We were recently asked to design and facilitate a workshop for the University of Warwick as it is trying to find new ways to approach a longstanding and widespread problem in the sector. How can the current gender equality gap amongst academic staff be tackled? The University of Warwick – like most other UK universities – has a major issue with a lack of women in senior academic roles. The Times Higher Education supplement highlighted how extensive a problem this is in a survey a few years ago. Whilst almost half of academics in UK universities are women, this drops to around 1 in 5 at professor grade and is as low as 1 in 10 at some institutions. At the University of Warwick there were just 4 female Heads of Department across 32 departments.

Our client wants to change this and the approach we took was simple – to capture and really understand the problem and then harness the ideas of those who really know what is happening – female academics themselves.

A two day workshop was convened, inviting attendance from female academics at all levels and right across the institution. Over the course of two full days the women worked together to:

• Share stories and experiences.
• Map out the academic’s career journey from undergraduate right through to university Vice Chancellor.
• Examine the barriers that occur at each stage of this journey and how they impact female staff in particular.
• Look at the positives by exploring the enablers that allow some female academics (albeit not enough) to progress.
• Generate ideas about how to tackle gender inequality – overcoming the identified barriers and encouraging more of the enablers.
• Prioritise these ideas, identifying both long term strategic objectives and some immediate ‘quick wins.’

At the end of the workshop the Vice Chancellor of the university attended to hear the outcomes and made a clear commitment to move things forward. The women who had attended the workshop have established a new network that will monitor how the work progresses. Of course, whether or not things really do change at the University of Warwick, only time will tell, but as an external facilitator and observer it is heartening to see an organisation willing to allow staff the time and space to generate solutions in this way.

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