By Rachel Adams, Senior Lecturer, Cardiff Metropolitan University
I have worked in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for over three decades and have become increasingly aware of the gender equality issues facing the sector.
I have become more active in trying to address these issues by becoming a member of both our University and Departmental Self-Assessment Teams and this year attending The Athena Swan Bioscience Event! Athena SWAN Charter was founded in 2005 to encourage and support women in STEM careers and recognise the institutions that have showed commitment to embed great practices at their institutions. The Charter has recently been expanded to include other academic disciplines, among which arts, humanities and social science.
Here are the top five things I learnt from the event:
Many departments in the bioscience sector are facing very similar gender equality issues
It was great to meet with a roomful of bioscience academics and compare notes on our experiences in all our respective departments. Following careful collection and analysis of gender equality data many bioscience departments have common problems. A “leaky pipeline” results in under representation of women in more senior positions and under representation of women on key decision making committees.
When submitting an application for an Athena SWAN award, present your data clearly and honestly
The first workshop was on the use of data in applications for Athena SWAN awards. It became clear from the workshop that the best approach to presenting data is to exploit all the skills we have finely tuned in presenting experimental data for journal publication. Here are the top two key ideas which emerged:
- Make sure the data is presented honestly and clearly. It needs to be easily and rapidly interpreted by all panel members; some of whom may not be quantitative scientists.
- Take a step back from figures and tables and ask yourself if the data is clearly presented to demonstrate the real gender equality issues.
Small but carefully considered changes can make a big difference to gender equality
Rachel Simmons from the University of Surrey presented her experience of applying for a Bronze Athena SWAN award. She talked about how the university have tried to address the low career progression rates for female staff. One of the things they tried was to introduce workshops on promotion process in the department as many people were not aware of the details. This simple change resulted in a higher number of successful applications overall.
If we make an effort then we can make a real difference to gender equality
It was particularly interesting to hear from Jane Hill from the Department of Biology University of York, as it is one of only three departments to have achieved the Gold Award in the recent round of assessments. The gender profile in her department has changed over several years; it has become a beacon of gender equality and awarded the Athena SWAN gold award.
Also, the difference between the historic and current day staff photographs of the department clearly demonstrated the change in gender balance which has happened in the department over the years. This really shows that we can make it happen!
Overall the day was very successful. It was great to get so many bioscience academics, who share a common goal of improving gender equality, together in the same room. If we improve practice it will benefit everyone and the Bioscience sector as a whole.
The Athena SWAN Bioscience Event was organised by a number of bioscience learned societies: Biochemical Society, Royal Society of Biology, British Ecological Society, Society for Experimental Biology and Microbiology Society.