Overcoming gender bias in university careers
Did you attend jobs.ac.uk’s and Women-Space’s live webinar on navigating the barriers and challenges in higher education? With guidance from Professor Christina Hughes and an expert panel, our session discussed the underrepresentation of women leaders in higher education and solutions for helping women to achieve their career aspirations. Our full webinar recording is available to watch now or read on for a summary of the main points made by our panel of women leaders:
- What do you feel is the main barrier to women’s career progression?
- What is your advice for women trying to overcome gender, age and race related obstacles?
- What measures are universities taking to address gender and race inequality in the sector?
- With the rise of remote working, how can I make myself more visible to senior management?
- What advice can you provide to women who are trying to negotiate a fair salary or pay grade?
- Are universities allowed to proactively hire people based on gender or race?
- I receive comments of “calm down, dear”. What is the best way to handle these remarks?
- I think I might be the only male attending this webinar! What can men do to help?
- I sometimes experience ‘imposter syndrome’. How can I overcome this?
- Our panel’s top tips to takeaway
What do you feel is the main barrier to women’s career progression?
- Academic work has been created for men and shaped by men
- Academia has changed over the years but it’s still not inclusive in its’ customs and practices
- Leaders in HE have assumed a ‘good leader’ must work 24 hours a day 7 days a week and no time for flexibility in their job role
- It is often assumed that working women cannot balance family and work life and will most likely fail in one
- Prepare to be scrutinised if your roles as a parent / carer come into conflict with your career
What is your advice for women trying to overcome gender, age and race related obstacles?
- Institutions tend to focus on the intersectionality of either race or gender; not both
- The challenges are based on experiences from white women which can be different from the experiences coloured women receive
- One of the biggest challenges is collecting data to help institutes develop best practice; however, it tends to be done in silos i.e., women, minority, gay
- Women should try to get involved to bring about change by joining groups in universities wanting to implement change for themselves and other women
- Find allies of any gender to help develop your network across higher education
- Identify people that might have a connection through similar experiences and interests to support you in projects
- Surround yourself with people moving forward in their career and supporting to progress
What measures are universities taking to address gender and race inequality in the sector?
- Everybody’s experiences are different, and we approach challenges at different times in our careers
- Everyone taking accountability for the challenges as it’s not just the directorates’ or institutes’ issue
- This requires an institution-wide approach to building an inclusive community. From striving for Athena Swan accreditation, through to implementing inclusive policies for carers, investing in training, setting up staff groups and reviewing recruitment processes
- Encourage academic research relating to areas of concern and staff development on factors such as unconscious bias to be addressed
- Access to individuals with DVC with EDI responsibilities to allow universities to move forward and implement gradual change
- Leadership governance opened key opportunities by influencing decision making and seeing how decisions are being made
- For leaders to provide a positive action for any problematic issues instead of showing empathy but not following through with an action
With the rise of remote working, how can I make myself more visible to senior management?
- Connect online with the senior leadership team using the same platform to show what projects you’re working on and taking forward
- Mention senior individuals in your posts or comments for them to understand who you are and what you’re doing in your line of work in the university
- Volunteer to sit on committee and leadership meetings to make a contribution to a discussion and enhance your visibility at the same time.
- There is an underline assumption ‘women need the training to be fixed to fit in HE’ however in hindsight training needs to be done from an institutional perspective
- More activities and action should take place on changing courses on ‘who should be a leader’ but instead endorsing different types of skills and abilities to become a leader
- Opportunities are given to those people who are more relatable i.e., candidates with similar characteristics are typically offered opportunities because they may remind the leader of themselves
What advice can you provide to women who are trying to negotiate a fair salary or pay grade?
- Research shows men are more active and better at negotiating pay than women
- Investigate all salary facts before negotiating
- Draw attention to your line manager and ask for advice on achieving a fair salary
- To resolve a gender pay gap issue, a senior member of HE can be approached, for example the chair of the promotions committee
- An institutional review can be conducted for men and women working in performance-based roles
Are universities allowed to proactively hire people based on gender or race?
- Employers cannot employ people just because of their ethnicity, gender, or background
- Recruitment processes can be made more inclusive by asking yourself questions such as who/how are you targeting, where are you advertising jobs and how are you will interview?
- When selecting potential candidates that could be equally as successful, a decision can be influenced if they are from an underrepresented background only if the panel can reasonably and justifiably choose that candidate
I receive comments of “calm down, dear”. What is the best way to handle these remarks?
- Practice the technique Name it, Shame it, and Pivot:
- Name it: Explain how that’s not an acceptable way to talk
- Shame it: Explain how you don’t appreciate the comment
- Pivot: Pivot it back to your main point being sexist and belittling towards you
- It’s always best to re-emphasise how a comment made you feel rather than debate whether a comment is sexist
- Push back inappropriate comments to prevent them from becoming normalised
I think I might be the only male attending this webinar! What can men do to help?
- Men can support women by being active allies, and by promoting the voices of women in the workplace
- Include male colleagues in discussions to help them understand the challenges women face in HE and encourage them to share these issue with other male colleagues, in meetings and forums to reduce the barriers women face
I sometimes experience ‘imposter syndrome’. How can I overcome this?
- You may feel that your colleagues think you are unsuited for the role as opposed to having imposter syndrome
- In this case, it’s less “imposter syndrome” than simply feeling that your colleagues don’t think you’re competent enough for the role
- Building support from allies and your own positive network
- Being involved in development opportunities so you’re constantly improving
- Enhance your knowledge by reading relevant information, understanding best practice, and following projects related to higher education
Our panel’s top tips to takeaway:
- Take more risks in your career whilst being authentic and not being afraid to be yourself
- Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t
- Don’t lead with your weaknesses it can come across as disempowering
- Everyone should address challenges collectively and keep in mind the concept “we are all in this together”
- Take out time to look for external networks to seek positive allies
- Prepare to be hyper-scrutinised – have an answer and explanation for what you have done and why?
- Be strategic in the programmes and activities you get involved
- Embrace your justified anger if the HE system isn’t fair and equal towards women