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|Name:||Dr Lynn Farrell|
Dr Lynn Farrell at QUB discusses how to increase support for Gender Equality Initiatives (GEIs).
Dr Lynn Farrell discusses the EPSRC Inclusion Really Does Matter project. The research is one of 11 Inclusion Matters projects funded by EPSRC that aim to incentivise behavioural and long-term culture change on topics from disability inclusivity to more inclusive STEM communities for LGBT+ people in both academia and industry.
GEIs, such as Athena SWAN, have been adopted across UK academic institutions to address gender inequality in STEM. But how often have you heard GEIs referred to as box-ticking exercises, or for women only? Perhaps you’ve had these thoughts yourself?
Research suggests these are common perceptions of GEIs, with men particularly less supportive of diversity initiatives. It is important to address these negative attitudes as they can adversely impact GEI effectiveness. GEIs need widespread buy-in for effective culture change that supports gender equality work.
So, what can we do to reduce negative GEI attitudes? Our recent paper published in BioScience from the EPSRC funded Inclusion Matters project at Queen’s University Belfast (in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and the University of Warwick) suggests that how we frame or describe GEIs is important.
Across two studies, we asked STEM academics to read an email describing a fictitious GEI about to be rolled out at a University.
In Study 1, the GEI was described as either providing opportunities for both women and men, or women only (Focus), and either led by a man or a woman (Leadership).
Study 2 framed the GEI as having senior management support or not (Management Support), and being either motivated internally (e.g., emphasising value of diversity) or externally (e.g., compulsory; Motivation).
Our findings suggested men were more supportive of GEIs framed as benefitting both men and women due to fewer concerns of unfair treatment and more internal motivations to engage with these initiatives.
When the initiative was led by a woman, both men and women had less concerns of anti-women discrimination. Internal motivation was particularly effective at increasing positivity towards and support for GEIs among both women and men.
The impact of Management Support, however, was influenced by academics’ previous experience with GEIs – those with little/no experience showed more support for GEIs with senior management support, while this support did not significantly influence participants with more GEI experience.
The positive message is that GEI attitudes can be influenced by how initiatives are framed. Key practical suggestions from our results are:
Our next steps involve developing and evaluating a resource toolkit informed by our empirical findings to improve GEI attitudes. These resources will be made available to academic institutions to help inform the design and implementation of GEIs in STEM.
Our research highlights the importance of how GEIs are framed to generate support among STEM academics. Greater support should engender greater buy-in which is necessary for crucial systemic and cultural change in institutions.
Thanks to our project representatives from our three partner institutions for their invaluable help with participant recruitment: Dr Miryam Arredondo-Arechavala, Prof Gavin Brown, Dr Susan Burrows, Dr Sarah Croke, Dr Ann Dixon, Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay, Dr Charles McCartan, Dr Helen Mulvana, Dr Sree Nanukuttan, Prof Vivek Ranade, Dr Sandra Scott-Hayward, and Prof Su Taylor.