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Gender Cultures in Research and Science

“Gender cultures” research is the founding pillar of TRIGGER project at Birkbeck, University of London. This study focuses on the career trajectories and experiences of academic, professional, and support staff at Birkbeck.

The research aims especially at understanding differences between women and men in building their career paths, the challenges they meet, and how they deal with these challenges. The study is focused on two of the five Birkbeck Schools in which women are especially underrepresented: the School of Science and the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

In 2013, when this research was designed, the two Schools counted for around 400 members of staff (this representing 35% of the all College staff). Women are represented especially in more junior roles: for examples, women represent only the 25% of the professorial staff.

To ensure an in-depth understanding of women’s and men’s experiences, the TRIGGER team has conducted the following:

  1. Individual interviews with 15 women and men currently working at BBK School of Science and School of Business, Economics and Informatics;
  2. Two focus groups sessions gathering participants at any career stage and from any professional group in the two Schools;
  3. Observations of weekly research meetings in one research team.

Overall, more than 40 people across the two Schools volunteered and participated in this research in the year 2014/2015.

Main findings

The findings have provided recommendations to the College and to the European Commission; they are a valuable help for designing the action plan for the Athena SWAN award.

In relation to differences between the experiences of women and men, three main points emerged:

  1. Women are still the ones who, independently of having familial obligations or not, take most care of their work-life balance;
  2. when they have family obligations, they are very often the ones taking on (or expected to take on) this burden;
  3. when they are on their career path, they are the ones more often experiencing discrimination, especially indirect discrimination that undervalues their role.

Findings show that academic and research staff experience the greatest workload: junior academics especially seem to feel a lot of pressure in relation to publications and grants. However, academics can count on flexible working hours and on more training opportunities compared to the professional and support staff. The problem for professional and support staff is represented by the absence of a progression structure in their career.

Most senior academics show a strong awareness of the need to commit to a more gender sensitive environment, and ask for more training to management roles in order to better deal with any issue related to allocation of tasks, management of conflicts, gender and diversity.

More details on our Working Paper: Gender Cultures in Research and Science: An Investigation at Birkbeck

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