Tackling Gender Inequality in the History Department

Before Christmas, the History Department here at the University of Essex submitted an application for a Bronze Award from the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN programme. We’ll find out at the end of April if we are successful, but I thought I’d provide some thoughts as to why we applied and give some background to the award we are applying for.

Athena SWAN began a programme to increase women’s participation in the STEMM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine. These subjects were traditionally male dominated at every level, but research showed that women were less likely than men to reach to the level of academic members of staff and even less likely to get to the top of their profession and become a Professor. The Athena SWAN programme was designed to help those subjects overcome such gender inequality. Since its launch in 2005, academic Departments in STEMM subjects have been able to apply for an award that proves their commitment to ensuring women have an equal chance of succeeding as men. Athena SWAN is not concerned with favouring women over men, but rather understanding the cultural and workplace factors that have traditionally benefited men and discriminated against women. You can read more about the principles behind Athena Swan here. Since 2013, Athena SWAN has been expanded to cover the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law (AHSSBL) disciplines, and in 2014 the University of Essex was one of only five Universities to receive an award for work expanding the aims of Athena SWAN into all subject areas. Two staff members from the History Department were involved in the Self-Assessment Process.

At first glance, the History Department might not seem to have the same issues as STEMM areas. After all, there are many more women working in history than in the sciences. In fact, History here at Essex has had three female Heads of Department since 1993 – very few Departments across the country could equal that figure. There are also a lot more female history students than in many of the STEMM subjects. Yet many workplace cultures have the same problems: structures that seem to benefit those with characteristics usually associated with men (such as ‘self-assertiveness’ and ‘confidence’).

So for gender equality to come in the workplace we need a system which encourages and rewards all the activities of all staff and which seeks to both eliminate the barriers to women’s careers and provides a supportive atmosphere that allows people to flourish. This is where Athena SWAN comes in. Since 2014, the University of Essex has worked hard as part of its Institutional Bronze Award to change the structures and practices that entrench gender bias. For example, an analysis of the pay of Professorial staff led the University to announce in 2015-16 that it would remove the gender pay gap at Professorial level by raising female professors’ pay rise – the first University to do this.  These actions can be attributed directly to the University’s desire to tackle inequality on campus and outside it: and it is these values that underpin the University’s support for Departments applying for Athena SWAN recognition.

So when the History Department thought about Athena SWAN we were aware that traditional working cultures have been inherently discriminatory against women. We also knew that of the senior Professors in the Department, nearly all of them are men. But we wanted to find out if there any barriers to women succeeding in our Department, and to tear them down if there were. Quite simply, we must be able to honestly state that men and women have genuinely equal chances of promotion, and that the excellent staff in the Department are properly rewarded for the work they did.

We also wanted to be absolutely confident that we were providing our students with a learning environment that was supportive of everyone. So the process of applying for our award involved us investigating if there were any barriers to the success of our students. This started with the realisation that of the students studying History at Essex, rather fewer of them were women than might be expected by looking at both the subject nationally and at other Departments in the University. Across the country, around 55% of History students are women. At Essex, that figure is around 45%. Not a vast difference perhaps, but one that made us think: was there more we could do to ensure women wanted to apply to study here?

So, we seemed to be confronted by some key facts, or rather one basic fact – we didn’t have as many women as men either teaching modules or taking them. So we thought we should try to understand why this was the case and to think about ways of dealing with it. For the historians here at Essex, it was an affront to our core values that inequality might exist in a Department that prides itself in researching the history of ‘ordinary’ people and their struggles in the world. In a future post, I’ll describe how we did this, but I’ll finish here at the point when we had taken the first and most important step: understanding that there was a problem and taking the responsibility both for the fact that the problem existed and for dealing with it – because nothing changes unless people are prepared to work together in order to bring that change about. As of March 2017, no History Department in England holds an Athena SWAN award. We hope that changes very soon.

Matthew Grant, convener of the History Department Athena SWAN self-assessment team.

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Is University for Me?

Growin Up. A very lovely song by Bruce Springsteen, but also the thought we all have as first years once we arrive at University and realize that maybe this part of life may not be for us. It’s scary, isn’t it? Regretting your choice of course or picking that one optional with statistics thinking you can figure out what that’s all about.
How did we get here anyway? Oh. Yeah. We wanted to be here. Remember that on-going conversation with your parents and your teachers in your last year of high school.

  • What do you want to study at university?
  • History, I think. But I’m also torn between Modern History or just the usual degree. Or maybe adding Politics or International Relations in the mix and doing a joint degree? I just don’t know yet which of these, if any, are worth over 9,000 pounds a year.
  • And which universities have you looked at so far?
  • A lot really. But Essex is my top choice. It just has everything I need as far as I can tell. Once I will go to an Open Day I will be able to make a final decision. Although it’s got my full attention so far, you never know what else I can find out then.

A conversation all of us have at some point right? But how do we make sure it will lead us where we want to be at the end of 3 or 4 years of higher education?

  • Be at least 90% sure that university is for you!

If you start the application process, there is no going back really. But be certain when you start applying that university is for you! When you’re picking your course, when you’re writing down your 5 universities, when you’re applying for accommodation. And talk to people, to everyone really, your teachers, your parents, your siblings, current students, alumni, anyone you can think of. Ask them questions. Once you arrive here you can really start trusting the phrase “No questions is too stupid” The more you talk the more confident you’ll be about your choice of course and everything that comes along with it. Try to calm your anxiety the best you can and most importantly make sure that the final choice is your own!

  • Think of the course not the university!

