Addressing gender inequality in academia
6 February 2017 - Lynda Fothergill
Leeds Beckett is working hard to advance gender-equality, representation and progression for all. Our recent application for Bronze Charter status as part of Athena SWAN reflects the University’s continued commitment to achieving excellence in this area.
Our Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Slee was very clear in our submission about the importance of using Athena SWAN as a focus to guide and direct our activities; indicating we will seek to build further on recent progress, share best practice, and make sustained improvements towards a more balanced staff profile.
Charter status gives ofﬁcial recognition to universities that are striving for equality and diversity in the research they undertake, and honours institutional commitment to gender equality. Athena SWAN was initially set up to advance the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM), our submission has focussed on the areas across of: Built Environment and Engineering; Clinical and Applied Sciences; Computing; Creative Technologies and Engineering; Sport; Architecture, Built Environment and Planning; and Psychology and Nursing.
Professor Andrew Slade, Chair of our Athena SWAN committee and Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise, said: “We’ve taken a good look at our current position in relation to women’s representation and career progression within STEMM. We’ve asked ourselves how do our policies, practices and procedures support women’s representation and career progression, and are there areas that need to change? What initiatives can we introduce to help bring about these changes?”
Benefits for staff include changing culture and attitudes, improvements to career satisfaction, creating opportunities for training and development, enhancing knowledge of promotion processes and achieving fairness in the allocation of workload. These benefits extend to men as well as those working in technical and administrative roles.
The Athena SWAN charter is also valued by research funding bodies and increases our ability to compete successfully with other higher education institutions. It enables us to evidence progress and complements our University’s new Strategic Plan, in particular, the aim of achieving ‘leading research and academic enterprise’.
Professor Dorothy Monekosso, Professor of Computer Science in the School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering said: “The University will be remiss of its wider societal role if it does not recognise and reward the contribution of all its staff. The Athena SWAN committee is engaging in a process to identify practices and policies, processes and procedures that may negatively impact some colleagues and propose an action plan for improvement. The committee will continue working beyond the submission of our application as this is intended to be a continuing endeavour.”
Professor Claire Surr, Professor of Dementia Studies in the School of Health and Community Studies, said: “In submitting for Athena SWANN, 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”.
Claire sees the role of raising awareness of the issue and exploring unconscious bias and gender underrepresentation in some job roles and areas of the University, as key priorities: “Gender equality is extremely important in ensuring a supportive working environment, whether you are female or male. 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.”
Claire continued: “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. Where there are 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.
“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. 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.”
We expect to hear the outcome of our submission later this year and in the meantime are already putting into practice the action plan developed through the submission process which can be viewed here.
Our work won’t stop with STEMM. Athena SWAN’s remit has broadened and now covers the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law. It also takes into consideration professional and support roles, as well as transgender staff and students. In the future, we’ll be looking to submit examples that involve all areas of our University’s work.Read more about Athena SWAN here.