Gender Equality and Career Development in the Arts and Humanities

Report on a British Academy Early Career Networking Day hosted by the College of Arts and Humanities, Swansea University, 7 March 2014.

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The purpose of the day, organised by Liz Herbert McAvoy (English) and Trish Skinner (COAH) and hosted by RIAH and GENCAS, the Centre for Research into Gender, Culture and Society, was to facilitate networking and provide a series of discussion and workshop sessions encouraging early career researchers and other delegates to develop their portfolio of skills and use all of their talents to the full. The event received over £4000 in sponsorship from the British Academy.

Gender Event 7 March - attendees at Publications sessionDuring the course of the day over 50 delegates were joined by junior and senior academic and support staff from Swansea University, including British Academy Fellows Professors Stuart Clark and M. Wynn Thomas, who had acted as the event's 'champions'. This was a normal teaching day for the College, and so the conference was designed to enable drop-in to specific sessions, some of which were repeated morning and afternoon, for example the Developing your Publications Portfolio session (pictured left), led by Trish Skinner, and So you want to be a Media Don?, led by former journalist Suzanne Oakley.

A highlight of the morning was the round table on Women's Academic Time, convened by Liz Herbert McAvoy, which heard from five women at different stages of their careers, reflecting on issues including progression in disciplines ranging from Archaeology to Media Studies, History, English and Language and Linguistics.  It soon became clear that women's career paths are even more diverse than the organisors had expected, and that questions discussed included when was the best time to have a family (there is no good time!), the obstacles to promotion, and the problems of extended absence at conferences (including their costliness). It became clear that assertiveness training and support might have been a valuable addition to the programme, as delegates often cited lack of confidence in not promoting themselves in group situations.

Christina Slade - at Gender EventSome of these themes came up again in the well-attended keynote session with Professor Christina Slade, VC of Bath Spa University (pictured left), who was introduced by Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, PVC for Equalities, Swansea University. Professor Slade reflected on her own career before emphasising the need for networking as a key element in career development. Women, she commented, tend to get their heads down in their work and wait to be recognised for their talents, rather than putting themselves up for roles and responsibilities that would ensure that recognition. This resulted in too few women reaching the senior management level in many universities. Professor Lappin-Scott emphasised the role of social media in developing profiles, and was tweeting the event as it happened.

The afternoon began with The British Academy and the Early Career Researcher, led by former PDF Dr Chris Millington (History). The day was designed to be both informative and enjoyable. To that end, delegates were encouraged to put their newly-developed Have a Voice! skills, from professional vocal coach Rona Campbell, to the test in a video booth, which also collected some instant feedback on sessions as they happened.

Delegates were also encouraged to de-stress with an Indian head massage, provided by a professional masseur, who advised on keeping the neck and shoulders loose and flexible when sitting at a computer screen.

Training sessions on Flexible Working and CV Writing, presented by HR colleagues Charlotte James and Sally Davies, were complemented by a CV Makeover service and a Grants Advice Desk offered by Dr Nathan Roger (RIAH), and a final session on Asking for Promotion, led by Julie Jones, attracted delegates at all career grades!

Gender Event 7 March - keynote audienceThe day was tweeted by both Swansea and Bath Spa universities, ensuring that the event went global very quickly.

‌‌The British Academy sponsorship ensured that not only could we benefit from professional training and offer the networking day free of registration fees, but also that the event could be fully accessible via travel bursaries, a feature that the postgraduate delegates particularly appreciated.