Top universities are nice, sure, okay. But you’d be surprised at how many of them are rubbish at teaching certain subjects. Look into how good they are at your course not at how high they stand on the annual review. After all, you’ll be studying your subject not just walking about the university all day every day. I knew that Essex is one of few universities in the country who takes a unique approach to History and offers so many joint degrees with it, best known for their excellence in independent research projects. Don’t forget to also look up where they stand on the student satisfaction survey. Essex prides itself in this department, with 90% of students saying they are satisfied with their course – well above the national average of 86%.

  • A researcher or a lecturer?

Personally, this was the toughest. Most universities focus only on one between the two: research or teaching. Research universities tend to be better perceived because of the prestige that comes along with that title. They involve themselves in projects, activities, international conferences, and by association their students as well. But this way you will spend less time in lectures, seminars, classes and maybe that’s your best way of learning new information. If you don’t find yourself attracted by group projects, internships or different employment schemes opt for a teaching university. All in all, both types are hard to make a schedule around, but as long as you enjoy it, you’ll be graduating in no time!

  • Make sure that those 5 universities fit you!

I knew from the moment I started reading the prospectus that University of Essex was for me. The message they sent out to applicants: “rebels with a cause”, “challenge the status quo” and the international community they grow each year is what motivated me to have the best personal statement and best academic results possible. Although 50 years may not seem like much, it was enough for this university to make a name for itself which I am sure students, alumni and anyone who has ever had the opportunity to get to know this campus and our family along with it, will never forget. If you choose University of Essex you will be far from disappointed in your degree and experience here.

 

Why you should be a Frontrunner

While the Frontrunners initiative is a highly successful and beneficial programme that has been in place at the University of Essex for a number of years, few humanities students are reaping the benefits.  I’m going to tell you why you should consider going after a position.

  • Experience

The amount of training that is available to Frontrunners is  highly beneficial to anyone wanting to add a little more depth to their CV. The role you choose varies which training you get, however every Frontrunner attends workshops to improve their skills. These include social media workshops. Being proficient in social networking is becoming increasingly important for finding information/ advertisement/ and spreading messages and is an added bonus to any potential employer. Training also involves building on your communication skills and your confidence in a work environment, including how to showcase your values in interviews and job applications. Had it not been for my Frontrunners role, I would never have gained this experience.

  •  Getting involved with your University Community

A departmental Frontrunners position is a sure way to integrate yourself into your university. With this comes a better knowledge of all of the opportunities available to you to make the most of your time at university, and a greater sense of belonging in the University community. Furthermore, the staff become much more familiar and after realise they are actually very approachable people, talking to them will feel much less daunting. S1030007

  • Improving Yourself

Along with the skills you gain in this position through training are others you gain through practice. If you don’t feel too confident with public speaking, or wish you could manage your time a little better, this is the position for you. I myself have gained huge amounts of confidence with communication and public speaking through working on University open days where I speak to potential students and their families. This has given me skills that I can carry forward into any job role, (and life in general) and is my most valued achievement from my Frontrunners position.

  • Convenience

Every Frontrunners position is run by the University. That means the people who are in charge of what you do realise that your education is your first priority, and no job can get in the way of that. As a result, despite the position only being for a manageable 8 hours a week, should you need any time to study or if your deadlines are mounting up, a quick talk with your overseer will sort out your workload and allow you to work on your degree to the best of your ability. Furthermore you are not limited to a role in your department. Want to gain experience in advertising, organisation or communication outside your department? No problem. There are many different positions that you can apply for.

Frontrunners positions are a great opportunity for improving yourself and enjoying the experience in the meantime. My Frontrunners role has really made my year stand out, as well as being an addition to my work experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and believe that it is the best decision I have made involving my time at the University of Essex.

For more information about the Frontrunners positions available to you, visit the Frontrunners page on the University of Essex website.

Good Luck to all of you that apply for a position!

Hugo has landed

Hugo, the History Department’s new Mascot to promote Green Impact has arrived. He’s chilling above every light switch to remind you that every time you leave a room without turning the light off a polar bear dies…. just joking…. BUT Polar Bears International says that Scientists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century. So don’t forget to do the little things like turn the light off when you leave the room, recycle and turn the radiator off when you open a window.

HugoPolar Bears

Love Rosie x

A Guide to Societies

At Essex there are societies for almost anything you can imagine with more being created every year. From the Cheese and Wine society (I recommend it), to the Harry Potter society. There are also societies for most, if not all, departments (so of course there’s a history society, and yes, it’s amazing).

The first event that I went with a friend to- because I was a little scared of turning up on my own- was in the Top Bar. After spotting a few familiar faces across the room my friend walks over and asks if this is the history society social, and it turns out there was nothing to worry about! Instantly the history society members shuffle up and make room for us, make introductions and ask us about our courses. They were all warm and welcoming, and a good laugh as well. By the end of the night there I was agreeing to walking around Wivenhoe in fancy dress for a 1920’s themed pub crawl!  But it wasn’t just the friendliness and fun of the night that surprised me, it was also how much I could learn from these people. Throughout the night people talked about their subjects, their dissertations, and what they’re doing with their time at Uni, and I realised I was picking up a lot of useful information as well as enjoying great conversation with interesting people. And it turns out not all of the socials include pubs… We were also invited to the upcoming trip to the National Archives and the society, plus they do workshops for students to give them guidance on their modules. So there is much more to be gained from joining a society than the socials- although they’re definitely a factor!

There’s so much you can gain from joining a society, and there are plenty to choose from.

Have a look for yourself on the University of Essex Student Union page  where you can also join the different societies.

 

Welcome to the Blog

To any and all history students or enthusiasts, this blog is for you!

It will give you all sorts of helpful tips, new information and important events that will help you keep up to date on what’s going on in and around the Essex campus, and how the History Department works.

There will be posts at least every couple of weeks so make sure you check out the page every few weeks to see what’s happening.