International Women’s Day 2021 – A challenged world is an alert world 

Why do we celebrate international Women’s day? 

Celebrated on 8th March annually, International Women’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women globally. It is also a day to recognise steps taken towards gender equality and address action still needing to be taken.  
 

This year the theme of International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge. At the University of Reading, we have a long history of challenging the status quo of gender roles. Edith Morley was the first woman appointed to a chair at a British university-level institution, after becoming English professor at University College Reading (now the University of Reading). In her autobiography, she described the appointment as: 

 

my contribution to the battle for fair dealing for women in public and professional life” 

 

Our annual lecture in her name celebrates her contribution and provides a platform for us to amplify the voices of women today who are choosing to challenge the status quo.  This year, this special event featured writer, activist, podcaster and journalist, Scarlett Curtis. You can watch the event here again via this link. 

 

 

International Women’s Day 2021 at UoR  

 

We have asked our staff and students to tell us what the theme of #ChoosetoChallenge means to them. Here’s how they responded… 

 

 

Asaiel Alohaly 

PhD student in the corporate governance of Aramco 

 

I am a tree rooted home 

I am a summer breeze 

Flying everywhere 

I am diversity 

I am what I am 

 

By: Asaiel Alohaly 

 

 

 

Claire Collins  

Co-chair of the Women@Reading Network

 

Courage – this is my new mantra.  I don’t have much of it.  I am like the lion in The Wizard of Oz. 

If we don’t have courage, we will never be seen or heard. Our voices will be mute, our deeds and achievements will go unrecognised.  When other voices are loud and deep, we need to raise ourselves up and speak, with confidence and conviction. Other voices don’t wait to be absolutely true to facts when they speak, but they do so anyway.  We hold back, until we’re absolutely 100% sure that we are correct.  And while we wait, the world, and the opportunity has passed us by. 

Speak up with courage.  Do your deeds with courage. Be a human being on this planet with the courage that you are as good as any other and have the same rights as any other to be heard and seen.   

Rise up Women – and fill yourselves with Courage!!! 

 

 

 

Dr Bolanle Adebola 

Associate Professor of Law
Co-Lead for Diversity and Inclusion, School of Law
Co-Lead, UoR Staff BAME Network
Convener, Commercial Law Research Network Nigeria (CLRNN) 

 

I #Choose to Challenge (the Notion that Women are not Effective Leaders

The year 2020 was remarkable globally, as well as personally. It was the year of the pandemic which saw women disproportionately affected by the recession it precipitated. It was also the year in which female heads of government were applauded for their decisive leadership that averted the high death toll experienced in counterparts with male heads of government. The year of Kamala Harris – the first female and Minority Ethnic Vice President of the United States. Despite these strides, the Reykjavík Index for Leadership shows that women are still not considered equally able to lead as men.  

For me, 2020 was the year in which I stepped into visible leadership roles to challenge barriers, inequity and exclusionary practices. A negative experience in November 2019 led me to investigate the racial experiences of other colleagues at the University. The answers I found were heartrending. So, I chose to challenge by co-founding a network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff in January 2020. Through the UoR Staff BAME Network, we raise awareness and challenge the experiences on which we once were silent, with the aim of influencing change. The University responded by commissioning the Race Equality Review co-led by one of its Minority Ethnic female Professors and deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Parveen Yaqoob.

I was also concerned for students from these Minority Ethnic communities. I became Co-Lead for Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Law, and through this role, investigated the possibility of an awarding gap for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students.  I found a gap, which averaged 10.3% across the group over the 3 years of data that we had. I disaggregated the data to ensure that we obtained an accurate picture of the gap for each Ethnicity. The picture was much starker for Black and non-Chinese Asian students. I chose to challenge the situation by engaging colleagues in conversations. In collaboration with a committee of staff and students, I embarked on awareness raising and solution seeking conversations. I am happy that several colleagues of all races and across functions are contributing to the change that is underway.  

As a leader, I have initiated and participated in several important but uncomfortable conversations in various spaces within my School and the wider University. It is not easy leading the charge but I #Choose to Challenge barriers, inequity and exclusionary practices.  

  

 

Poppy Lindsey 

RUSU Women’s Officer

 

#choosetochallenge non-intersectional feminism 

This International Women’s Day, I’m choosing to challenge non-intersectional feminism. I first of all want to highlight the fact I am a straight, white, able-bodied woman, and so there are many struggles faced by women globally that I can never understand. The main crux of intersectional feminism is that we, as feminists, should not and cannot focus solely on issues which only affect people reflective of ourselves. It is not effective to the women’s rights movement to view certain issues as ‘them’ problems – as feminists we must fight for the liberation of every woman, regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, and so on. One of the most important women’s rights activists in promoting intersectionality was Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: 

 “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” 

 I’m often hit with the criticism: ‘We don’t need feminism! Women are equal in this country!’. The thing these people need to hear is that every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18, and that there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. Should we not fight for these girls with no voice, just because it will most likely never affect us? As women, we cannot consider ourselves free when these shocking statistics still exist, and when female lives are being compromised to such an extent. This is why intersectionality is so important, and that racism has no place in the feminist movement.  

