Gender equality: progress has slowed for women academics

22nd February 2021

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Jennifer Charlson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, calls attention to how the Covid-19 pandemic has uniquely affected women, and specifically women academics. On a hopeful note, she shares her efforts as an Athena Swan Lead to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research

Today on International Women’s Day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But this is more than a celebration, it’s also a reminder that our work is not done. The 2021 campaign theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ reminds us that we must continue to act to accelerate women’s equality.

The past year has been particularly challenging, and women’s progress on equality has taken a hit. It started with the World Health Organization, on 11 March 2020, announcing its assessment that Covid-19 could be characterised as a pandemic. As Covid-19 restrictions were introduced, their gendered effects began to gain attention.

Increased violence against women by their partners has been reported. And internationally, with the closure of nurseries, schools and workplaces, data suggests that women have borne more of the impact of additional childcare and home schooling than men. Furthermore, research shows that this pandemic-era has significantly adversely affected female academics’ publishing.

What’s being done to advance gender equality in academia?

I have recently taken on the Athena Swan lead for the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Wolverhampton. The global Athena Swan Charter framework is used to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research.

Established in 2005, the Charter initially encouraged and recognised commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment. The Charter now addresses gender equality more broadly.

The Athena Swan Charter, which helps institutions achieve their gender equality objectives, is based on 10 key principles. Athena Swan accredited institutions commit to incorporating these principles within their policies, practice, action plans and culture.

These two principles are specifically relevant to publication of research:

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all
  2. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career

As we know, academic publishing is essential to career advancement. It is therefore heartening that organisations that support academics are prioritising early career researchers. Most recently, the International Council for Research and Innovation Building and Construction (CIB) has launched an early career researcher network, while Emerald Publishing is to create a support network for early career researchers.

I look forward to reviewing progress on next year’s International Women’s Day.

Stepping up to help level up: As a publisher, we’ve seen a 35% decline in research from female researchers in early-stage roles during the pandemic and we hope, those that can, will offer support. So, we’re stepping up to help level up... Find out more about International Women's Day