Going for Gold!

olympics imageI thought it was particularly apt with the current fantastic success for team GB at the Rio Olympics that I talk about ‘Going for gold’. Only I’m not talking really about how we can win Olympic gold medals, but actually awards for improving the research environment for our early career researchers at the University.

All this talk of ‘winning gold’ at the moment had me wondering how many of our researchers actually realise the huge amount of time and effort some of their colleagues are giving to improve the research and career environment for them both at department and university level.

When I say the words ‘research environment’ many people often think about the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 which contained an assessment of the research environment via a narrative containing information on a unit’s research strategy, people (staff and students), income, infrastructure, facilities and collaboration. But this isn’t the only process a University is involved in to recognise and encourage development of the research environment…

A few months ago the Medical School applied for a gold Athena Swan award and being part New-Athena-SWAN-logo-220x107of the self-assessment team (made up of a mix of academics, professional services staff and research staff and students) I witnessed the hard work and dedication many of my colleagues showed, striving to ensure recognition for the fantastic work that has been carried out over the past few years to enhance the departments. Some of these activities include;

  • Baby changing and breast feeding facilities
  • ‘The Whyte Payment’ initiative designed to encourage and support our female colleagues to keep in touch with the University whilst on maternity leave, via payment for childcare
  • SWIM – Sheffield Women in Medicine network; promoting culture change within the NHS
  • Enhancing SRDS (appraisal process) for researchers

At the same time as we were applying for gold in the medical school, the University of Sheffield was awarded its first silver award (one of only 9 Universities to hold a silver institution award) which just goes to show our ongoing commitment to gender equality in research.

Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU) Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. In 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

Medical School Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team 2013

The Medical School was successful in achieving a silver award in 2013 for its achievement and hard work promoting gender equality. In order to achieve a silver award, we worked with colleagues to identify particular challenges, and took action to respond to these, which had a demonstrable impact on the Medical School. As a result of the process, action is being taken to promote truly innovative working environments that allow both men and women to thrive.

Sheila Francis, Head of the Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease and leader of the successful Medical School application said: “Our silver award celebrates all the good work that has gone in to improving the career paths of women in clinical and non-clinical academic medicine over the past several years through mentoring, better support and crucially, through improving the visibility of role models. There is still more work to do and I look forward to a time when such efforts will not be required.”

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on ten key principles. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including:
  • the relative underrepresentation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL)
  • the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)
  1. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
  2. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
  3. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
  4. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.
  5. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
  6. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
  7. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

So not all gold medals require sporting prowess, but I think it’s safe to say they do take an awful lot of hard work, time and dedication on the teams involved in ‘going for gold’. I also resisted the urge to fill this blog post with a load of sporting metaphors or idioms, but for those who wished I had and would like further reading, Wikipedia has plenty 🙂

Image credits:

Olympic picture

Athena Swan logo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s