 

 

 

Dr Eileen Hyder 
PFHEA
Manager of FLAIR CPD Scheme 

 

#choosetochallenge injustice 

 Chain of solidarity and love – Women in Moscow took part in a ‘Chain of Solidarity and Love’ on Valentine’s Day in support of both Yulia Navalnaya (the wife of the jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny) and also women prosecuted for political reasons. The event’s organiser said, ‘Come with flowers, with red clothing items and with paper hearts attached to your clothes, on which you can write the names of the women with whom you want to express solidarity. We want to remind ourselves that love is stronger than fear’. I find it powerful and inspiring when women choose to challenge injustice in ways that show strength and gentleness simultaneously.   

 

 

 

Dr Ellen McManus-Fry  

Chair of the Parent and Family Network
Prospect Research Officer 


About this time, 3 years ago, I came back to work following maternity leave. My daughter was only 4 months old, due to how my husband and I had divided up our shared parental leave and was still exclusively breastfed. This meant that I needed to be able to express and store milk during the working day that my husband could then feed to our baby at home.  

Breastfeeding wasn’t something which had been mentioned at all in the maternity policy or in any other information I’d been given by the University, and I only knew that I could request to be provided with a suitable space to pump thanks to a colleague and friend, Nicola Hall, who had recently been through the same thing herself. I had great support and help from my manager and from Estates, who identified and adapted a room for me to use – installing a lock and blocking out the door window, albeit a week after I returned to work.  

However, I was surprised that there were no facilities already in place and there was a sense that I was the first woman to ever make a request like this, which I knew could not be the case. It didn’t feel right that the onus was on me, amid all the other challenges of returning to work after having a baby, to seek out and arrange these facilities; facilities which were vital to enable me to return to work whilst continuing to feed my child in the way I had chosen to.  

 Together with Nikki, I decided to investigate how other women had managed returning to work whilst breastfeeding and sent out an email asking for colleagues to share their experiences. I was shocked at some of the responses I got. Women had pumped in their cars; in the toilets; in managers’ offices, temporarily vacated; they had stopped breastfeeding sooner than they wanted to because they didn’t think it would be possible after they returned to work; they had to manage their schedule so that they could work from home during times when their child needed feeding. 

 Around that time the Staff Forum had put out a call for ideas for staff welfare projects and Nikki and I submitted a proposal to establish dedicated breastfeeding facilities on campus. We were successful, and although it has taken longer than expected, we will be ready to launch and promote our ‘parent-friendly rooms’ once the campus reopens. There will be three rooms (for now!): one in Meteorology at Earley Gate, one at London Road and one in the Library on Whiteknights, and they are intended to be comfortable, private spaces where colleagues can pump and store breastmilk or breastfeed privately, if the child is on campus with them. 

 The other, larger, thing which came out of this initial project was the establishment of the Parent and Family Network, which began in summer 2019 with Nikki and I as Co-Chairs. It has since grown to an active online community of over 300 colleagues, and I have a lot of plans for the Network in the future. I think there is great power and great value in colleagues connecting with each other to share their experiences, identifying where things could be improved and working together to make that improvement happen. 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to all the contributors to this blog post! 

 

 

 

 

 

Recruiting women professors in mathematics: a case study

By Simon Chandler-Wilde (Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Applied Mathematics).

I’m grateful to my colleague Prof Jennifer Scott for commenting on a draft of this post, in particular suggesting that I add in the first bullet point in the list below. I’m grateful also to Dr Eugénie Hunsicker for suggestions for additional reading.

The proportion of mathematics professors in the UK who are women is disgracefully low. An influential report in 2013 for the London Mathematical Society (LMS) reported that 6% of maths professors are female while 42% of students taking undergraduate degrees in mathematics are female. There has been some progress since then, but the pace of change is slow. This is a huge waste of talent for the mathematics community – we’re essentially recruiting our mathematics professors from only half the potential pool – and we have too few female role models to provide inspiration, encouragement and advice to our female undergraduates and PhD students coming through.

This is a case study of recruiting to a chair in mathematics. It is a case study in obtaining the best international field of candidates so as to make the strongest possible appointment, of whatever gender. It is also a case study of working to maximise the possibility of appointing a female professor, as a small, local step towards redressing the gender-balance in mathematics at professorial level, nationally and in our own department. It is a case study of simple actions that attracted a superb field of candidates (male and female) in a gender-balanced shortlist, and led (through selecting from the shortlist the best person for the job) to a new female professor in the department.

This recruitment arose following the resignation of Prof Beatrice Pelloni, who left in 2016 to become Head of the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, following a career at Reading in which she was promoted from her first academic post as Lecturer to become Professor and Head of Department (in a job-share), and then became the first Director, jointly with Prof Dan Crisan at Imperial, of the Mathematics of Planet Earth Centre for Doctoral Training, a large EPSRC-funded centre joint between Reading and ICL. This joint CDT leadership, of Beatrice and Dan, sent a superb signal of gender equality and provided gender-balanced role models to the PhD students coming to our new CDT (and as at October last year we had 34% female PhD students in the CDT compared to the national average of 28.6% across mathematical sciences).

