Women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine at Swansea University

Gender equality: Does it matter?

Gender equality: Does it matter?…by Dr. Sonia Consuegra & Dr. Emilia Urbanek

This was the main topic of the debate held at Swansea University on the 14th of January under the umbrella of Athena Swan and Women in Science programmes at Swansea University. It seems to have been spoken again and again, the lack of women in the highest managerial positions, the lowest success of women as PIs in large grants and Fellowships (e.g. Royal Society University Fellowships), the glass ceiling or the uncertainty of women with fixed time positions and young families. Yet, despite all the discussion, the importance of gender equality is not obvious to everyone and the debate aimed to provide a forum open to voices with potentially different opinions. About 20 women and men working in Science at different stages (PhD students, Postdocs and academics from Lecturers to Professors) got together over tea and coffee to discuss the most important challenges of gender equality at University and to help in designing the programme for a series of seminars/workshops aimed at helping in tackling those challenges. Two examples discussed were conciliation between family and work life and pay-gap between genders.

The first issue raised during the discussion was the uncertainty about the conciliation of family life and career progression. Unsurprisingly, this appeared as particularly critical for women at PhD levels and for those with fixed-term positions. A common concern was the fear of losing the job after maternity leave and of family delaying or even possibly stopping career progression at those levels. Although this may not sound new, the debate revealed a lack of clear information about University policies in issues such as maternity leave cover or flexible work as well as a common reluctancy to discuss this issues with line managers (particularly if they are men). Lack of information on starting scales and salaries when negotiating job conditions was also discussed. A pay gap still exists between men and women and part of this could be the consequence of differences in the negotiation of the initial conditions of the contracts between men and women with similar experience. In relation to this, the need to give more support and guidance for career options to early career scientists was raised. It was suggested that mentorship should be provided to all scientists at the different stages of their careers and recognised as an important part of the academic role, increasing the amount of information provided about the roles of mentor and mentee. Not all aspects discussed were negative though, the flexibility of the academic environment was also highlighted.

Women in Science will be running over the next months a number of informative sessions in the form of seminars or workshops with topics largely inspired by the feedback provided during this initial session including: family policies at University, career progression and mentorship or moving abroad for work. The first one of these sessions will take place on Wednesday the 11th of February at 1pm in SURF room Fulton House and we will take a closer look at the existing university policies in relation to flexible time working, maternity/paternity leave, mentoring of the new appointees etc.


Alison Jones • February 10, 2015

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