Addressing gender imbalance within higher education

Image of Athena Lecturers with Professor Robin Leatherbarrow

For the fourth lecture in LJMU's Athena Lecture Series, three speakers from STEMM and non STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths, medicine) backgrounds presented to a packed lecture theatre comprising academics, students, professionals and Year 9 pupils from four local schools.

Image of Professor Serrant presenting lectureProfessor Laura Serrant, Professor of Nursing in the Faculty of Education Health and Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University, presented the first talk entitled Lifting as you climb: Enabling others and celebrating self. Recounting the challenges she has faced being not only a woman, but a black woman, Professor Serrant outlined her research around race, ethnicity and health. She explored the challenges and opportunities she and other minority groups face at individual and professional levels in the UK. She stressed that as leaders it’s important that we not only celebrate our own achievements but enable others to meet theirs. She introduced the audience to the 'giants' that influenced her to become the healthcare practitioner she wanted to be, making special reference to her parents who, while growing up in the Dominica Island instilled in her to 'be the best that you can be'. Commenting after the lecture, Professor Serrant said:

"In the 21st century it is important that we nurture, value and promote our diverse society. The Athena Swan and Race Equality Charter provide an ideal framework for us to do this in higher education. I was proud to be given the opportunity to join female leaders from other disciplines in sharing my personal and professional experiences of attempting to 'lift as I climb' with school children, fellow academics and the public. These lectures are an important platform for spreading the message of leadership and diversity beyond the academy. Well done to LJMU for this wonderful initiative."

Image of Dr Parmar presenting lectureThe second speaker, Dr Sandeep Parmar is Co-Director of the Centre for New and International Writing and Academic Organiser at the University of Liverpool. A poet, and a researcher in Modernist Literature, Dr Parmar spoke about Misrepresenting ourselves: UK poetry, race and gender.

She expressed the need for new and radical ways of thinking, and writing on, race inequalities. Using her own experiences as a lecturer in the humanities, as well as drawing on broader critical insights, she put forward a compelling argument for misrepresentation of the self as an act of resistance, and the need for a creative alternative space in order for things to move forward. Dr Parmar added that a UK poet of colour has two choices: to rationalise oneself or to write to one’s ethnic community. "The Athena Swan initiative is hugely important for redressing several imbalances in higher education,” she explained. "Rather than celebrating isolated cases of individual achievement, the lecture series gives speakers opportunities to initiate thought-provoking discussion that, one hopes, will lead to real structural change."

Image of Dr De Groote presenting lectureThe final speaker was Dr Isabelle De Groote, a palaeoanthropologist and lecturer at LJMU. Her talk, There and back again: An anthropologist's journey, took the took the audience on an interactive journey, starting with her childhood in Belgium and how her love of anthropology developed. Dr De Groote explained how she was inspired by amazing female role models, and now as a lecturer and researcher, she is an important role model for her students and a role model of the future.

"I didn't really feel there was an issue of inequality until I started working and realised women were less frequently promoted, were more likely to take lower paid and less secure jobs," said Dr De Groote. "Considering female undergraduate students make up more than 50% of their cohort, is the message we are sending to young women that you can study but don't belong in leadership? Perhaps we need to change our expectations of equality, and value the qualities women bring to the table."

The lecture was hosted by Professor Robin Leatherbarrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Scholarship, Research & Knowledge Transfer) who stated that LJMU is committed to ensuring that all students and staff have equality of opportunity - an objective that is at the core of LJMU’s operations as an inclusive modern civic university.

In addition to the Athena Bronze Award and other initiatives on gender diversity, the University is working towards securing Race Charter recognition. Professor Leatherbarrow expressed special thanks to pupils from Woodchurch, Kirby, Wirral and St Cuthbert’s High Schools for attending the lecture.

In 2014, the University applied for the Athena Swan Bronze Award to serve as a catalyst for addressing the issue of gender imbalance within our academic cohort. The University Athena Swan Working Group, chaired by Professor Leatherbarrow initiated this lecture series as part of their activities to facilitate a better understanding of the issues.
Image of audience listening to lecture

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