Better the balance, better the Department

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Happy International Women's Day to you all!

The campaign theme for IWD2019 is 'Better the balance, better the world'... and there have been some criticisms, quite rightly, about it becoming hijacked for the wrong reasons. "It's not about cupcakes, and 'leaning in'; it's not a corporate invention. It's about politics, activism and better lives for more people" writes one Tweeter (who I happen to greatly admire!). Another tweets of boycotting an IWD coffee breakfast for its weak attempt to mask the clear gender imbalances within the School.

[Sigh] The road to ED&I is indeed a tricky one.

This year, we decided that we didn't want to overdo the cake-bake / photo montage style celebrations that we've enjoyed in the past. Yes, IWD is about far more than eating cupcakes and giving ourselves high fives (although can I just point out that I am a MASSIVE FAN of last years DfH IWD video (ever wondered who those 200 odd viewers were?!)), but it can be about taking a moment to acknowledge the changes we're making to make our place of work better (not necessarily perfect), for more people (not necessarily everyone - yet).

So, as we kick off another year of continuing to create a #balanceforbetter, lets mark March 8th by acknowledging some of our achievements. Here are a few of our favourites...

To start at the start ...

Who generally applies for Lecturer positions within our department? Who are we attracting? Previously, our HR data showed that we were appealing to a somewhat narrow talent pool. For example, in 2013-14 we received applications from 8 females versus 20 males and in 2014-1543 females versus 123 males. More recently, we have been taken steps to ensure that our recruitment strategy is not inadvertently narrowing the talent pool that we are then able to recruit from. For example, we have revised our job advert templates to ensure they contain gender-neutral language. They also feature our Bronze Athena SWAN logo and a statement outlining our commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity. Where possible, we have provided contact details of a mixed staff team for the informal inquiries. We also automatically direct all potential applicants to a 'Departmental Landing Page', which includes personal testimonies from current staff, about where and how our ethos has shaped their experiences of working within the department. Our 2017-18 HR data showed a greater gender balance in the applications we received for Lecturer positions: 29 female versus  23 male.

Ensuring parity within our Induction Process

Having appointed the strongest candidate, from our now 'better-balanced' applicant pool, we want to ensure that all of our New Starters are provided with equal opportunities to fulfill their potential and progress in their careers. Yet focus group sessions that we held with new starters revealed that experiences of 'settling in' to the department were varied, with staff receiving different amounts and types of information about the 'workings' of the Department/Institution. The result being that newcomers would come to rely on networks, friendships, and hearsay to gather information; a scenario that benefits some over others. In response to this, we have improved and standardised our Induction process for every New Starter.

Balance in the 'boardroom'

Where needed, we have created a better balance within our departmental committees. For example, our Executive Committee (previously, for a short period comprising of 5 male: 1 female), has expanded to become more diverse in terms of gender (currently m=4; f=4) and also staff grade (we now have representation from Early Career staff, and committee members are encouraged to send an alternate if they are unable to attend). Our discussions and decision making benefits from the insight provided by different experiences and expertise. With this in mind, our E&D committee (and others) includes the voices of staff from a number of different University job families (Education & Research; Management Specialism & Administration; Technical & Experimental), and job descriptions (Teaching Fellows, Research Staff etc.). We'd like to see more of this...

Addressing an imbalance of knowledge 

Staff told us that they would welcome greater transparency regarding what's happening within the department. As a consequence, full minutes from the Research Committee, Learning & Teaching Committee, Equality & Diversity Committee and summarised minutes of the Executive Committee are available to all staff via the shared drive (Health > Resources > Committee Minutes). Our HoD provides a monthly update by email. The HoD and DHoD have also trialed a 'drop-in' Thursday lunch for informal conversations in Claverton.

Promoting paternity leave

Our focus group sessions with staff around maternity/paternity/(shared)parental/adoption leave revealed confusion and questions about taking leave (and returning post-leave) when starting a family. Accordingly, we invited an HR advisor to our all staff meeting to share information and answer our questions. Keen to facilitate a better balance in terms of who takes, and feels able to take leave within a family unit, we continue to lobby for improved conditions around paternity/(shared) parental leave via the University level Athena SWAN network. Watch this space...

Seeking balance within professional development

Our 2017 Department for Health staff survey showed that 33% of responding staff disagreed with the statement "My impression is that men and women are equally encouraged to apply for promotion". 33% of responding staff disagreed with the statement "I have a clear understanding of the criteria for promotion and the promotion process." Check out our 'post about promotions' to see how we responded to this... and note our 12 successful promotions achieved in the previous round! Revisit Fiona's February Update email for specific info on an promotion among staff identifying as female. We are also promoting balance within professional development by publicising opportunities such as international visits (Welcome back from your visit to Stellenbosh University Drs Sheree Bekker and Lee Moore!), upcoming vacant positions of responsibility (Chair of E&D anyone?!). This is also being addressed via our SPDR process and mentoring.

Balancing work and play

A whopping 68% of responding staff noted in our 2017 department staff survey that our current space does not encourage informal interaction between staff. It's sad, and it's true. But this is not deterring us! While we wait and wish for a new building, more ways to socialise with your colleagues (if you so wish!) are appearing ... From dipping and ducking in Dodgeball, to a lunchtime walk (on International Men's Day), to the infamous HES socials, informal lunchtime running groups, Faculty coffee, post Research Rounds (free!) lunch. There are numerous opportunities to inject some play into your working day/evening!

Speaking of working on evenings, another area where we've tried to make improvements is in encouraging staff to become more conscious of how and why email is being used, and the culture we as a department foster regarding the role of email in our work. See our earlier blog on email and our DfH guidance on flexible working for the low down.

There's more... Did I mention increasing the visibility of female role models via a balanced Research Rounds programme? Our mixed interview panels? Our in-house Early Career Network? Our Faculty led 1-day development programme being rolled out to our UG students identifying as female to address the imbalance of Female Leaders in Sport? No? Well I've already gone way over the word count that's anywhere near acceptable for a Friday afternoon blog, even if it is IWD, so that will have to wait. 

In short, there's always more to do, but as a department, we're doing some great things.

High five. I'm off to find some cake.




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