Published on October 9th, 2015 | by Dr Rhiannon Thompson


The Leaky Pipeline

In the EXPLORATHON special issue of Au Magazine, the Leaky Pipeline of academia was discussed. We questioned why, despite a healthy gender balance observed in undergraduate STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine) degrees, an alarming number of women are leaving academia at all career levels (The latest Higher Education Statistics Agency report only 22% of professors in the UK are females). It is well accepted the lack of diversity in the research talent pool with impact on the research produced, restricting it from reaching its full potential. However, just how seriously is gender bias in research being taken? And what is being done to combat gender inequalities?

Gender Equality and the European Commission

DSC_4164 copyGender equality has been a founding principle of the European Union (EU), dating back over 50 years, to when the principle of equal pay for men and women was included in the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Gender equality remains a key priority for the European Commission, with a number of principles in place, including but not limited to, ensuring equal work treatment and conditions, pay, promotions, and parental leave between women and men. A progress report is produced every year, and can be found here. In 2012, gender equality became a key priority in EU research strategy and is targeted through Horizon 2020 funding and within the European Research Area in collaboration with Member State (ERA), both of which aim to remove barriers to the recruitment, retention and career progression of female researchers, address gender balance in decision making and strengthen the gender dimension in the content of research.

What are Universities doing?

Universities that are members of the Athena SWAN Charter (please see the feature in the EXPLORATHON special edition), and hold EU research grants, promote, embed and celebrate gender equality through a number of actions and initiatives. Taking a closer look at the University of Aberdeen, the University is fully committed to tackling gender inequality, amongst other inequalities, to create a diverse, supportive and empowered working and studying environment to encourage all staff and students to achieve their full potential. A number of initiatives, policies, support schemes and networks are in place to support the Athena SWAN Principles and promote gender equality at the University of Aberdeen. Induction processes are reviewed and revised to ensure new staff and researchers have the best start, and career progression is reviewed within each School to identity and overcome barriers specific to each School. The University also supports members of staff to help them balance the various demands of both their career and family lives with a range of family friendly policies from flexible working, maternity and paternity leave and ensuring a fair recruitment and promotion process. A Parent’s Network has also been established to allow staff with caring responsibilities to connect, and for any concerns and suggestions to be provided to the University. The College of Life Sciences further supports researchers by offering a Family Award for scientific conferences, this award encourages researchers with caring responsibilities to attend conferences by offering financial support towards day care expenses.


It is recognised that to reach their full potential in research, women and men require different training routes tailored to strengths, weaknesses and personalities. The University offers a range of courses tailored to enhancing personal, professional and career development. A number of upcoming courses have been specifically designed to empower female academics in their personal development journey. The University also collaborates with external groups to offer prestigious tailored leadership training programmes targeted to empowering female researchers and creating the research leaders of the future. However, it is not just the Academic staff that training is offered to, Support and professional staff, staff sitting on influential committees and promotion and recruitment panel members will also receive training in Equality and Diversity and Unconscious Bias training to ensure fair and transparent processes.

The University also ensures that there is equal representation of men and women as the faces of cutting edge research. The leading Public Engagement with Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen provides training and follow-on opportunities providing researchers with the skills to use their work to shape policies, inform and involve public in the latest research, and provide outstanding role models to inspire the future generation of both male and female researchers. The range of initiatives and policies in place at the University of Aberdeen is continuously evolving, ensuring gender equality is supported, embedded and celebrated in the changing landscape of Academia. For more information please visit www.abdn.ac.uk/athenaswan.

Dr Rhiannon Thompson is an Athena SWAN officer at the University of Aberdeen.

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

is a Guest Author. Our guest authors write articles for us on a wide range of topics and come from a diverse variety of backgrounds. If you would like to write for us then head over to our Get Involved section to find out more or get in touch via email.

Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