Glass ceilings, glass houses, or glass parasols? confronting issues of gender in the archaeological profession

Follow this link to see Tweets pertaining to the ‘Glass Ceiling’ session held at the annual conference of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) in Cardiff, April 2015 (compiled by Hilary Orange) – Thank you to John Creighton for highlighting this session!

Looking forward to seeing many of you at the Gender and Fieldwork Conference this afternoon in G11, Henley Business School from 1:30. We will be using the hashtag #SAGESfieldwork.

Hand and varnish

My Fieldwork Experiences: From Reading to Reading.

My current position in the Archaeology Department involves being largely chained to a desk. However, in the preceding 12 years fieldwork was a daily reality for me as I worked for Commercial archaeological companies. I hope to outline some of the fieldwork experiences I have had below without it reading too much like a personal statement for a job application.


Like so many archaeologists plying their trade today, my first real experience of fieldwork was a training season at the Silchester Town Life Project in the summer of 1999. I had archaeology A-level and had carried out a couple of weeks digging at Colchester in 1997 so was not entirely new to the trowel, yet the 4 weeks spent in that field in Hampshire cemented in my mind that digging holes was something I was always going to do.

Silchester in 1999. Shallow.

Silchester in 1999. Shallow.











On completing my undergraduate degree I began working with Oxford Archaeology, a company I was to work with for a further six years. It was with OA that I worked on a number of infrastructure projects such as the Channel tunnel rail link in Kent and the expansion of Heathrow with the construction of Terminal five.


Pete and me at Terminal Five……It was this nice.

Pete and me at Terminal Five……It was this nice.














Projects on the scale of an airport expansion can make you feel like a pretty small cog, with the huge amounts of machinery, noise and not to mention aircraft. It was also sometimes difficult to focus on the Bronze Age ditch I was digging when Concorde was taking off in the background. Every time I fly from Heathrow I reminisce about several of my trowels that lie forever buried beneath the concourse….
After seven or so years of commercial archaeology I realised that I should probably attempt working somewhere more exotic that required less high visibility clothing. The opportunity presented itself with the WF16 project at the magnificent Wadi Faynan in the Jordanian desert.

Standing on a high rock on the site at WF16 in Jordan.

Standing on a high rock on the site at WF16 in Jordan.














I was prepared as well as I could be with sun cream, mosquito repellent and multiple jabs, yet nothing could have prepared me for the incredible landscape and archaeology I was to experience. Excavating 10,000 year old mud walled structures surrounded by mountains, Bedouin tents and many, many goats was far removed from the world of commercial archaeology I’d temporarily left behind. It was an equally eye opening experience getting to know the local Bedouin workmen. Watching the moon rise over Wadi Ghuwayr while drinking tea with Ali and Abdullah is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

Making tea the Bedouin way in Wadi Hammam Jordan

Making tea the Bedouin way in Wadi Hammam Jordan











Over the next few years I participated in a project in Crete excavating a Late Minoan mountain top settlement at Karfi, a few weeks digging a Roman iron working site Austria and a five weeks of hellish northern French winter excavating an Iron Age settlement in Brittany. Subsequently I’ve also been involved with the Hebridean projects co-ordinated by Professor Steve Mithen, working on Islay, Mull and Gigha. The Mesolithic site at Rubha Port an t-Seilich on Islay, overlooking the sound to Jura is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been let alone worked.

Packing up after a day digging on the mountain in Karfi Crete. We carried that lot down…

Packing up after a day digging on the mountain in Karfi Crete. We carried that lot down…














Recording Mesolithic occupation on Mull.

Recording Mesolithic occupation on Mull.









The view from the site on Islay over to Jura.

The view from the site on Islay over to Jura.











Returning to the less glamourous world of commercial archaeology, the most challenging fieldwork project I co-ordinated was for the widening of the A11 in Suffolk. This was composed of numerous sites extending over 11km and was subject to strict deadlines. Despite the regularly stressful day to day of such a project I really enjoyed working with a talented team of archaeologists and responding to the often leftfield demands of the construction managers. Could I just move everyone from the carefully timetabled excavation areas to dig the bit they want to stick an oversized newt tunnel through….of course I can.

