Celebrating Birkbeck’s TRIGGER project

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics reports on a celebration event for the TRIGGER project (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) – which aims to increase the number of women in university sectors where they are underrepresented.trigger850x450On Wednesday 21 June, the Birkbeck TRIGGER team held a special event of celebration, discussion and networking at BMA House, to mark an end to the four year research project. The event provided an opportunity to share with an audience of friends, supporters and collaborators the team’s final research findings, and hear from external guests from various fields within academia and business on the challenges and successes of gender equality initiatives.

Since its inception in January 2014, TRIGGER has produced vital research to support the increasing presence of women in higher education and business where they are underrepresented. The applied project – a partnership between institutions in the Czech Republic, France, Italy and Spain – has considered and developed initiatives to foster organisational change by promoting the role of women in research and academia, in STEM subjects and in management positions.

A Legacy of Mentoring and Leadership

In his welcome address, Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck College, praised the innovative nature of TRIGGER, which has helped the College to rethink the way it approaches equality through Athena SWAN more broadly, too: “While this celebration marks the end of the TRIGGER project, it is important to note that the initiatives the team have introduced, such as College-wide mentoring and carefully tailored leadership seminars, will go on past the life of the scheme itself.” As Chair of the College’s Athena SWAN committee, Professor Latchman went on to describe the transformative influence that the mentoring programme has had on women academics at Birkbeck, especially on early career researchers.

The TRIGGER project team then took to the stage to present on the following areas of research and impact:

  • Networking
  • Academic Mentoring
  • Rethinking Research Methods to Investigate Sex Differences
  • Commercialisation of the work of women scientists
  • Gender cultures in research and science
  • Gender and Leadership

Each member of the team reflected on the outcomes of their individual part in the project, and on how these outcomes were both impactful and applicable. The project’s focus group sessions, for example, provided a platform to hear the personal experiences of women and men in the institution to analyse the way in which the infrastructure could better support and maintain gender equality in the workplace. Similarly, panel events with external collaborators in London, Dundalk, Lund and Pisa built on internal discussions and offered insight into how these initiatives could be transformed and applied to fit in with organisations beyond Birkbeck.triggerFollowing their research dissemination, a panel of experts in their respective fields of academia and industry were given a chance to react to these findings and comment on their own experiences.

Among concerns such as the gender pay gap, lack of support following a career break, and ‘the glass ceiling, the issue most frequently addressed by the panel was that of unconscious bias, and the need to step away from calling it ‘a woman’s problem’.  Gemma Irvine, Head of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Higher Education Authority in Ireland, described the effect of this on a woman as ‘not a lack of confidence in herself, but a lack of confidence in the organisation to treat them fairly and provide the right infrastructure for change. Unconscious bias is not something that can only be fixed by women – but those who have privilege are often blind to it.’

What can we learn from the TRIGGER project?

Simply recognising unconscious bias does not remove it from the system – and as a society, we must work day-to-day to chance the deeply entrenched stereotypes and imbalances. We need skilled leaders – both men and women to advocate for leadership for women – but there is also a need for women to identify role models, and aspire to the next stage in their career. The TRIGGER project has demonstrated the power of mentoring and of networks, but also the value of a balanced network; while women do not network as readily as men, removing all men from women’s networking opportunities is not a solution to the problem.

Ultimately, the short and intermediate changes, or outcomes, are not enough; we must strive for impact, changes in decision making and a culture shift to a ‘no closed doors’ policy for men and women. Only in collaboration with projects such as TRIGGER can we achieve broader changes within research and industrial communities and wider society. We must stop treating the symptoms of gender equality and start identifying and chipping away at the foundation of the problem to make a change.

The TRIGGER team would like to thank the panel, audience and its many international supporters for their work over the last four years. Find out more about TRIGGER on their website.

Many thanks to all the panelists:

  • David Stringer-Lamarre, Fortis Consulting/Chairman, IoD City of London
  • Amanda Bennett, Fairplay Enterprises Ltd
  • Sally Hardy, Regional Studies Association
  • Aggie Cooper, Aramco UK Ltd
  • Dr Gemma Irvine, The Higher Education Authority, Dublin
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Women in tech panellists inspire students to break the gender disparity in the industry

Jenna Davies, Employability Consultant, writes about the Women in Tech Panel Talk, held on 24 January 2017

women-in-techBirkbeck Careers’ Upscale programme welcomed an exciting panel of women in the tech industry to deliver a thought-provoking discussion around their journeys within the world of technology. With stories ranging from eye opening career hurdles to key bites of advice for aspiring techies, guests were treated to an evening of laughs, gasps and inspiration.

Emma Beer, Senior Delivery Manager at the Government Digital Services, revealed a past fear that many women today resonate with: that you have to be a proper ‘techie’ to work in the digital world. But every tech company requires the so called ‘old skills’. Communication is vital, having the natural ability to talk articulately and express yourself well. Project management is also among a host of skills that are equally crucial to such organisations, yet often overlooked by potentially strong applicants, who are bound by this belief that they don’t have the right knowledge for this sector.

The knowledge topic proved to be a fundamental part of the discussion and Nicola Byrne, successful entrepreneur and CEO at Cloud90, identified with Emma’s point. Understanding tech is one thing, but you don’t need to necessarily do it to succeed in this world. Nicola has built extremely successful businesses by understanding the industry and highlighted the vast amount of jobs that she, and fellow entrepreneurs, have created that never existed before. The job for those in the audience is working out how to innovate for the future, looking ahead at jobs that don’t exist now but will in five, 10, 20 years’ time.

wit3Jo Salter, Director in People & Organisation at PwC and the first female fast-jet pilot in the RAF, looked at where children start their tech journeys; primary schools are doing great things but it’s soon reinforced that tech isn’t ‘cool’. Exciting, vibrant people are needed in IT classrooms to teach children and young people the exact opposite; that tech is the way forward. Jo also highlighted that pivoting in your career is perfectly acceptable and thoroughly encouraged; changing direction builds experience, presents new skills and keeps you moving.

