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Women in Science

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Video clip: Eleanor felt that although Athena Swan brought benefits for everyone, some initiatives were counter-productive for the women involved.

Are you aware of Athena Swan?

Yes.

What are your thoughts about it?

[Laughing] mixed.

Mixed, then? Tell me?

I think anything that promotes a better work life balance for everybody, would absolutely be a really good thing and I think that would help everybody. I think we should recognise that a lot of the men - particularly in our department – also have child rearing responsibilities. They have to go and do the nursery pickups. I think there have been some absolutely horrendous things that have gone on in the past, both sexism and racism, and I think we've come a long way which is great. And I think we need to make sure that doesn't creep back. I think some of the criteria they set for assessing whether departments are supportive of women are a little counterproductive. As an example, we are in theory supposed to have a woman sitting on every interview panel. We have, I think at the last count, seven women out of eighty academics. That's not terribly good for women's work life balance.

And there's quite a few things where a lot of the burden for proving these things falls upon the women which is not great. And I think - I'm actually in the process of trying to start a dialogue as to how we can reassess these criteria because I don't think they are appropriate. And I think a lot of women I have spoken to, feel they attend these meetings, they express concerns about 'well, I can't get in for a meeting because I've had to do a nursery drop off', or whatever it is and those concerns are not being listened to, or anything concrete being done to address them. There's a lot of window-dressing and 'Oh well, we held a women's conference, we have set up a women's network'. That's not what's needed.

So then you think there's a gap between the department…

Yes, I think recognising there are things that need fixing is very, very good. I think having an initiative to do that is great. I think some of the things that are being done are not good, and I think the notion that departments will be penalised for not having met certain criteria by having funding withdrawn is insane because that's actually just going to harm the very small number of women who are in that department. Some of the implementation could be improved.

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