Excavating a late Medieval tile kiln in Hertfordshire.

Excavating a late Medieval tile kiln in Hertfordshire.










During my commercial career, Silchester was a permanent summer fixture (to the possible annoyance of my employers). Over the fifteen seasons I attended, supervised and finally co-ordinated I had the hugely rewarding task of teaching students and volunteers the techniques of excavation and recording. Witnessing people who were so shy they could barely speak develop confidence over a few weeks to work as part of the team was always amazing as was witnessing students eventually returning as staff member and passing on their learning. Seeing the trench I cumulatively spent the best part of two years in backfilled last summer was a very strange experience.
And now I find myself back in the Archaeology department working for the very project that kick started the whole process. In a few months I embark on a new phase of excavation at Pond farm, just outside Silchester and with knowledge of what’s gone before await the trials, tribulations and (fingers crossed) excitements to come.


NickPankhurst_wA bit about today’s blogger:  Nick Pankhurst

Nick works as Project Assistant for Silchester Town Life project, combining overall site supervision for the field school and post-excavation analysis of the late Iron Age and Early Roman stratigraphy. He has participated in the field school since his first year as a Reading undergraduate in 1999 and as staff member since 2001.

Prior to his current role, Nick worked for 12 years with commercial archaeological units in Oxford and Cambridge. During this time he co-ordinated numerous rural and urban excavations including projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5, the A11 widening in Suffolk and in Winchester, Cirencester and Oxford. He has also supervised on research projects in Jordan, Crete and Austria and worked on excavations in the Hebrides and northern France.


Understanding Stress

Life Tools talks Programme – Increase your knowledge, enhance your life – for University and beyond.  There are two upcoming talks which are open to all students:

Understanding Stress – Minimise the effect of stress and maintain your health.  This talk will explain what stress is, why it happens and most importantly, how you can minimise its effects on your academic study and maintain your health.

Wednesday 22 April 2015, 3.30 pm – 4.15 pm, Carrington Building, room 101

Students who have been to this talk have said it is “very good for stress management strategies, clearly delivered, good questions and answers” and that the “information given is phenomenal – it is the kind of information all students need to cope.

Effective Communications – Improve your communications skills; increase your understanding and feel understood

Thursday 23 April, 2015, 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm, Carrington Building, room 101

All welcome – No need to book!


‘Time to burst the bubble?’ Fieldwork in Nairobi-By Dennis Mailu

My research delves into water and its governance in an urban poor context, investigating the informal settlement of Kibera in Nairobi Kenya. There has been very limited understanding of the cultural value of water and their governance by communities living in very informal urban settlements in the world. I completed my last of two fieldwork phases and I must say it has been

Recanting the thoughts of my trips, I consider it to be one of my most inspirational experiences. The idea sparked with trying to understand part of my own people, yet as a citizen of Kenya, I was yet to embark into the unknown. Kibera or ‘Kibra’, meaning outskirts of the forest, as the original Nubian settlers named it, is a place that has a negative perception and feared by most outsiders, since its inception in precolonial era of the growth of the Kenya-Uganda railway in the late 1800s’. Now about 50 years later post independence, I began my trip with zeal to gain a further understanding of this unknown, first by identifying relevant contacts to start my research and also approach the community and this is where I met, Bernard, a resident and community worker in Kibera who was eager to assist me with networking. I have been able to conduct a number of in-depth interviews and focus groups which has been smooth sailing.

And the results opened my eyes! After reading tons of papers and watching media on the largest urban ‘slum’ in Africa, nothing could have prepared me to witness how poverty stricken the people’s livelihoods are, living under a dollar a day with limited access to water and sanitation, as if living in a different world to the rest of city.

Kibera at a glance

Kibera at a glance











Furthermore, women and water cannot be disassociated when you step into this realm. Water collection for household use (cleaning, laundering, cooking and bathing) is mainly carried out by women. However, there is an aspect that denotes a lack of gender equality and a traditional approach. An interviewee states: “ It is the responsibility of the woman to fetch water…They (men) say that their job is to go for work and the women to fetch water. Even if the woman has work or is tired she will still fetch the water”. A change in beliefs and norms should see a shift in the role of women in water resources, due to their daily interaction with the resource, from the practical to management aspect.

