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 peter.main@iop.org, 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

Women in University Physics Departments

Peter MainDirector, Education and Science, IOP

Heads of Mathematics Departments Meeting

Birmingham3rd April 2007

peter.main@iop.org, www.iop.org

Plan of talk

Plan of Talk

  • Background

  • Site Visit Scheme

  • Some observations

  • Next Steps

Women in university physics departments


The leaky pipeline

The Leaky Pipeline

Leaky academia 1999 2000 and 2001





% Female











SL or reader



Leaky Academia 1999, 2000 and 2001

Women in university physics departments

The Scheme

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

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 visit1

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.

Women in university physics departments


Observations from the data

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

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

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 departments1

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

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 issues1

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 issues2

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.

Women in university physics departments

Next Steps

Women in university physics departments

General Report

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

  • Created a lot of interest amongst other learned societies

Women in university physics departments

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.

Women in university physics departments

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.

Women in university physics departments

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.

Women in university physics departments

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.

Women in university physics departments

Promoting physics, supporting physicists

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