Lunch and launch for the WomenCAN project

Posted in: Gender

WomanCAN research project led by Professor Carol Taylor and Dr Sally Hewlett officially launched on 10 May. The project is funded by the Enhancing Research Culture fund at the University.

The WomanCAN project aims to promote culture change to improve women’s leadership capacities, enhance career progression, and raise women academics’ visibility across the university. It aims to produce organisational change to address the powerful cultural practices that operate both visibly and work subtly ‘under the radar’ in shaping career evaluations and promotion practices. Research and women’s personal experiences show that these cultural practices can have severe consequences for women’s careers, and that existing cultural and structural disadvantages have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lunch and launch for the WomenCAN project - Breaking promotion barriers, changing University culture

Carol Taylor, Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education, started off the event by explaining that in the UK women represent almost 50% of academic and research staff, but are not represented at this percentage at Professorial level. She quoted O'Connor, 2020, saying: "Equality is impeded by structures and cultures within Higher Education Institutions"

But what are the structures causing this discrepancy? They can include:

1. Promotion pathways

2. Recruitment

3. Workload practices

4. Ratios of senior to junior posts

Carol highlighted research that explains that women have large teaching, administrative and pastoral roles. This impacts on their ability to do promotable tasks like making large grant applications and dedicating time to research. The research indicates that women are listed as Primary Investigators less than men, and that men received larger amounts of money in research grants. This helps male academics build their careers in ways that women often can’t.

These structural factors are often influenced by workplace cultures that facilitate male career progression and/or inhibits women's progression. Stereotypes also normalise subordinate female positions, and COVID-19 further impacted women and minorities.

Professor Taylor explained as part of the WomenCAN project, Heads of Department and Deputy Heads will be surveyed to gain insight on promotions practices, and how promotions are supported, at departmental level. There will also be a series of interviews with senior female academics to gain an in-depth picture of the barriers, constraints and opportunities they face. A coaching programme will be offered to female academic staff at senior lecturer and above level to enhance women’s promotions’ capacities. These activities will hopefully build the foundations for a Women's Change Agent's Network.

Next we heard from Professor Christina Hughes, founder of Women-Space. . Christina spoke about the circumstances that led to her making a major change in her university career in senior management. This was the realisation that – at that point in her life - she needed a new challenge that would more directly support an equalities agenda for women, something that has been at the heart of her research interests throughout her career.

Christina launched Women-Space to enable women to flourish through coaching, mentoring, webinars and consultancy. Here, at the University of Bath she will be running three workshops as part of the WomenCAN project, and offering a 1-2-1 coaching session for workshop attendees at the end of the programme.

Next we heard from Professor Rajani Naidoo, Vice-President (Community & Inclusion), who spoke of where we are at the University right now. She acknowledged we might be taking “small steps”, but "we are moving forward together".

Rajani highlighted the Commemoration Days Committee which was convened to avoid siloed working and having a whole university approach to events such as International Women’s Day, Pride and Black History Month.

She went on to explain how she is piloting a new training approach with the senior management team (SMT), pulling in real-life stories from women at the University relating to promotions and being valued. These stories have the potential to open eyes and will be played out in front of the SMT, to get across the reality of how the situation is for women at the University.

Professor Rajani Naidoo spoke about the ongoing review of professorial promotions and the appointment of an Academic Talent Director who will be "bringing excellence, diversity and high performance together”. It was noted that female managers also give non promotable tasks to other women, so this is an cultural issue that needs to be worked on from both sides.

Next, Professor Nancy Harding (Head of Division, School of Management) spoke about her personal story of experiencing discrimination and her attitude to changemaking: “We need old fashioned feminist micro revolutions". She explained if we all challenge micro-aggressions with pre-prepared statements that trip off the tongue we can be confident micro-revolutionaries in our day to day lives.

Dr Lizzi Milligan, a Reader in Education, then told her story. She had two children, two promotions, two large PI grants, and dealt with a chronic health condition in a very short time frame. She highlighted how change is about shifting structures, allowing everyone to “be brilliant”.

To close the session Carol Taylor urged the need to recognise and give greater value to diversity in career pathways, noting that making such a shift: “It isn’t easy, but I’m hoping that with this project we can together perform a shift in culture”.

Please get in touch with or for more information about the project.

Posted in: Gender


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