Women in University Physics Departments
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Women in University Physics Departments. Peter Main Director, Education and Science, IOP Heads of Mathematics Departments Meeting Birmingham 3 rd April 2007 [email protected], www.iop.org. Plan of Talk. Background Site Visit Scheme Some observations Next Steps. Background.

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Women in University Physics Departments

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Women in University Physics Departments

Peter MainDirector, Education and Science, IOP

Heads of Mathematics Departments Meeting

Birmingham3rd April 2007

[email protected], www.iop.org

Plan of Talk

  • Background

  • Site Visit Scheme

  • Some observations

  • Next Steps


The Leaky Pipeline





% Female











SL or reader



Leaky Academia 1999, 2000 and 2001

The Scheme

The Scheme

  • By invitation only. Heads of all physics departments were invited to participate, with a copy of the invitation sent to the VC

  • Visiting panel of 5 (including 1 man) + secretary

  • Paperwork (sent beforehand) included admissions statistics, gender disaggregated student numbers, pass rates, staff handbook etc.

  • Visited 17 physics departments in all.

The Visit

  • Meeting with departmental management , admissions tutor, director of teaching, HR representative etc

  • Meetings with:

    • Female academic staff (where there were no women physicists at all, we met with staff from cognate subjects)

    • Male academic staff

    • Female RAs and PGs

    • Male RAs and PGs

The Visit

  • Lunch with female UGs. No staff were present

  • Laboratory tour

  • Informal feedback at the end from the chair of the panel to the HoD

  • Confidential written report is sent to HoD with recommendations.


Observations from the Data

  • Wide variations in % women students between HEIs.

  • In some places intake ratio is much lower than application ratio; not due to any explicit bias in admissions but with female applicants refusing offers.

  • Ratio of women higher in universities where a higher proportion of the students live at home (the same was true for ethnic minorities)

  • Men have a higher drop-out rate

  • Women underrepresented in seminars and colloquia

Observations from the Visits

  • The vast majority of departments were not monitoring statistics

  • Departments without women suffer in many ways (eg admissions, role models). Male staff are usually aware of this but are very reluctant to do anything about it.

  • The fact that the visit took place meant that gender issues were discussed, perhaps for the first time.

The “Best” Departments

  • Sympathetic Head of Department (they were all male). In some cases, it was clear that former HoDs had been very biased.

  • Male participation in family-friendly policies. If they did not, women felt they were perceived as “letting the side down” by, for example, taking maternity leave or fitting their hours around the nursery.

  • A high fraction of young staff. Young fathers appreciate the problems but younger men are generally more sensitive to gender issues.

The “Best” Departments

  • Mix of people from different countries. Welcoming diversity is a positive step.

  • Women involved in senior management. But women were often disinclined to get involved because they found the prevailing attitudes so unpleasant.

  • Strong, informal social networks for women. (In some places found that men had unconsciously created an uncomfortable atmosphere by being so friendly among themselves).

Important Issues

  • Formal, transparent procedures at all levels.

    • Recruitment (no secret discussions, women on interview panels)

    • Promotion (major issue)

    • Appraisal (particularly for RAs)

    • Workload allocation

    • Women on “serious” committees

    • Career breaks

Important Issues

Even successful female RAs and PGs did not want an academic career:

  • Not consistent with starting a family

  • Average age of academic appointment is ~ 35.

  • Effect of multiple short term contacts

  • Lack of a well-defined career structure

  • Lack of good careers advice

  • Lack of role models

  • Long hours culture

Important Issues

  • Childcare facilities were usually thought to be inadequate and, where they were good, did not have enough places. The best matched their hours to those of the university.

  • Harassment. Although almost every place had a procedure for dealing with harassment, the panels were told of several cases, almost none of which had been dealt with in a satisfactory manner.

Next Steps

General Report

  • General report highlighting the issues and disseminating good practice has been published

  • Created a lot of interest amongst other learned societies

Next Steps: Industry Site Visits

  • Working with other professional organisations to introduce a similar scheme in industry

  • It is much more difficult to operate the scheme in that environment!

  • They will have to pay.

Next Steps: JUNO Code of Practice

  • Introducing a Code of Practice for physics departments, based on the site visits report. Linked closely to the Athena-Swan awards.

  • Departments are “Supporters” if they aspire to the principles in the Code and “Champions” if they can provide evidence that they are following them.

JUNO Code of Practice: Principles

  • A robust organisational framework to deliver equality of opportunity and reward.

  • Appointment, promotion and selection processes and procedures that encourage men and women to apply for academic posts at all levels.

  • Departmental structures and systems which support and encourage the career progression of all staff and enable men and women to progress and continue in their careers.

JUNO Code of Practice: Principles

  • A departmental organisation, structure, management arrangements and culture that are open, inclusive and transparent and encourage the participation of all staff.

  • Flexible approaches and provisions that encompass, the working day, the working year and a working life in SET and enable individuals, at all career and life stages, to maximise their contribution to SET, their department and institution.

Promoting physics, supporting physicists

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