In the year since the Royal Society’s Research culture: Changing expectations conference there have been considerable efforts to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in academia. There is no doubt that 2019 has seen a welcome shift in diversity discussions: a move from gender equality to the need to improve working conditions of all people who are traditionally under-represented. In this blog post we consider these endeavours, the impact they’ve had and what still needs to be done.
The Athena SWAN Charter turned 14 in 2019. During this time it has transformed the gender diversity of university departments in the UK. To ensure its continued success, a review into the Advance Higher Education programmes, including the Athena SWAN Charter, has been commissioned with a report expected in November 2019. Following the impact of the Athena SWAN Charter’s in the UK, similar initiatives have been set up overseas. Last year saw the first awards being made by the US’s AAAS STEM Equity Achievement Sea Change. In Canada, a pilot program, Made-in-Canada, was started, whilst in Australia, efforts continue with their Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) programme.
Academia has continued to feel the ripples of the MeToo movement. In the UK, the National Union of Students (NUS) and the 1752 Group, a lobbying collective who campaign against sexual misconduct by academic staff, published Power in the Academy and Silencing Students. These reports revealed the troubling experiences of UK undergraduates, and found that 40% of students had experienced at least one incident of sexualised behaviour from staff. The 1752 Group and the Office for Students are continuing to call for further investigation into the prevalence of harassment as well as the end of the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct. In October 2019, it was announced that two-thirds of UK universities would start training students in sexual consent.
Whilst UK efforts to understand and eliminate sexual harassment have focussed on staff-student interactions, we have not paid enough attention to the experiences of women academics. There is a push at a local level to include Codes of Conduct and other mechanisms to support victims of harassment at conferences and other professional meetings. However, without strong and sustained support at institutional, professional body and research council level, the fundamental culture change required to effectively eliminate harassment is likely to remain frustratingly out of reach. In the US, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently reported that the “persistent” sexual harassment in STEM subjects and its adverse impacts on women’s careers is jeopardising efforts to close the gender gap in science. As a result, the NAS have voted to revoke fellowships of known sexual harassers.