Deplorable sanitation conditions in Kibera

Deplorable sanitation conditions in Kibera













Despite the difficulties posed, it is in this same “eyesore” that is Kibera, where inspiration for hope emanates, hope in despair, that is not shared with the rest of the city. A sense of belonging, multicultural and historical heritage seems to challenge the impossible. A much refreshing change as ethnic-related conflict after the general election in 2007, posed a big threat to Kibra’s existence. Community based organisations and NGOs flourish to ensure access,quantity and quality of water and the surrounding environs is present, vital tools under which the community manages its water and sanitation. Kibera is their home, and in the constant struggle and through their action, is the underlying plea of help.

Ushirika wa Usafi (Fellowship for cleanliness) ,community led, provides residents with water, bathing and toilet facilities at an affordable rate.

Ushirika wa Usafi (Fellowship for
cleanliness) ,community led, provides
residents with water, bathing and toilet
facilities at an affordable rate.
















Youth and local residents cleaning up in Laini Saba village.

Youth and local residents cleaning up
in Laini Saba village.















Leaving Kibera every early evening, I would experience the dichotomy clearly present within the city in Nairobi. Feeling elated that amidst all the hardships there is a voice amongst the poor, a voice that leads researchers such as myself to pen and tell a tale, and a voice that has resonated in forthcoming outside assistance of new slum upgrading projects and programs to create a new face for Kibera. A powerful message to all that it is indeed time to “burst the bubble”.

The Kenyan government is currently undertaking slum upgrading in Kibera.

The Kenyan government is currently
undertaking slum upgrading in Kibera.















About today’s blogger:

DenisDennis Mailu is a PhD student at the University of Reading exploring urban ecosystem governance. Dennis is supervised by Professor Emily Boyd and Dr. Giuseppe Feola. He is a member of the SAGES Human and Environmental Group as well as the SAGES Resilience lab.

Annual Norma Wilkinson Lecture

Annual Norma Wilkinson Lecture –29th April 5pm G11, Henley Business School

Into the treasures of the snow: field measurements of snow density in Greenland and Antarctica.

This year the speaker is Dr Elizabeth Morris OBE. Dr Morris was the first woman to work deep field in the Antarctic with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and for 13 years was Head of the Ice and Climate Division at BAS (1986-1999). She is currently a Senior Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Her research is concerned with the mass balance of polar ice sheets, and their response to climate change and is based upon field observations, remote sensing techniques and modelling.

Abstract – Greenland and Antarctica are the great storehouses of snow on this earth. In the high, cold, central areas of the two great polar ice sheets, snow accumulates year after year, each layer gradually becoming denser as it is covered by further snowfall. We need to understand this densification process in order tackle two important questions in climate change science. How do we link satellite observations of changes in ice sheet elevation to changes in ice mass and hence changes in sea level? And how do we assign a date to information on past climate derived from air bubbles trapped in ice cores? This talk will be about field measurements of snow density made over many years in Greenland and Antarctica and how they have been used to improve the densification models used to answer these questions.

To book a place please email: or via or telephone 0118 3786718


Gender & Fieldwork Conference

Perspectives on Gender and Fieldwork Conference 29th April 13.30 – 19:00, G11 Henley Business School

This is a half-day conference examining Perspectives on Gender and Fieldwork. This event is the culmination of a busy year of activities within the School, and celebrates fieldwork by staff and students from all disciplines. The conference will include a panel discussion with contributions from former alumni, academics and professional fieldworkers.

13:30 Introduction
13:45 Panel Discussion
15:00 Coffee and Fieldwork Photograph Competition
15:30 Group Discussions
16:15 Summary and Closing Remarks
17:00 Norma Wilkinson Lecture
18:00 Drinks Reception

To book a place at the Conference please register in the Archaeology or GES department offices, or Room 124 in the Wager Building.

Hand and varnish

Some Thoughts on Fieldwork…….

My first real experience of qualitative fieldwork was for my undergraduate dissertation; while the content analysis of the newspapers went fine, I felt that the interview I conducted was fairly terrible. Although I had my questions answered I remember how uncomfortable I felt and how clunky it all sounded. In fairness, I had only done physical geography methods on my course but this experience made me retreat from human interaction in my MSc dissertation where I opted to hang out in a cemetery archive, which had the dual merits of being air-conditioned (it was a hot summer) and the dead people didn’t speak back.

