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Professor Alan White on gender equality

In the third of our staff interviews focusing on gender equality, Professor Alan White, Professor of Men's Health in our School Of Health And Community Studies, shares his thoughts.

Q: How long have you been at Leeds Beckett University and what is your background?
A I first started here when it was Leeds Polytechnic in 1988 on two, one-year temporary contracts as a Lecturer in Nursing. I moved to the College of Health for a few years and have been back since 1993, first as a Senior Lecturer then Principle Lecturer in Nursing and then as a Professor of Men’s Health. We now have an internationally recognised Centre of Men’s Health within the School of Health and Community Care. I was the Chair of the Men’s Health Forum, the national charity for men’s health, for 12 years and I am now its Patron.

Q: What are your thoughts on gender equality?
A Being a man in a mostly female profession gave me an early indication of the need for gender equality. I had not really thought of the world from a women’s perspective before I commenced my Nursing Degree in Surrey, but being on that very first cohort in a mostly science and engineering based university, and working in a male dominated health service, opened my eyes to the ignorance many men have to gender equality. As my work has developed I have also seen how blind society can be to the plight many men experience in their daily lives. My work has mostly focused onto the health of men, but over the years I have also been heavily involved in women’s health issues, this breadth of work has revealed many inequities in service provision that can impact negatively on both men and women. I was part of the first Europe wide conference on Men and Gender Equality as part of the Finnish Presidency in 2006 and more recently was involved in a large European Commission study on the Role of Men in Gender Equality  for DG Justice, with one of our main recommendations being that gender equality should not be just a ‘women’s concern’ and that everyone is affected and everyone has a responsibility to recognise and act when necessary.

Q: What do you think the University should be doing to support gender equality and empower men and women in their roles?
A The University has done a lot over the years, but there are still areas to address. Ironically many more women are now going to University than men, but there is still a mismatch between the number of men and women in senior roles. Gender equality is not just for the academic staff and students, there is a large body of men and women working to keep the university going and it is important that there is equality in role opportunity, pay and in access to services for all. We have been working with our Universities Health and Wellbeing team as there is a concern that male staff are much less likely to engage with their services, to try and find ways of reaching out and targeting men more effectively.

Q Do you feel that, in general, men and women are treated equally in the workplace?
A This is still an aspiration for many, with both overt discrimination for some (as with equal pay for the same job), and hidden, less obvious discrimination. An important feature emerging from our studies into Men’s Health are the issues relating to how men are enabled to take a full part in fatherhood and caring roles. This requires flexible working arrangements and an overhaul of the current paternity leave rights for men within universities and elsewhere. This has been shown to have a significant positive effect on the men themselves, their partner’s health and the wellbeing of their children.

Q Do you think gender equality is a concern for men as well as women?
A Absolutely. It is important that ‘gender’ is recognised as relating to men and those who are trans as well as to women and therefore it affects everyone working in the university. This is a moral imperative that goes to the core of a civilised society, where the skills and talents of all are treated with respect and are valued and the needs of all are recognised and have equal worth.

Q What do you think is the biggest obstacle for gender equality in the workplace today?
A We have a lot to do in educating people who are blind to the legal requirements of the Equality Act; part of this is the need to ensure that gender audits are undertaken to ensure that policies and employment practices are compliant. Gender equality should be like wearing a seatbelt in a car - seen as an enforceable norm. It is also important that workplaces (and those employed) need to distinguish the differences between gender equality and gender equity – where we sometimes have to focus on one sex or the other to ensure equality of opportunity.

Q What is the University trying to achieve by submitting for the Athena SWAN bronze award? What are the key priorities?
A The University has a long track record of supporting all forms of equality, which have been rightly recognised by awards and commendations from leading equality organisations, such as Stonewall, and The Race Equality Charter Mark. Our focus on Gender Equality is just as committed, and it is excellent that the university is seeking recognition through seeking the Athena SWAN bronze award. Being successful in meeting the criteria for this award will both recognise the commitment shown in the past to gender equality and also act as a stimulant as we work towards the silver award.

Q Does any of your research link to gender equality?
A Most of my work links in one way or another with gender equality and has included women’s health, such as GenderBasic, and the ENGENDER project, as well as my more focused work onto men, such as the European and the Leeds State of Men’s Health reports. There is much that is not recognised with regards to men and their health as there is with women and their health. We are currently working on an important European Commission funded study into Gender and Coronary Artery Disease (GenCAD ), which is exploring the major problem of coronary artery disease being under-diagnosed and treated in women, whilst still being one of the principle causes of premature death in men. Our part of the study is to explore how gender is recognised across the 28 member states within their national health policies generally and more specifically in policies relating to cardiovascular diseases.

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

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