Women in Research Event – 19 September 2019

By Karen Patel on September 27th, 2019

Last week Kirsten Forkert and I attended the Women in Research conference in London. The day featured various speakers on inequalities in research careers, mostly centering on gender with many speakers coming from STEM subjects.

Key themes which emerged from the day include:

1. The unfavourable conditions for women in research which hinder progression. Common discourse places responsibility on the woman to remedy her position (termed as “fixing the woman”), with mentoring/upskilling presented as the obvious solution. While mentoring schemes can be helpful, individualised approaches mask structural inequalities and a lack of institutional support.

2. These structural inequalities are intersectional, not only affecting women but BAME people, disabled people, those who are LGBTQ+, or from working class backgrounds. Any action needs to consider intersectionality.

3. The clear benefits of flexible working arrangements and sabbaticals for women who have taken maternity leave or have needed to take a career break for other reasons, and the importance of promoting a culture of flexibility and challenging presenteeism. The Daphne Jackson Trust presented case studies which highlight the benefits of its scheme to help women return to research after a career break.

4. Collaboration, networking and peer support are important. Women need to champion each other in research.

5. Collegiate and supportive behaviours need to be fostered and rewarded rather than individualistic models of advancement which do not benefit others.

Some examples of good practice from the various speakers include:

– A flexible working scheme which is ‘Yes by default’ rather than no by default

– Regular sabbatical terms, for example 3 months every 2 years, which are not affected by maternity leave

– Every module taught by two people, allowing for sabbaticals/flexible working

– Job sharing and job swaps

– Collectively challenging ‘othering’ behaviours. Some institutions provide ‘Active Bystander’ training to address bullying and bad behaviours

– Team mentoring, which does not only focus on individuals

– Specific schemes for female, BME, working-class academics

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