From issues of class in death…

From issues of class in death…











Since those early days I’ve got a lot more confident with interviewing people and this is now my preferred technique. I think what made it easier was the realisation that this was just a conversation, albeit one where you had certain things you wanted to find out; in addition, people tend to respond pretty well to interest being shown in them/their company/their ideas so in general you actually have a receptive participant. Although since people choose whether to be interviewed by you there is clearly significant self-selection with some perhaps very interesting people opting out. I really enjoy speaking with people and listening to their perspectives and experiences but developing that sense of rapport isn’t always so straightforward.

…to ethics, power relations and justice in the wine industry

…to ethics, power relations and justice in the wine industry











Sometimes I’m amazed at the way things come out my mouth with the phrasing just making it sound like I don’t really have a clue; other times its effortless and the conversation just flows. Sometimes it takes a while for both the interviewee and I to warm up; other times they talk for 15 minutes from the first question (at times covering other questions on my list, sometimes just rambling but breathing in unexpected places a la Thatcher, which makes it hard to anticipate how to interrupt their flow). From my experience, rapport is generally strengthened by being prepared both in terms of knowledge (although willing to expose the areas that you are less familiar with) and questions (as its easy to disappear down a tangent particularly with the verbose respondents). Furthermore, just demonstrating your general enthusiasm and particular interest in them and what they have to say is a great foundation for encouraging people to speak from their own experience and share stories with you.

In South Africa, the direct interviewee-interviewer is disrupted as I don’t speak Afrikaans so this adds to the challenge of developing rapport as how can you do it when you don’t speak the language? However, after my rather naive experiences last time of speaking through the farm managers when I needed to speak to some of the workers, this time I’m working with an excellent, experienced and independent Afrikaans translator and research facilitator. She has a lovely presence and is passionate about ethical and sustainable trade so is a great colleague to have but in the focus groups we’ve run with farmworkers, I feel even more of an outsider and as if I’m observing the process.

In an effort to overcome this and embed myself, at least initially, I’ve learnt a few sentences so that I can introduce myself:

Haai, my naam is Agatha en ek kom van die UK. Ek is ‘n navorser en ek is geinteresseerd in Fairtrade en wijn. Ek is jammer maar ek praat nie Afrikaans, maar my kollega doen!

Everyone seems very pleased that I’ve made the effort and congratulates me on my pronunciation and the fact that they can understand what I’m saying! I think it disrupts the power balance a little as it makes me feel a little exposed (particularly when I forget certain words) while also demonstrating my interest in hearing what the farmworkers have to say in their own language. It’s interesting as sometimes I can follow conversations (there is a close enough similarity to German in a number of words) but the dynamic of asking questions also feels odd, as I feel almost as if I’m intruding in someone else’s project! They could run perfectly fine without my presence, which also feels odd as I’m used to doing research by myself. The focus groups have definitely worked well and its been useful in giving me insights into how to run them and how to encourage participation. They have also highlighted the power relations inherent to any research process and, for me, encouraged me to consider ways to try and disrupt these.

Working in the vineyards (taken by a South African farmworker as part of a photo elicitation exercise)

Working in the vineyards (taken by a South African farmworker as part of a photo elicitation exercise)











The other thing I’ve been reflecting on in relation to fieldwork has been clothing – what should I wear? I carefully packed a smart-ish skirt and a selection of smarter tops, which I mainly haven’t worn. I have mostly done interviews in shorts, sandals and one of my smarter looking vest tops as firstly its been far too hot and, secondly, I just feel more comfortable. People mostly seem to dress more casually and so I felt that it was better that I don’t appear too different in terms of how I dress, plus if I’m feeling more comfortable and relaxed that will reflect in my interviewing style and, hopefully, a better chance of developing rapport. Plus, when speaking with the farmworkers they have mostly been in their work-wear of blue overalls monogrammed with the company logo, heavy footwear and monogrammed caps. I am already clearly an outsider but by wearing my normal clothes I hoped to avoid too formal an atmosphere, which could arguably put off people from speaking particularly if they weren’t used to being in a focus group or being interviewed.