We advertised in 2016 for the role of Professor of Mathematics and Director at Reading of the Mathematics of Planet Earth Centre for Doctoral Training with the aim of recruiting the best possible candidate from the strongest field of candidates, but seeking as we did this to maximise the possibility of appointing a new female professor, maintaining gender equality in our leadership of the CDT. This recruitment led ultimately to the appointment of Prof Jennifer Scott, who at the time of her appointment held the position of Leader of the highly successful and respected Numerical Analysis Group at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, based near Didcot. Jennifer also held (and continues to hold) the prestigious position of STFC Individual Merit Research Fellow.

Here are the simple steps that we took in our recruitment. These are mostly best recruitment practice that one would wish to follow in any recruitment process to ensure the strongest possible field of candidates, but with a slant to them that led to a gender-balanced shortlist, and ultimately to the appointment of Prof Scott.

  • Write an advert, job description, and further particulars that seek to attract a wide and diverse pool of applicants. Concretely in this recruitment this included a number of elements normal in our recruitment to all our posts, namely:
  1. We minimised the number of essential criteria to widen the pool who see themselves as qualified (Jennifer asked me to emphasise this!), and where we had a criterion around subject area (some connection to mathematics of planet earth) we made clear that this was interpreted broadly.
  2. We included as an essential criterion “commitment to diversity and equality”. This is really important for running a CDT, and its inclusion helps to attract a more diverse field: under-represented minorities in mathematics are disproportionately represented in diversity and equality work.  The successful candidate’s evidence for this included many years’ work in the LMS Women in Mathematics Committee.
  3. We signalled our commitment to gender equality in the job description by flagging the Silver Athena SWAN Award that we held (and continue to hold) as part of the larger School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences.
  4. In the further particulars, building on the University’s standard “[commitment] to having a diverse and inclusive workforce” and “welcome [for] applications for job-share, part-time and flexible working arrangements”, expressed in every job advert, we made clear that this was a reality on the ground, including links to our local flexible working and parental leave webpages which give examples of men and women at all levels working flexibly in our department and the wider school.
  • Appoint a diverse search committee (in particular with gender diversity). Our search committee comprised 10 staff (at Professor and Associate Professor level) of diverse nationalities (7 different countries), and included two female maths professors, an external (Dan Crisan from Imperial), and representation from a range of relevant subject areas including from our meteorology department. The female representation on the committee was critical to achieving gender balance on our shortlist through the better connection of these female professors into networks of women mathematicians. In particular one of the female professors suggested we approach Prof Scott who we finally appointed.
  • Be explicit in communications to your search committee, and to your wider department, e.g. through communication up front from the search committee chair, that you want in your search to attract a diverse field of candidates. This was done, and as part of this we flagged that we “would be pleased if we came up with names of potential female candidates” and that “it is an undoubted strength of the current [CDT] leadership that the directorate is mixed male/female”. These explicit communications undoubtedly led to more names of prospective female candidates being suggested.
  • Invite suggestions for candidates from across the search committee, and the wider department, and do some brain storming with the search committee, with reminders about seeking a diverse applicant pool as you do this. Great suggestions for possible candidates came in from across the department, e.g. Sarah Dance (then Associate Professor, now Professor), suggested (male and female names) for conversations that led to strong applications.
  • Sound out a wide range of possible candidates across the UK and internationally by email, suggesting that you follow-up with phone calls/skype if they might be interested. And speak on the phone to senior colleagues internationally seeking suggestions for possible candidates (and raising diversity of the candidate field as you do this). We spoke to very many potential male and female applicants, in the UK and internationally, discussing the role, and encouraging possible applications, leading very naturally to a diverse (in particular 50/50 gender-balanced) shortlist. In many cases, following an initial conversation with the search committee chair (or another member of the search committee), there were follow-up conversations, including confidential conversations with other senior colleagues (not least the other CDT Director Dan Crisan). It may be that female candidates are less likely to apply without a personal approach, but in fact all of our shortlist were candidates that we had approached and then spoken to (in multiple conversations) encouraging applications. And indeed the person finally appointed had no idea that she wished to move jobs to a university and become a professor before we picked up the phone!
  • Have a diverse group do the shortlisting (including mix of genders). A slightly smaller group carried out the shortlisting, including some formal elements (e.g. the Dean of the Graduate School, Dianne Berry, as the agreed interview panel chair, signed off on the final selection).

The above reads very like standard (good) practice for recruitment. I think it is, with a diversity flavour, and I commend all the above as good practice in any maths professor recruitment; indeed, with some tweaks, as good practice across all academic recruitment, particularly at senior levels.

Let me mention for completeness other features of the final selection process. As is standard in our department the Head of Department organised presentations by the candidates open to the whole department, plus informal meetings of the candidates with a number of small groups of particularly relevant prospective colleagues, and a feedback meeting (open to the whole department) in advance of the interviews, this part of the transparency of the process throughout. The final selection was done by the interview panel, which again had a mix of genders and included Dan as external.

Much other advice on addressing the under-representation of women in mathematics has been published by the impressive Women in Mathematics Committee of the London Mathematical Society that won the inaugural Royal Society Athena Prize in 2016. In particular the 2013 report “Advancing Women in Mathematics: Good Practice in UK Mathematics Departments” has recommendations and examples of good practice on recruitment of academic staff (see section 4.4 of the report) that significantly overlap with the above list, as did the discussion at the LMS Good Practice Scheme Meeting in October 2016, see these slides.

