Helen Lawton Smith asks what exactly did TRIGGER trigger?

The TRansforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) was a project to understand the underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) subjects in academia, and the institutional changes needed.

Universities in five countries research were funded by the European Union from 2014 to 2017. Birkbeck, University of London, the UK partner, was allocated €400,000 to look at the nature and causes of underlying gender inequality in STEMM fields within itself and more widely.  There is no doubt that there was and remains gender inequality within Birkbeck: documenting causes was the first step to finding solutions, a process now being undergone. Birkbeck was by no means atypical of the problem across Europe.

What we did first was to position gender inequality in academia within broader societal debates around equality, diversity and inclusion within the UK, Europe and worldwide.  The legitimacy of the enquiry into the causes and consequences of disadvantages from being a woman scholar (junior and senior) or in professional services, was demonstrated by funding for the project and re-inforced by the mainstreaming of the TRIGGER programme within Birkbeck and partner institutions.

Our nine action lines aimed at understanding the nature of the issues and then building in appropriate responses were:

TRIGGER’s Nine Actions to Fostering Gender Equality at Birkbeck:

  1. Research gender cultures in science departments to identify potential gender-specific barriers and to develop recommendations for action.
  2. Promote the inclusion of women scientists in external collaborative arrangements.
  3. Develop a permanent mentoring programme and a handbook of best practice (in co-operation with Athena SWAN).
  4. Implement a Development Programme for fostering female academic careers.
  5. Develop training on integrating gender into scientific research procedures and contents.
  6. Test innovative research tools for the gendering of research procedures.
  7. Mainstream a teaching module on gender for PhD courses.
  8. Create structural opportunities for the commercialisation of women’s work in research and innovation.
  9. Develop a leadership programme for women academics.

Second, the project was outward as well as inward looking and inherently collaborative.  Bringing about change requires cultural as well as institutional and procedural changes. We are hugely grateful to those who joined our internal and external advisory boards and to our international colleagues within the TRIGGER project and others who supported us with their time and their personal and professional insights. These enabled all of us who took part to be challenged on our thinking then and now. We made many very good friends along the way.

Helen Lawton Smith

PI TRIGGER programme

January 31 2022