Equality drive reaps rewards

March 19, 2004

Loughborough University won a Royal Society award this week for bringing its equal-opportunities policies out of the "dark ages".

The university was one of three institutions to win a Royal Society Athena award for its work in supporting the career progression of women in science, engineering and technology.

The award recognises ten years of equality work undertaken at Loughborough.

In 1991, only 0.03 per cent of science staff and 3 per cent of engineering staff at the university were female.

Last year, women made up 8 per cent of professorships and 22 per cent of lectureships in science, engineering and technology.

Carys Siemieniuch, a senior lecturer in the systems engineering department at the university who has done a lot of work on women's issues, said: "We came from a very, very bad place in the early 1990s, when we were living in the dark ages.

"Part of the problem was that women weren't coming into science and engineering. But there was also an old boys' network."

The university has implemented a number of changes designed to make its culture more female friendly. Initiatives include allowing women to take career breaks and helping them to update their skills while they are away from full-time work.

Loughborough has also appointed equal-opportunities officers within faculties. It has reviewed its human resources strategy, setting specific targets for recruiting women to science, engineering and technology.

Professor Siemieniuch said: "I get very cross when people pontificate and whinge about the problems faced by women in science. What is really needed are valid, workable solutions.

"I'm pleased that Loughborough has made a real difference at grassroots level."

At the awards ceremony this Thursday, Oxford Brookes University was given an award for the best use of information technology in advancing women in science.

A further prize went to London Metropolitan University for its scientific women's academic network and the development of a national charter for women in science.

Peter Williams, chair of the Athena panel that chose the winners, said:

"Institutions up and down the country are now showing their commitment to encouraging, nurturing and supporting women in order to see them better represented in the fields of science, engineering and technology."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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