There are surely other things that we might usefully do, more imaginative ways that we might rethink recruitment. Here is one blog (thank you Eugénie!that provides very much food for thought and much additional reading.

Developing a New Action Plan for Gender Equality and Preparing the University’s Next Athena SWAN Submission

by Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (job share with Ellie Highwood)

One key part of how we work as a University on diversity and inclusion (D&I) is to bring groups of people together to focus on particular protected characteristics and associated equality and D&I issues. These groups are termed “self-assessment teams”, “action plan groups”, or similar. In each case the idea is the same: to identify on the basis of evidence, consultation, and personal experience what we are already doing well, and what needs to change, and then to propose an action plan, and agree the actions proposed with the wider University, not least with those who may need to carry them out.

In the last three years we have set up three such groups. In each case a framework for what the groups think about and do has been provided by existing national self-assessment and action-planning schemes. These are:

  • The Athena SWAN Bronze, Silver, and Gold charter marks relating to advancement of gender equality, run by the Equality Challenge Unit (part of Advance HE)
  • The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, focussed on equality and inclusivity for LGBT+ staff and students
  • The Equality Challenge Unit’s Race Equality Bronze and Silver charter marks

Details of all the above schemes and copies of the action plans produced are on the Charter Marks part of the Diversity and Inclusion website.

We advertised last Autumn for volunteers to join a new Self-Assessment Team to prepare a new action plan for gender equality for the next four years, and to prepare our next University Athena SWAN submission in November, aiming this time for a Silver award. We received many, high quality expressions of interest, and have supplemented these by approaching some other staff and students directly, to ensure a balance of experiences and genders on the final team – the photo shows our team, and below are contact details and brief info for all our team members.

We’re keen to hear from staff across the University regarding issues that they would like us to address in the action plan. Queries, thoughts, and suggestions can be directed to any of the SAT members listed below, or can be sent through to the central D&I email diversity@reading.ac.uk.

We’re particularly keen for staff to volunteer themselves for focus groups we will be running. These are as follows, with more to follow:

  • Focus group on flexible working (formal and informal): contact Rachel Greenwood
  • Focus group on shared parental leave: contact Steve George
  • Focus group with Heads of Schools on how rewarding staff processes are working: contact Deepa Senapathi
  • Focus group with academic staff on how personal titles processes are working: contact Aleardo Zanghellini
  • Focus group with Heads of Functions on how regrading and rewarding staff processes are working: contact Yasmin Ahmed
  • Focus group on inclusivity and university committees: contact Carol McAnally
  • Focus group with secretaries of university committees on selection of membership: contact Nathan Helsby

Since we submitted last in 2016 there have been welcome and important changes to the Athena SWAN scheme. Athena SWAN was previously focussed particularly on under-representation of women in STEMM subjects. It now addresses gender equality across all academic subjects, and across professional and support staff, including equality issues affecting both women and men. It also asks for intersectional issues to be addressed (e.g. why so few black women professors in the UK?), and inclusivity for trans staff and students.

Our SAT team, in alphabetical order – and see above picture – is:

  • Yasmin Ahmed, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR. Her interests include all things D&I and particularly making the workplace more inclusive and changing cultures.
  • Simon Chandler-Wilde, the SAT Co-Chair, a Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (in a job-share with Ellie Highwood) and a professor of applied maths. His interests include equality around promotions, flexible working, dealing effectively with harassment and bullying
  • Ben Cosh, a maths professor and Head of the School of Mathematical, Physical, and Computational Sciences. His interests include gender equality (and getting more men involved), spreading good practice across the university, supporting staff across the university in their career development and progression
  • Maddi Davies, an Associate Professor in English. Her interests include feminist theory and discourse, and she is keen to bring together personal narratives together with quantitative data to paint a clear picture of what we need to do next on gender equality
  • Steve George, a Research Scientist in NCAS and chair of the University of Reading Research Staff Committee. His interests include the career development of research staff and the intersection of Athena SWAN with our work for the HR Excellence in Research Award.
  • Rachel Greenwood, a Senior Support Officer in RISIS who joined us last year, when looking for a part-time role. Her interests include flexible working and how we ensure that flexible working is encouraged and supported through recruitment processes, plus experiences of working parents.
  • Rebecca Harris, an Associate Professor and the School Director of Teaching and Learning in the Institute of Education, having previously worked in secondary schools for 16 years. Her interests include LGBT inclusion, and, as part of this, working to support inclusion in local schools.
  • Nathan Helsby, Head of Planning and Reporting in the Planning and Support Office. His interests include effective and usable diversity data reporting, e.g. via our Athena SWAN dashboard, and supporting the development of our professional staff.
  • Karen Henderson, the Director of Technical Services. Her interests include supporting the development of our professional staff and addressing the over-representation of women in lower grades, and under-representation at higher grades.
  • Ellie Highwood, the SAT Co-Chair, joint Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and a Professor of Climate Physics. Her interests include the promotion of flexible working, fairness and support around promotion processes, and part-time working.
  • Joanna John, Joint Head of Doctoral Skills Training and Development in the Graduate School. Her interests include: intersections between gender, ethnicity and socio-economics; part-time students; student parents.
  • Carol McAnally, a Business Relationship Manager in the Knowledge Transfer Centre within Research and Enterprise Services, having previously worked for a research council. Her interests include embedding flexible working within the culture, and working on gender equality within professional services.
  • Claire Rolstone, Assistant Director of Human Resources, with a portfolio including HR Operations and Advisory Services. Her interests in Athena Swan focus on staff recruitment processes and how we support our staff.
  • Patricia Riddell, a Professor of Applied Neuroscience and the diversity and inclusion champion in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science, who led the last Athena SWAN submission from that school. Her interests include workplace stress, reducing this, its impact on staff, and the gendered nature of its presence and effects.
  • Deepa Senapathi, a Research Fellow in Agriculture, previously a Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS). Three years ago Deepa co-led the SBS Athena SWAN Bronze application, which was successful. Her areas of interest are barriers and incentives to progress, especially as regards early researchers and fixed term contractors. How we communicate across cultures is also an area of interest and knowledge.
  • Susan Thornton, the Assistant Director of HR for People and Talent. Her interests include staff and leadership development, e.g. her team organises and supports female staff on the Aurora Programme, and making sure that we pull experience of working on Athena SWAN within Schools into the wider university.
  • Nozomi Tolworthy, the RUSU Diversity Officer, who previously graduated from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television. Her interests include communicating across cultures with staff and students, and the flow of communication between staff and students, especially related to diversity and inclusion initiatives and achievements
  • Robert Van de Noort, the recently-appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading and the University Executive Board Gender Diversity Champion. His interests include all aspects of supporting and developing work on diversity and inclusion at Reading.
  • Aleardo Zanghellini, a Professor of Law and Social Theory in the School of Law. His interests include gender equality, career progression and intersection with gender and (not least through his own research work) gender identity and the support of trans people at Reading

