Issue date: 18 June 2004

ISSUE DATE: 18/06/04

Why do fewer women academics opt to become researchers? What barriers prevent women academics from becoming researcher active? How can universities redress the gender divide and encourage more women to engage in research? What are the key areas universities need to address to make a research career accessible to more women?

The University of the West of England has recently completed a study that explores how gender issues affect research participation by women at UWE. The study ‘Women in Research – Researching Women: an institutional case study of women, research and higher education’ was commissioned by the university and carried out by a small team of researchers from UWE’s Women’s Research Network (WRN), Professor Rebecca Boden, Dr Catherine Fletcher, Dr Julie Kent and Dr Julie Tinson .

Dr Kent explains, “The project emerged from a UWE initiative which aimed to raise the profile of women currently engaged in research activity at UWE and to provide support for women academics to enable them to participate in research. The WRN had raised the issue that fewer women than men were research active in the university. This project aimed to identify why women academics were proportionately less engaged in research and also less well promoted and remunerated than their male colleagues.”

Reasons why women are less likely to engage in research were found to be complex and relate to diverse social and personal factors. Dr Kent continues, “Some reasons were surprising to us and others were predictable. Many women interviewed entered academia in teaching roles with little or no engagement in research and a key professional motivation for them was in making a success of others. Some women perceive research as a self indulgent activity, with teaching giving them more job satisfaction.”

“Other women were not particularly motivated by the prospect of promotion, a key motivator for many male academics. Men were thought to be more often actively careerist and willing to ‘play the game’. Many women liked the perceived flexibility offered by a teaching career and some said that the long hours culture apparently demanded by research work did not attract them. Alongside this were the need to present papers at conferences, attendance at committee meetings, sitting on committees for external agencies, networking and writing publications for journals - all areas requiring time and freedom to travel. Some women cited family responsibilities as an obstacle to pursuance of research activity as the additional time needed to work on projects interfered with family responsibilities.”

A number of areas that would help more women become research active were identified. These included effective mentoring by experienced colleagues who could act as role models, critical friends, supporters and champions; a more defined contract of employment setting out hours for teaching and hours for research; better timetabling so that researchers have full days when they can work at home with clear minds and training for academics promoted to management positions on how to help their colleagues.

The report also mentioned that some of the training for researchers currently organised by the University was very helpful such as courses on getting published and submitting research bids.

Rob Cuthbert, Deputy Vice Chancellor at UWE, said, “This significant report will help us reassess our policies to improve our support for women’s participation in research. UWE’s aspiration to be a different kind of first class university rests on a policy of inclusiveness for UWE academics’ participation in teaching, research and professional practice. The University was pleased to sponsor this research project because we need to overcome any barriers to women becoming research active if we are to realise our objective of inclusive academic excellence.”


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