Before I arrived I had a sort of expectation of how I should dress and act in a ‘professional’ manner and, while this is sometimes part of my persona, I think in general research goes more smoothly when you are more relaxed as this is more conducive to allowing enthusiasm and interest to shine through; for me anyway. There are obviously a whole host of other factors that have and are shaping my fieldwork experiences in this particular context including, amongst others, gender, race, age and nationality but for some reason clothing and trying to develop rapport in a foreign language have been at the top of my mind.

About today’s blogger – Agatha Herman

agatha and jeremy-17








Agatha is a human geographer with interests in geographies of ethics and justice. In particular her research explores the role and impacts of socio-economic and environmental ethics in production systems and spaces. She currently holds a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in which she is investigating the capacity of Fairtrade to promote resilient and ethical development within and beyond its producer communities. Building on her PhD research, this focuses on the Fairtrade wine sector and will involve fieldwork in South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Tunisia and Germany.

Agatha will also be returning as a Visiting Scholar at the Ruralia Institute, University of Helsinki in 2015 to develop her current research project ‘Negotiating Resilient Production’. In this she explores the interactions between social, economic and environmental imperatives within farmers’ decision-making in a multi-sited study across Finland and the UK.

In addition, Agatha has interests in social transitions, particularly exploring the experiences of those leaving the military and the spatial and social impacts that this has on individuals. This develops ideas around identity, care, social responsibility and spaces/relations of power.

Agatha has a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Exeter as well as an MSc in Society and Space and BSc (Hons) in Geography from the University of Bristol. Prior to joining the University of Reading in September 2013, she held a lectureship in Human Geography at Plymouth University. She has also conducted postdoctoral research on spaces of postsecular engagement in European cities at the University of Groningen (2010) and the impacts of the economic recession on charity shops at the University of the West of England (2011).

Cambridge University summit highlights challenges in chasing the still-elusive goals of equal representation and equal pay

On the 8th March 2015 Cambridge University held a summit – Delivering Equality: Women and Success.  During this event they examined the question –  What does gender equality mean for women researchers in the 21st century?







A comprehensive summary of the event by Alice Atkinson-Banasio can be seen here –

‘The theme of gender inequality seems to evoke a certain sense of resistance from both men and women, who argue against “radical feminism” and suggest that women nowadays are empowered to follow whatever career path they choose and succeed on their merits.

The battle, in other words, has been won.

Indeed, as a woman enjoying the successful pursuit of my career of choice, it felt strange to be in a room with some of the most outstanding female researchers in the world to discuss how difficult it still is for a woman to progress in her academic career compared to her male counterparts.’

‘Key takeaways from the 2015 Delivering Equality summit
•The Meaning of Success: Challenging the myth of meritocracy and improving the way we recognise and reward all valued contributions
•Mechanisms to support work and family life balance
•Addressing unconscious bias, particularly in recruitment and promotion’


At the University of Reading we will be holding a conference examining ‘Perspectives on Gender and Fieldwork’ starting at 13:30 on the 29th April.  Look out for the posters across SAGES.  Have you registered to attend?

Subjects’ gender balance not reflected in grant applications

‘Only two research councils have equal proportion of female applicants and academics.’  The full article by Holly Else can be seen here –

‘Women make up 51 per cent of the academic population working in subjects covered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, yet only 40 to 44 per cent of all grant applications came from women between 2011-12 and 2013-14, according to the data.

This compares with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, for example, where the Hesa data show that just 16 per cent of academics in relevant disciplines are female, but despite this, 12 to 14 per cent of grant applications came from women. The only councils to have a similar proportion of female grant applicants to that of female academics were the Economic and Social Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.’


Time to keep score on female scientists

‘The success of female scientists at securing research funding has never been under closer scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Royal Society published the results of a detailed investigation into why so few women managed to get their 2014 University Research Fellowships.

Now, as reported by Holly Else in Times Higher Education this week, Research Councils UK has published data for the first time on female success rates for each specific research council’s grants and fellowships.

What is emerging is a new understanding of why so few women manage to get ahead in science: they simply do not apply for research grants and fellowships at the same rate as men.’