Is unconscious bias training effective?

Ellie Highwood

Largely a summary of….

Unconscious Bias training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness , Equality and Human Rights Commission, Research Report 113, by Doyin Atewologun, Tinu Cornish and Fatima Tresh

 

Premise and Reading context:

 

Unconscious Bias training is frequently cited as a solution to reducing bias with respect to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in selection processes. Indeed no self-respecting Athena SWAN application would be without it. At Reading some form of unconscious bias training is mandatory for chairs of interview panels across the University and some Schools have trained larger teams as part of their Athena SWAN bids. Currently our unconscious bias training is delivered in a number of ways:

 

  • Embedded within face-to-face recruitment and selection panel and chair training
  • Specific online Unconscious bias module
  • Some historic bespoke training at school or function level.
  • PGR student training developed from undergraduate training work in the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Science
  • Some coverage in modules for trainee teachers within Institute of Education

 

We are in the process of evaluating and updating our approach and delivery of unconscious bias training as one of the Institutional Athena SWAN actions. We have several academics with experience of designing and delivering Unconscious Bias Training, however this recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report provides a broad evaluation, highlighting where evidence exists for the effectiveness of this type of training. Here I summarise points from that report which reviewed many published articles and grey literature annual reports of studies into the effectiveness of unconscious bias training (UBT). The studies used varied in terms of robustness.

What can UBT do?

  • Can be effective for awareness raising.
  • Can reduce implicit bias but is unlikely to eliminate it. Most UBT is not designed to reduce explicit bias.
  • The evidence for UBT being effective in changing behaviour is limited – but most of these studies did not use valid measures of behaviour change.
  • More successful in reducing implicit bias relating to gender, than race and ethnicity.

What does the most effective UBT look like?

  • Uses an IAT (Implicit Association Test), followed by a debrief, incorporating theory about unconscious bias rather than detail about impact.
  • The most successful interventions include bias reduction strategies and bias mitigation strategies so that participants feel empowered to do something.
  • There appears little difference in effectiveness between on-line and face-to-face training.
  • However, there is evidence that increasing the sophistication of the UBT (e.g. an interactive workshop) can increase awareness and concern about wider discrimination and that this awareness continues to increase over time.
  • The report emphasises that UBT should be only one part of a programme designed to achieve organisational change.

Who should be trained?

Training teams together resulted in positive group behaviour change despite the evidence for effectiveness in changing individual’s behaviour being weak. However, there is too little UBT specific research to judge whether mandatory or voluntary training has a different effectiveness.

 

What can go wrong? If UBT participants are exposed to information that suggests stereotypes and biases are unchangeable, this can back-fire and result in more entrenched bias.

 

Considering Reading’s approach in the light of this review

 

Our current online offering clearly states that it is intending to raise awareness.

  • It includes a heavier emphasis on theory about unconscious bias compared to statistics about impact.
  • It covers many types of diversity.
  • Although an IAT is not used in this online course directly, they are explained and a link is provided as follow on work.

 

What we may be able to improve –

• More training of teams together – to result in effective group behaviour change.

• Make sure a resource that covers a debrief after the IAT test is available if people take that up as part of the online course

• There is a reference in the start of the training to implicit bias being “hard-wired” and it is a fine line between normalising implicit bias to encourage reflection, and making it “ok” to be biased.

• Provide some specific bias reduction or mitigation strategies

• Better evaluation of implicit bias reduction and behaviour change, if we provided follow up resources for these.

 

Finally – there is a need for more research in this area, specifically UK based (as many studies currently US focused and the race issues in particular can be quite different between the US and the UK).