The panel discussion, facilitated by Gen Ashley, Director of Women Who Code, certainly succeeded in positively influencing the audience towards the reasons women need to be key players in tech sector, with many guests indicating they’re inspired to get back on track with their tech goals. Gen emphasised the importance to be yourself in tech, and reinforced a key piece of advice from Emma to join Ada’s list, the global community for women in tech where Gen is part of the leadership team. The evening ended with guests and panellists mingling over wine and continuing the conversation, bringing more women into the world of tech.

So what did we learn? Networking is vital. It’s ok to pivot. Being ‘flighty’ is good. And that watching a demo on folding a fitted sheet could change your life.

Further information:

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Advice for aspiring professors and managers

This post was contributed  by Bryony Merritt from Birkbeck’s Department of External Relations.

For those looking to take the next step in their careers, learning about the experiences of those already in the roles we aspire to can be both encouraging and enlightening.

TRIGGER‘s latest event enabled staff from across Birkbeck and other Bloomsbury colleges to hear first-hand from four women (Sarah Winmill, Director of IT for Professional Services, UCL; Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics, Birbkeck; Simona Immarino, Professor of Economic Geography and Head of Department, LSE; Eleanor Mongey, Head of Student Servcies, Birkbeck) who have achieved professional succes as academics, professional services staff and academic managers.

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Assistant Dean for Equalities in Birkbeck’s School of Science, chaired the panel and began by asking the four women about their idea of what success looks like, mentors they’d had, and what advice they would give to their younger selves.

Being true to their values, bringing the best out of people and being seen as a role model were all cited as markers of success for the panel. Eleanor Mongey reflected that earlier in her career path she had measured success by promotions or securing a permanent contract, but feels now that her focus at that time was too narrow and she failed to recognise other types of achievement.

All of the women could identify individuals who had contributed to their professional journeys, whether as supportive managers or through mentoring. Professor Hart (who was one of only five female mathematics professors under 40 in the UK when she was made a professor two years ago) said that nearly all her promotions had come as a result of a manager suggesting she apply for the post. Now, as managers, the panelists recognised that they have a responsibility to identify talent within their teams and to encourage and reward it.

Failure was also a theme in the discussion, but in a surprisingly positive way. Learning to accept failure was seen as important, as was creating an environment where is is safe to fail, so that staff feel empowered to be creative and push their own boundaries.

An audience member asked the panel to identify one policy that would have helped them earlier in their careers. Professor Immarino was emphatic: we need culture change. The other panelists’ examples certainly fitted in with with this assertion. Sarah Winmill said that it is beholden on all of us to work our hours and only our hours, and not to put meetings in the first/last hour of the day so that those with caring responsibilities can attend. Professor Immarino said that academic promotions should rely less on metrics as women are substantially penalised on citations and impact metrics. Professor Hart said that workload modelling was an important tool to demonstrate where women are spending their time and ensure that they had time for research and weren’t carrying a disproportionate percentage of teaching and administrative work. The fact that the need for culture change extends beyond the workplace was also clear, with discussions on the fact that women often carry a significant ‘mental burden‘ related to domestic duties.

The event was encouraging in that these women have been able to achieve success despite the barriers that they identified and because it is clear that there is a body of women at senior levels within universities who are acting as role models and providing practical and moral support for the women who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

Further information

  • TRIGGER
  • Birkbeck Astrea – network for women in professional services roles
  • Athena SWAN at Birkbeck
  • WHEN – speeding up equality in the workplaceProfessor Sarah Hart was recently filmed speaking about her career path and why she chose a career in STEM
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Academia’s gender inequality problem

This post was contributed by Professor Helen Lawton-Smith of Birkbeck’s Department of Management. Professor Lawton-Smith is organising Improving gender equality in work – what can we learn from London’s business and policy organisations? on Wednesday 18 March, 2pm-5pm.

laboratoryWomen are under-represented in senior positions in science, engineering, maths and medicine disciplines at UK universities. Initiatives including Athena SWAN and the Aurora Women’s leadership programme have been set up to address this problem, yet such initiatives by themselves are not enough to tackle the problem of the current gender bias. What is needed is institutional embedding, so that gender and other diversity issues are integrated into an equality framework of decision-making processes and structures within organisations, which cannot be side-stepped by those in positions of power.

The four-year Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) project at Birkbeck is championing the role of female academics in scientific subjects as part of a five-country European project. This initiative is testing a blueprint designed to raise the status of women in scientific and technological organisations such as universities. The nine action areas are designed to identify barriers to equality in the workplace, including the impact of research. The project builds on Birkbeck’s existing commitment to promoting female academics. Results and reactions have been very interesting.

Equality issues have been tackled in a variety of ways by companies and by policy making bodies such as local authorities and government agencies. According to the New York Times in October 2014, Silicon Valley also has a diversity problem – one which is being tackled head on by companies such as Google and Facebook.

Academia has a lot to learn from how other kinds of large organisation have identified the nature and causes of gender inequality. On Wednesday 18 March the TRIGGER project and the BEI School are hosting a networking event designed to explore which institutional changes work best in supporting gender equality in large organisations. The panel’s speakers will reflect on why changes were necessary, what changes have been introduced, the outcome of those changes, and what still needs to happen to improve gender equality. The diversity of speakers will ensure there are opportunities for learning for all.

Interested? Find out more

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