A total of 11 projects received money through the EPSRC’s Inclusion Matters funding round. The University of Glasgow is part of two projects and the University of Strathclyde is involved in one.
The Strathclyde project, STEM Equals, is being run in partnership with construction firm BAM Nuttall Ltd and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering and will address challenges faced by female and LGBT staff in science and engineering.
A number of initiatives will be developed, including:
- introduction of free flexible crèche facilities for staff to attend key research meetings while on leave
- workshops with key industry partners to disseminate successful activities and share best practice
- establishment of public and private social media platforms for female and LGBT staff within the university
STEM Equals has received £538,568 of funding and will be run by Strathclyde vice principal Professor Scott MacGregor and the programme director is Professor Rebecca Lunn MBE, of the university’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering.
Professor Lunn said: “There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that women are discriminated against in Universities, and that the problem is particularly persistent across engineering and the sciences.
“For example, in 2012, a study was published where applications that had been randomly assigned a male or female name were rated for a physics laboratory manager position. Recruitment panels rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant.
“The experiences of LGBT staff in science and engineering are less well-studied, but it is widely recognised that the numbers of ‘out’ senior academic staff are vanishingly small.
“The STEM Equals project also aims to deliver a fresh approach to university management; decades-old practice within UK universities has led to a severe lack of senior women. Current promotion criteria are modelled on full-time male academics that have taken no periods of carer or family leave. This lack of senior diversity is not in the UK’s best interest; Universities should be promoting the top strategic thinkers and the most talented/innovative researchers, regardless of their career path.”
Strathclyde is also involved in one of the projects led by the University of Glasgow. VisNET: Virtual in situ networking to reinvent the rules of international collaborations and reduce gender differences in academic careers received £395,000 of funding. Other partners include the University of Edinburgh, NXP Semiconductors Ltd, Nokia UK Ltd, CGI IT UK Ltd, Atkins Ltd, Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering and Thales UK Ltd.
Co-programme directors Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay and Dr Helen Mulvana, both lecturers in the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, said: “VisNET aims to understand and fundamentally transform the mechanisms of networking and collaboration in academia. Focusing on the dominant leak in the academic pipeline, the post-doctoral researcher-to-lecturer transition, we seek to remove the disadvantage women experience in building their international reputation, an important measure of academic esteem.
“Ultimately, our outcomes will help to redress the under-representation of women in STEM academia by establishing equality of opportunity when competing for research funding and academic promotion.
“Barriers for women to participate equally in the international scientific conversation are multi-fold. Among these, gender bias means that women are less likely to be invited to speak at conferences or take part in opinion panels – both critical networking opportunities. They are also more likely to have primary caring responsibilities, restricting their freedom to travel.
“The growth in technologies enabling remote working offers us an exciting opportunity to redefine networking practices by making them less reliant on frequent travel. Working closely with our partners, we will develop, integrate and advocate for new strategies that remove gender bias and allow women to influence the new rules, thus challenging the persistence of male networks.”
The second project, led by Queen’s University Belfast with support from the University of Glasgow, is named Inclusion Really Does Matter: Improving Reactions to Gender Equality Initiatives Amongst Academics in Engineering and Physical Sciences.
The project will aim to understand academics’ potentially negative or indifferent attitudes towards gender equality initiatives and build training tools aimed at improving their reception.
Dr Alison Wall, EPSRC associate director, building leadership, said: “The Inclusion Matters call projects display ambition, creativity and a commitment to addressing the pressing equality and diversity issues facing engineering and the physical sciences.
“Through new research, innovative approaches and a broadening of activities, they will inform and shape significant cultural change across institutions and share their learning with the whole sector. By furthering equality, diversity and inclusion we want to ensure that researchers from all groups are able to fulfil their talent and ambitions.”