 

Jessica Lynn’s Transgender Journey at the University of Reading

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou (School of Law) for Trans Day of Visibility, 31 March 2018

On 9 March 2018, the University of Reading had the great pleasure of hosting Ms Jessica Lynn, an international speaker and outspoken advocate for transgender issues and a Global Ambassador to the Kinsey Institute. Jessica has been on a tour series in the UK during February and March and has visited Reading to give a talk about her experience as a transgender woman, testifying to the hardships as well as the ultimate fulfilment of gender transition in legal standing and in her personal life. Jessica’s excellent talk was followed by a Q&A session, whilst members of the audience subsequently had the chance to speak to Jessica during the drinks reception that followed the event. The event was supported by the University’s LGBT Plus staff network and the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde.

For about one hour and a half, Jessica shared her life journey with us all, by vividly describing all its brutal twists and turns and challenges, but also the joys and victories and the kindness of people who had the courage to stand by her side. It was particularly moving to hear Jessica speaking about how much she loves her three sons and how painful it has been for her to have her parental rights (for her youngest son) redacted by a Texas court, simply because she is a transgender woman. This has reminded us how important the socio-legal sphere has always been in determining patterns of parent-child relationships and how this has deprived many members of the LGBT community of their parental rights. Jessica told her life story with openness, warmth and wit and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our mixed audience of academics, students, and visitors from outside the University – for many, it was their first opportunity to have an open dialogue with a transgender person.

This was a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking talk which had as its aim to educate the audience – and initiate a conversation – about the transgender experience: it was eye-opening and deeply moving as it showed how even today, powerful institutions and social norms restrict trans people’s opportunities for self-development and full interaction with the world around them. Jessica’s talk has led to reflection on how society and the law has changed through the years and how that change is in small steps forward but, also – and, recently, quite often – small steps backwards. It is painful to realise that there is still widespread transphobia but this also reminds us that it is important that we all act as strong and outspoken allies for the trans community and that we must fight to make the world a better, fairer, place for all.

Launching a project to recognise diverse role models in STEM for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science

Guest post by Dr Joy Singarayer (Associate Professor of Paleaoclimatology and Equality and Diversity School Champion in the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences), marking the International Day for Women and Girls in Science (11 Feb 2018).

Link to the STEMsational Figures website (http://stemsational-figures.co.uk).

Visibility of role models is an important aspect of inspiring student achievement, sense of belonging, and career choices. Students may find aspiration from role models in a variety of places, for example in the teaching staff, other students, public figures, or key scientists featured in their courses. There is a diverse student population in SMPCS (School of Mathematical, Physical, and Computational Sciences) in terms of gender, ethnicity and other characteristics (see the figure) and ideally our curricula should also be designed to recognise the contributions made by a diverse range of scientists. There are national movements to introduce more inclusive and diverse curricula within higher education, following campaigns started at other universities, including ‘why is my curriculum White’ and ‘decolonise our Uni’. I believe this move for change is not just of benefit to underrepresented students but to raise awareness of diverse role models for everyone, as a life enhancing opportunity, and because we are educating future leaders and employers.

Our school successfully renewed its Athena SWAN silver award in 2017. We have made significant progress in gender parity in many areas of staff and student recruitment, inclusive work environment, and career progression. However, our recent data analysis and focus groups did also bring to light some previously unexamined issues, such as an intersectional gender-ethnicity attainment gap as well as concerns of gender differences in numbers going on to postgraduate studies. In response, among other actions in the SMPCS Athena SWAN Action Plan 2017, we have included an action to explore how we can raise attainment and career aspirations through the development of a web resource highlighting diverse role models within subjects studied by SMPCS students. This is especially relevant here as the staff currently delivering our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are somewhat less diverse than our students (we are also working towards rectifying this within our action plan).

Our Head of School provided a budget for us to employ three undergraduate research experience students over summer 2017 for six weeks to initiate and develop a website for SMPCS to enable students and staff to explore the contributions of diverse scientists and mathematicians relevant to their programmes. The undergraduate research students who developed the webpage gained experience of independent research, web design, interview techniques, writing for public online media, and project management. The results of their hard work can be found at the STEMsational Figures webpage (http://stemsational-figures.co.uk), which we are launching to correspond with International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11th 2018). The webpage currently features figures such as Maryam Mirzakhani – mathematician and first woman to win the Fields Medal, Grace Hopper – computer scientist and inventor of the compiler, and Susan Soloman – climate scientist who worked out the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.

Having completed the initial phase of webpage development, hopefully, this is only the beginning of this project. The question is how to maintain, publicise, and develop the webpages so they will be of on-going benefit to future students. Our plan is to explore the potential to incorporate further development within the graduate skills modules that undergraduate students in all of our departments undertake. We can use this framework to discuss unconscious bias and diversity, raise awareness of the broader history of their subjects, enhance their skills in writing for a public science audience and using social media in research, and at the same time develop the webpage content year by year. We hope to coordinate with module conveners to assess this opportunity in practical terms in time for the 2018-19 academic year. In the meantime we would welcome any feedback on the webpage or suggestions for more role models to Joy Singarayer (j.s.singarayer@reading.ac.uk) or Calvin Smith (calvin.smith@reading.ac.uk).

‘Debates and Doughnuts: Is Feminism Dead?’

