Friday 28th November saw roughly 80 people descend on UCLan for our annual Diversity Conference. The theme for this year’s event was Gender in Higher Education, in part driven by UCLan’s successful Athena SWAN application.
The conference was opened by Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Gerry Kelleher. In his opening remarks Gerry congratulated the Athena SWAN team on achieving the award and said he was proud to lead a university that took diversity seriously. He demonstrated that commitment from the highest level by joining the conference delegates for the morning session.
Engineer Roma Agrawal, whose work includes the Shard structure, delivered the first keynote. She talked about how, often, she is still the only woman in the room and how this can have a huge impact on confidence. Roma gave us some background to her life and highlighted how some of the issues with have with recruitment and the leaky pipeline in STEMM are cultural. Her talk covered some of her background, growing up and her somewhat unusual path through physics to engineering.
One of the things she said really struck me, she ‘flipped the stats’ to say that 92% of engineers are male. Framing the problem this way had more impact on me than the oft quoted ‘only 8% of engineers are women”. Roma then went on to discuss how diversity is lots of things, age, social background etc. And made the case for why we should aim for a more diverse engineering workforce. She argued that more diversity means better ideas and these lead to more profits. Furthermore, she argued that the workforce should reflect the society it is trying to serve.
Finally she argued that we need to be engaging with key influencers in young people’s lives, such as teachers and parents. Roma called for a re-branding of engineering to reflect the creativity inherent in it, and to stress the fact that engineers ‘help people’: both things that are traditionally valued by girls and women in their chosen vocations.
Following the keynote, there were four workshops. I chose to attend the workshop delivered by the Equality Challenge Unit about how Athena SWAN awards affect an institution. The workshop was excellent, with James Lush providing us with some background to how Athena SWAN started, and the current state of affairs. Today, almost all UK universities are signed up to the Athena SWAN charter and many have awards at the Bronze level.
James also congratulated UCLan on achieving their award first time, as this is highly unusual. This achievement shows the excellent work done by UClan’s self-assessment team in putting together an excellent application (and in a relatively short time).
James stressed that it is not just academics – and not just women – that benefit when an institution achieves an Athena SWAN award. The policies that are implemented are beneficial to non-academic staff and to men. He pointed out that “what’s good for women is good for everyone”.
Following lunch there was a keynote by Alison Johns. Alison opened her keynote by reminding us that progress has been made; for example, it is only in the last hundred years that a woman can hold a mortgage. Alison agreed that it can sometimes feel as if we are getting no-where and that all our efforts are in vain; so it is important, every now and then to focus on the things we have achieved. Alison talked about the importance of having top level buy in for changes to be made: “If you want to change something in this world, you need to start from the top”. She gave us examples of VCs who are committed to diversity and gave some insight into the reasons for their commitment. Alison also stressed the Importance of “small symbolic gestures” in making changes.
Much as Roma did, Alison gave a business case for why diversity is important: she told us that gender parity in an institution/business leads to a 15% increase in profits, whilst race parity leads to a 30% increase. Finally, Alison reminded us that “well behaved women rarely make history”.
In the afternoon parallel session I attended the session on Gender and attainment at UCLan. This session was delivered by Dr Joanne Doherty and Dr Ebrahim Adia. They demonstrated that Males are underperforming for ‘good honours’ degrees at UCLan. Ebrahim talked us through the statistics and showed us that there is a very strong link between entry points and ‘good honours’ – females come in with higher entry points and are more likely to achieve good honours. However, this does not translate into graduate level jobs. There is no advantage for females in grad level jobs in getting good honours. So the leaky pipeline is apparent even as students graduate. Ebrahim also stressed that Intersectionality is important for understanding the gender gap: he highlighted how for ethnicity and social class the attainment gap within genders is wider than between genders.
All in all it was a fantastic day! I cannot wait for next year!
If you want to hear more about the day you can check out a Storify of the tweets to the #uclanED14 hashtag here.