Professor B Gail Thomas

Supporting Academic Women

During the nine years I was the Dean of Health and Social Sciences at Bournemouth University, I was one of a limited number female senior academic leaders sitting on the University Leadership Team (ULT) for much of that time. I was committed to raising awareness of the gender imbalance and made efforts to influence male colleagues in ULT as well as implementing positive change within my own Faculty. This paper provides some brief detail of steps I took formally and informally.

Developing mechanisms to help women’s voices to be heard

In 2013, I was approached by a colleague fairly new to BU at the time who proposed that a network for female academics could be a useful tool to bring around positive change. She had experience of this approach at another university and found that it was successful in raising issues and influencing behaviour. I agreed to provide support in implementing a Women’s Academic Network, took the idea to the University Executive Team and Chair of the University Board and we hosted a launch event in September 2013 supported by the VC and Chair. WAN has progressed since then, bringing women together in a variety of events with internal and external speakers; most notable was Germaine Greer who filled the 300 seat lecture theatre one evening. We have worked with the Student Union on ‘lad culture’ issues, offered coaching through Organisational Development and generally created built engagement opportunities.

I have supported the move to gain Athena Swan designation at university level and established a group in HSS to seek accreditation for the Faculty before stepping out of role.

Providing guidance and building confidence

As a successful female academic, I have always tried to use my insight of being promoted and of being involved in shortlisting and interview panels to share with colleagues to help them learn how best to succeed. This includes individual mentoring and advice, encouraging colleagues interested in promotion to come and talk about how best to put forward their case, as well as more formal staff development sessions which I have led periodically since 2009. Feedback from those participating has always been positive as they have felt more aware of the expected measures of success.

Working conditions

Women returning to work after maternity leave often want to work part time and/ or flexibly; this is something that I have always supported, trying whenever possible to enable women to balance home commitments with work. One example of further support along these lines was in negotiating a room with a refrigerator where mothers could express their breast milk in privacy and store it safely until they went home.