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

Students in the Department of English Literature last week organised an event titled ‘Debates and Doughnuts’ designed to reignite conversations about gender equality on campus. One of their aims was to gather the necessary 54 signatures to re-form RUSU FemSoc which has been dormant for two years. The ‘Diversity and Inclusion Fund’ supported the event, and I helped the students to set it up.

Our students hoped that they would be able to attract enough students to the session to largely complete the RUSU Society ‘petition’ – on the day, well over sixty students and colleagues attended and the petition gathered more than enough signatures to revive FemSoc.

The debate asked the question, ‘Is Feminism Dead?’, as the decline of FemSoc suggested that it might be. The two-hour debate, full of strong, well-articulated opinions, clearly suggested that it was far from ‘dead’ and that it was, in fact, on the edge of an exciting new life.

Attending the debate were students drawn from all over the university, and colleagues from English Literature, History, SPIER and IoE. We were pleased to see such a high attendance from male students, and we appreciated their thoughtful contributions to the debate: in response to a question, ‘what can feminism do for men?’, a male student argued that feminism implicitly works to support men as well as women and that it does not need to concoct an artificial ‘masculinist’ agenda to announce what it already does.

I was particularly pleased by the way in which contributions that contested feminism as a body of ideas, and that advocated ‘International Men’s Day’ and other Men’s Rights activities as a ‘counter-balance’ to feminist action, were listened to with respect by other students. The ideas raised by attendees less sold on feminism than others were debated in a reflective and sensitive way. I was struck also by the range of issues that were raised, from concerns about ‘language’ and ‘lad culture’, to the ‘#Me Too’ movement, through to media constructions of sexual assault victims.

The debate was managed with admirable skill by the Part 3 English Literature students who organised the debate, Vicky Matthews and Jack Champion. Their manner was welcoming, inclusive, and confident, and the skill with which they drew in all voices and opinions was truly impressive. I am so often struck by the quality of our students when they manage events of this kind: their eloquence and their ability to negotiate complex arguments with tact and intellectual rigour is a tribute to them.

‘Debates and Doughnuts’ was the first in a series of three events grouped under the ‘Feminism 100’ banner which celebrates the centenary of the extension of the franchise to include (some) women. On February 8th, ‘Inspired by Vote 100: Celebrating Forgotten Women’, presents another student-led event involving an exhibition organised with MERL and Special Collections, and an evening of talks and contributions from staff and students. Imogen Snell, a Part 2 English Literature student on a work placement module, has organised the evening with a History student, Sophie Crossfield, and has drawn on the practical support and subject expertise of Dr Jacqui Turner from the Department of History, and myself; Professor David Stack, Dr Mary Morrissey, Dr Jacqui Turner, Dr Natalie Thomlinson and I are contributing to the event by delivering mini-lectures on forgotten women, and students are presenting talks on ‘why this forgotten woman matters to me’. Supported by the Diversity and Inclusion Fund, we are able to hold a full celebration of the franchise centenary, even offering lanyards in WSPU colours and badges with the images of the women we are discussing. Taking place in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre and foyer (Thursday 8th February, 6-9pm), the event will combine the voices of colleagues and students, working collaboratively as partners. We would be delighted to see as many staff as possible at the event, not least to express their support for our students’ commendable initiative.

The series of events will conclude on March 8th with our annual International Women’s Day Talk and Debate (Edith Morley, G25, 5-7pm) where Professor Roberta Gilchrist, Dr Carol Fuller, Dr Jacqui Turner and I will deliver presentations on issues continuing to affect women, and will debate the implications of them with our students. Again, we would be delighted to see our colleagues at the event: this has traditionally been a lively, affirming evening where issues are debated with warmth, mutual respect and good humour. This year, we are supported by the Vice Chancellor’s Endowment Fund so we can fully mark the annual IWD celebration in this important year.

 

Please contact Dr Madeleine Davies (m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk) or Dr Jacqui Turner (e.j.turner@reading.ac.uk) if you would like any further details or if you would like to contribute to either of the upcoming events. The series as a whole provides clear evidence that, at the University of Reading, feminism and issues of diversity, inclusion and equality are well and truly alive and kicking.

 

An Inspiring Voice: Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading (16th November 2017)

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

Meeting heroes is a dangerous enterprise but hosting Jess Phillips MP proved that this is by no means always the case. At her talk at the university on 16th November, organised by the Department of English Literature (Dr Madeleine Davies) and the Department of Politics and Internal Relations (Dr Mark Shanahan), the MP showed us all that she is not only a razor-sharp thinker but also a warm, generous and inspiring human being.

Jess Phillips’ talk included her childhood experiences as a campaigner with parents who were both committed to socialist causes: she remembered attending a day-care centre run by activists and helping to produce the banners that would be used on the drive-way to Greenham Common. She also discussed a brief period of political apathy when, in the early years of the Blair governments, many situations improved and the need for constant campaigning declined (she noted that she was more a fan of Blair’s ‘early work’ than of his later concepts). The election of David Cameron reignited her political activism and her years of experience with ‘Women’s Aid’, a refuge charity, finally galvanised her entry into Parliament. Her speech also included issues of class and privilege, questions of fairness and responsibility, and all her comment was laced with wit, humanity, and a deep-seated commitment to social justice.

