire Surr

Q. How long have you been at Leeds Beckett University and what is your background?
A. I joined Leeds Beckett University in February 2015. My background is in academic teaching and research in applied dementia studies.

Q. What are your thoughts on gender equality?

A. Gender equality is extremely important in ensuring a supportive working environment, whether you are female or male. At a basic level, in a University context ensuring that all staff have equal access to opportunities, support and equal pay should be an underpinning principle. However, gender equality is complex and there are many ways in which gender bias can be present within an organisation, many of which may be unconscious or unseen. Universities are in a strong and often unique position to critically examine and evaluate issues of equality and conscious and unconscious bias and to inform knowledge in this area for societal benefit.

Q. What do you think the University should be doing to support gender equality and empower both men and women in their roles?
A. Raising awareness about gender equality and issues such as unconscious bias is obviously a key starting point. Staff should feel empowered to think critically about potential gender bias in their area of work, to raise concerns and there need to then be mechanisms to help areas assess and reduce bias. There are also a number of job roles and subject areas, which have traditionally been dominated by staff of one gender. We need to try to break down these barriers and encourage diversity in those who apply and who are appointed to such roles and areas. On a broader level we are in a strong position to develop our research into gender equality and to help inform debate and good practice.

Q. Do you feel that, in general, men and women are treated equally in the workplace?
A. I think this remains variable, with some organisations very committed to achieving the goal and others less so. In my experience working in a health related area within a University environment, I have always felt I have experienced equal treatment to my male colleagues. However, I am sure that in some organisations and sectors this is not the case and evidence indicates women are still often paid less for doing the same job as men and there remain discriminative practices around maternity leave and those with caring responsibilities. I think there is still a long way to go before we can say with confidence that the vast majority of people feel they are treated equally on the basis of gender in their workplace.

Q. Do you think gender equality is a concern for men as well as women?
A. Definitely. While many of the more obvious reasons for gender inequality such as maternity leave, childcare and other caring responsibilities tend to have a bigger impact on women, they also affect men. For example, it may be harder for men to negotiate adjustments to their working practices to accommodate responsibilities outside of work such as caring for children or a relative, that are traditionally seen as a woman’s role. Any considerations of gender equality must always consider this in relation to both men and women.

Q. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for gender equality in the workplace today?
A. There are many challenges, but if I had to pick one it is probably unconscious bias. It is very difficult to reduce or eliminate biases of which we are not consciously aware.

Q. What do you think the University is trying to achieve by submitting for the Athena SWAN bronze award? What are the key priorities?
A. In submitting for Athena SWAN the University is demonstrating its commitment to gender equality for all staff. The process of critical appraisal of and reflection on current practices and subsequent action is really important. One key priority might be to identify ways to address issues of gender underrepresentation in some job roles and areas of the University. 

Q. Does any of your research link to gender equality?
A. Dementia cuts across many areas of society. Whilst my research is not directly attempting to look at issues of gender equality, an understanding of such issues is vitally important in understanding the dementia care context and how to conduct research within it. For example, the vast majority of those who provide care to people living with dementia are female, whether as family or paid caregivers. Likewise a greater proportion of those living with dementia are women.  Therefore, there are many issues associated with gender equality that impact how my research is contextualised, conducted and interpreted.

The university is submitting a submission for Athena Swan bronze in recognition of its work to address gender equality.

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