Women Progressing, Progressing Women

This afternoon Professor Athene Donald will be presenting our first Diversity and Inclusion staff seminar Women Progressing, Progressing Women. Tuesday 3 May, LT1 Chemistry Building, Whiteknights Campus, 2pm – 3pm.  All staff are invited to attend.  Professor Donald will discuss how seemingly small culture changes and heightened self-awareness can have a profound effect on team morale and an individual’s ability to feel encouraged and supported. Hope to see you there!


Professor Dame Athene Donald to present ‘Women Progressing, Progressing Women’

The University is delighted to announce that Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE FRS, University of Cambridge, will present the first of a series of seminars focusing on Diversity and Inclusion on Tuesday 3 May.

Our new series of seminars will be presented by leading figures working for diversity and equality, both in the UK and internationally.

The lecture, Women Progressing, Progressing Women, will take place from 2pm until 3pm, at LT1 Chemistry Building, Whiteknights Campus.

Staff across the University are welcome to attend. After the seminar, refreshments will be available in the ground floor foyer of the Chemistry building. To help us plan the refreshments, please inform Frances Raimo if you wish to attend.

Using personal experience and a little well-placed science, Professor Donald will discuss how seemingly small culture changes and heightened self-awareness can have a profound effect on team morale and an individual’s ability to feel encouraged and supported.

Professor Donald is an eminent physicist, working particularly in soft matter physics. She is Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, and amongst her many scientific accolades, was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999.

She has long been an outspoken champion of women in science, chairing the national Athena Forum from 2009–13, this an organisation which aims to provide a strategic oversight of developments that seek to, or have proven to, advance the career progression and representation of women in science, technology, mathematics, and medicine (STEM) in UK higher education.

Currently she is a member of the BIS Diversity group and the Gender Balance Working Group of the ERC.  From 2006–14 she was Director of WiSETI, Cambridge University’s Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative, and she was the University’s first Gender Equality Champion from 2010–14. She regularly writes on the topic of women in science in both mainstream media and on her personal blog(We have highlighted many of Athene’s blog posts here!)


What have I got to Lose?

Today I would like to highlight a recent blog post by Athene Donald What have I got to Lose? Once again Athene asks the questions which we should arguably all be considering.  This blog post has certainly given me a lot to think about!

……What had I got to lose?’ was also the phrase that went through my head many years ago when I made the switch – that in essence made my career – from working on metals to polymers. It felt like a radical thing to do, but given that I was going nowhere, was bored with the field of research I had been in for the last 5 years, I couldn’t see a downside in switching to something new for which I held a postdoc offer. I couldn’t have foreseen how it would turn my life around, but I did believe it couldn’t make things worse………………….’


Manifesto for Change

Published on the 28th March, Athene Donald has written a new blog post discussing women in science, discrimination, and the recent L’Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science awards.  Athene also highlights a new initiative – the L’Oreal Manifesto.What do you think about the manifesto?

‘There is no point getting angry, since this too often is simply misplaced energy and a waste. But there is every point in highlighting transgressions – small and large – whenever possible to emphasise the structural inequities that exist. The sad fact is, however, that too often circumstances mean that speaking out can backfire. Every genuine supporter of equality has to walk that tightrope. In the meantime, signing the L’Oreal Manifesto is one small action to spell out that enough is enough. We need to shout about the deep-seated societal problems and we need to do it loudly and persistently.’

Do you feel like you are walking a tightrope when you highlight equality issues?



How Not to Chair a Committee

Today I would like to highlight a recent blog post by Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics University of Cambridge) on How Not to Chair a Committee

‘Whether as a student or a professor (or indeed at any level in between) I would suspect there isn’t a reader of this blog who hasn’t had to sit through a meeting of some type or other where the Chair has intensely irritated them somehow. There are of course a huge variety of ways to fail to chair a committee well………..’

I suspect we can all think of examples!  Do you have any advice for how to chair a committee?


The Numbers Game

Athene Donald posted a really interesting blog on 9th January about equality, gender divisions and stereotypes:

‘Recently I attended a small, select lunch of diverse academics whom I’d not met before. As it happened there were four women and three men. As it happened there were four vocal women and three rather silent men. It felt quite extraordinary and I found that terribly sad. I was sad that I’d noticed this gender split, sad that it felt so unusual, and sad that we couldn’t just be people but that I was so aware of the way we behaved by gender…………’

Follow Athene’s blog to read more. Do you notice a gender split in meetings? Is this gender split very obvious, or are you noticing it because you are aware of potential divisions?


Just Say No (but How?)

Athene Donald has written a really interesting blog post on how to say ‘no.’  Something I suspect many of us need to do!

‘One of those persistent stereotypes-by-gender is that women are less good at saying no than men. Whether or not you believe that to be true, there is no doubt that many of us – myself included – are less than perfect at saying exactly what we mean. It is too easy to try to soften a rejection to the point that the listener, who may after all have an ulterior motive in not hearing ‘no’, doesn’t appreciate that your refusal is exactly that. This is not confined to Early Career Researchers……….’

Do you say no?  Or do you think you should in fact be saying yes to more things?!?


Chairing: Not as Easy as it Looks

Posted this morning, Athene Donald discusses leadership skills and chairing committees:

‘Having recently taken on a new chairing responsibility, in a new sphere, I am mindful of the challenges such a role entails. Every committee is different and young leaders have to learn that the way one approaches the task has to suit the specific group of people sitting round the table, whilst keeping one’s goals clearly in mind. New committees bring new dynamics………’

What advice do you have?


Choosing your Path, Seizing Opportunities

On 11th November Athene Donald posted an interesting blog post about basic rules for taking control of your career.  I have picked just one to highlight below.  Read the full blog post to see all 10.

Rule number 5 – ”Don’t assume other people are ‘better’ than you because they act confident.Some people’s way of coping with difficulties and novelty is bluster. They cannot lose face by admitting they haven’t a clue what’s going on and so they look ultra-confident. If you yourself are shaking in your shoes, this can be very dispiriting. However, a loud voice does not mean the content is right; answering a reasonable question by raising eyebrows and looking shocked that you don’t know the answer already is almost always a sign of someone who doesn’t know the answer either but isn’t prepared to let on…………………………”

your career


Career Trajectories: Not Always Straight and Easy

On 18th October Athene Donald published an interesting blog post about career trajectories:

‘It is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking anyone who has reached the top of their particular tree has travelled in a straight line from their teenage years on and have had the cards always stacked in their favour……………………………… You don’t have to travel in a straight line; you can step back or start late and yet still achieve a fantastic amount.’


What is your experience?  Have you travelled in a straight line?  Or taken a more ‘curved’ route?

Career traj