Thank you for submitting your feedback
27 September 2017 Sophie Harris, Assistant Director of Human Resources – Organisational Effectiveness
In Sophie's latest blog post from her trip to States (supported by the UHR-CUPA bursary), she discusses the method of female academics meeting in small groups to help with improving progression in higher education.
During my visit to UMass Amherst, I was keen to identify some concrete actions that academic colleagues, either through their research or personal experience, had found made a real difference to female academic progression.
There was clear consensus from the professors I met that small groups of female peers meeting regularly to provide mutual support and mentoring was a bright spot in improving progression.
Interestingly, when I later met with Professor Perla Myers at the University of San Diego (USD), she described a recruitment intervention introduced as part of their Advancing Female Faculty in STEM programme, which had unexpectedly resulted in mutual mentoring. Under this initiative, in addition to the usual research and teaching listed in the person specification, an essential criterion was for candidates to be able to evidence the strategies they had used to help advance women in science and could implement at USD. A cohort of eight staff was appointed (all female, though by coincidence rather than design) and by virtue of having been recruited as part of the same cohort, these women have formed a collaborative community, supporting one another to advance their own careers.
In my last blog I described how the academic environment can generate challenging behaviour and is often focused on individual achievement. Having a trusted group of colleagues to discuss concerns with can promote a collegiate environment as well as aid retention.
Research shows that men have greater access to informal mentoring opportunities than women and report sustained mentoring from a range of colleagues. I touched on expectation theory in my previous blog and it is again relevant here. Men may be more likely to be mentored in male-dominated fields, as their colleagues may be more likely to see them as competent, and thus worthy of mentoring. Men may also be able to more easily access networking opportunities such as after work events, perhaps because of reduced childcare commitments. Research has shown that for many of the women, this sort of informal collaborative work toward professional development can seem out of reach.
Women are more likely than men to report concerns about burdening mentors. This may be a factor in why individually assigned mentors are sometimes not engaged with at all. Of course it will normally also be the case that assigned mentors are more senior and therefore perceived to be busier or even perhaps less able to relate to their mentee as they have limited recent experience of the promotion environment.
These concerns may again reflect unconscious attempts by female academics to live up to status expectations of women to care for others and think communally.
Research shows that women tend not to want to put themselves forward for a promotion (or a pay award) until they are sure that they meet all the criteria. However, if the criteria are vague, it can be difficult to know what is needed to be ready. The mentoring groups provide an opportunity for questions, discussion and mutual support and encouragement.
An alternative but also valuable approach could be to set up monthly sessions focusing on special topics (e.g. balancing teaching and research, identifying collaborators, amount and type of admin to undertake, applying for research grants etc.). Again, it is suggested that these should not be exclusively for early career academics, but relevant topics offered throughout the career.
Unfortunately these mentoring groups won’t solve the underlying causes of the disparity between male and female progression. But Chip Heath (a presenter at the CUPA conference and author of Switch), advocates a bright-spots focus, an approach that can create movement on even the most challenging issues. Heath advocates recognising the early glimmers that something is going right and replicating them. So identifying and reproducing the strategies that have previously enabled female professors to gain promotion in the past, such as these small mentoring groups, can help others to achieve success. It’s a strategy of identifying what is working and doing more of it.
Find a bright spot and clone it – Chip Heath
I would like to credit the work of:
Image: CC BY 2.0, WOCinTech Chat
Author: Sophie Harris, Deputy Director of Human Resources, SOAS, University of London
|Be first to comment on this article, and it will also start a new thread in the discussion board to encourage members to join in the conversation|
|There are no document attached to this post.|
|There are no document attached to this post.|
When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalised web experience.
Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Look at the cookies we use below to help you make an informed decision. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.
These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms.
You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information
Microsoft - ASP.NET_SessionId – keeps you logged in for a set period of time, so that you don’t have to keep logging in
These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources so we can measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site.
All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance
Please Wait. Loading...