Azara Blog: A new charter for techie women in UK universities

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Date published: 2005/06/23

The BBC says:

A charter for women in science, engineering and technology has been launched to help tackle gender inequalities in UK universities.

The six-point charter, launched by the Athena Project and the Scientific Women's Academic Network (Swan), aims to stem the loss of women scientists.

All universities that sign up must commit to six principles to bring about cultural change within academia.

There will also be awards to recognise institutions that make changes.

"Becoming a charter member will help universities to make practical, positive changes," said Dr Louise Archer, charter co-manager and Swan founder.

"The awards will also recognise, celebrate and publicise the good practice that already exists."

A University of East Anglia study earlier this year showed that men still occupy the majority of key positions in UK academic science.

Many women scientists feel undervalued by colleagues and unsupported in career progress.

Well, gee whiz, many men scientists also feel undervalued by colleagues and unsupported in career progress. In fact Cambridge University, which supposedly has signed up to this charter, already treats all of its (large number of) non-permanent staff in the same, disposable way, independent of gender. (Indeed, the university is being forced by the EU to behave better.)

The six "principles" of the charter:

  1. To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation
  2. To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation
  3. The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern, which the organisation will address
  4. The use of short-term contracts has particularly negative consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the university recognises
  5. The transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science can be particularly difficult for women and requires active consideration by the organisation
  6. The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine

Yes the thought police have arrived in British academia, straight from America. This is what points (1), (2), (3) and (6) are all about. Swan are preaching a "cultural revolution", no doubt complete with re-education camps.

Points (4) and (5) are the only serious ones. Why does the use of short-term contracts have particularly negative consequences for women, and why is the transition from PhD into an academic career particularly difficult for women? Well the real agenda of this charter is to allow women to take N years off for breeding and then just hop back into a position as if nothing has meanwhile happened in the world of science. With short-term contracts this is difficult (you have to justify your existence). With a permanent contract you can just do what you want and there is little anybody can do about it. This might be a good idea for careers where nothing changes much from year to year. It is not ok for science. Sure, some women are brilliant enough to take five years off and then come back in top form. Most are not. This charter does nothing for the former (the stars, who get by anyway), or for women who don't want to breed forever and a day. And of course this charter does nothing for men (fathers or not), since politically correct sexism is the order of the day.

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