In the speech and in the Q&A session that followed it, it was clear that Jess’s passion is for equality, not in the highly theorised sense of ‘academic’ feminism, but in the ‘lived’ sense of fairness, human rights and plain decency. The audience was largely comprised of students and I was extremely encouraged to see their interest in Jess’s comments about gender equality. I have taught women’s writing and literary feminisms for many, many years and it can be an uphill struggle to persuade students that, contrary to their beliefs, the battles have not yet been won. Jess noted that she would not see equal pay in her life-time, and she discussed ways in which women are silenced, abused, and devalued. A lively Twitter feed from the event demonstrates that the statements with which the students most connected were those that spoke to issues of gender equality: ‘women pay the price [of government cuts] while men reap the benefits’ was one re-tweeted comment. It was also encouraging to see how many people were following her talk: 185 attended the event, 3,465 viewed on the university’s Facebook stream, and one tweet alone was viewed by over 1,300 people (and ‘liked’ by 47).

Jess’s generosity in allowing us to live-stream the Q&A, in taking time and care to sign copies of her book Everywoman (posing for photographs whenever she was asked), and in taking such an interest in conversations with students and colleagues restores all faith in politicians. Jess Phillips is the warm, witty and intensely clever person that she seems to be in her book and in her media appearances. She also defines honesty and integrity – never has a reminder that these qualities can exist in politicians seemed so timely.

The effect of her visit was galvanising: the day after the talk, two students emailed me because they want to start a feminist society, and another student emailed to ask for help organising a ‘Vote 100’ event in February (working with Dr Jacqui Turner in History, and involving the Department of Literature as well). The event and the results of it remind me of the value of university education, of involving students in ‘public’ talks so that they can hear for themselves a range of ideas, and so that they have the opportunity to engage as citizens in debates of national and international significance.

In terms of the university and its work with Athena Swan, the talk reminds us all of what can be done to achieve the equality that this recognition indicates. The final question, from one of our excellent Student Ambassadors, asked the MP what three things could be done to campaign for gender equality: Jess’s answer suggested that making voices heard, never letting go of the struggle for women’s recognition, and being prepared to fight to make real difference is key for us all.

Jess Phillips MP is a hero who I am delighted to have met. I’m delighted also that the audience connected with her ideas so strongly and that so many students came along and engaged with the MP’s belief in equality and social justice. Many will, I’m sure, follow Jess Phillips’ invaluable advice in Everywoman: ‘Tell the world what you care about, because it makes them care too, and we need people like you to speak up.’

Athena SWAN Training: Thinking like a Charter Panellist

Thoughts from an attendee – Guest post by Eva Van Herel, Executive Administration Officer, Department of Humanities

 Having decided, before Summer, that our School is to put in an Athena SWAN Bronze submission, a small core group was formed to get things started and to make sure our application runs well through to the end. The Chair of our group attended some meetings, researched the application process and seemed quite at home in the material already, but for me, the whole process was mostly still a black box.

 To familiarise ourselves with the expected outcomes, our Chair recommended we all attend the ‘Thinking Like a Charter Panellist’ training. Nothing like a clear vision of the required outcome to focus the mind.

 And so we attended. Materials were provided by email beforehand. I browsed through them but was really quite unsure what I was supposed to be looking out for. There were exerpts from applications to serve as ‘mock panel examples’, a workbook with lots of charts and graphs, the panellist role description and the Athena SWAN Charter Awards Handbook. If that sounds like a lot, it looked like a lot too and I felt out of my depth going into the workshop.

About 20 people turned up and it was led by James Lush from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) which runs the panels, providing administrative support and the knowledge to ensure that panellists are using the criteria correctly. They also write up feedback for the applicants. He took us through the basics of what the applications are all about, how panels work and the mind-set you need to take on a panellist role. The way to learning is done by doing so we studied and discussed the workbook case in groups which resulted in a clear view of how important it is to structure and label the data in your reports so that it makes sense and contributes to your school’s story. So many ways to be unclear were identified it was almost as though it was our job to find mistakes in other people’s work. Come to think of it, lecturers do spend a lot of time marking…

 After a short break for lunch we continued with the practise panels: half the people form a panel and the other half observe. 20 minutes of panel discussion on the case studies and then feedback from the observers. Each panel had a Chair (with prior experience) and they structured the conversation. By now, we had picked up enough knowledge to have a lively discussion on points in the application considered strong or weak. Time flew by and being an observer proved useful too.

 2 things particularly stuck out for me from this session.

  •  The panellists go through one application an hour and this means they have little time to spend on each part of an application – it will be very important to ensure we catch their attention by creating an application that is easy to read and presents its information in a clear and coherent way. The best way to do this is to have a common thread of story running through the whole and binding it together, resulting in the action plan. Pictures and graphs or tables must be to the point and pertinent to the conversation, but can enliven the document and make it more user-friendly.
  • It also became clear that there is a risk of getting so involved with the project that it becomes impossible to see the end result in the same way panellists will look at it – I understand now why it is recommended that you get a ‘trusted friend’ to look at the material critically before finalising it. Perhaps someone who had just followed the ‘Thinking like a Panellist’ training for the first time?

 I left the session feeling my time had been well spent. With a better understanding of what the end result is supposed to be, and how it will be assessed, the end goal is clear. Now for the real work – sitting down and doing the work needed to get there.