We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all. The University is committed to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this, we recognise disciplinary differences but are working towards advancing gender equality by creating a better work environment for staff progression and success for all. While recognising that there is still much work to do in this area, the University’s Athena SWAN Self-Assessment team (USAT), led by Professor and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences David Galbreath, are celebrating Bath’s progress over the last 10 years with ten stories highlighting key achievements since 2009, when the University committed to the Charter.

What the data shows

Research by Times Higher Education (THE) has revealed that the proportion of professorships held by women has recently declined in universities across the UK. Although the total number of women with the title of professor grew by almost a quarter between 2012/13 and 2016/17 to 4,775 (the national average now stands at 24%), 37% of institutions with a statistically significant number of professors saw a drop in the proportion who were women.

One of the most striking changes since 2009 has been the increased proportion of female professors at University of Bath. 20% of our professors (42 female, 165 male) in 2018 are women, compared to just 8% (9 female, 103 male) in 2009. This surpasses the "20% by 2020" goal the University committed to in its Athena SWAN Bronze award in 2017. There are many factors contributing to this change which has come about from both internal promotions and external recruitment.

Richard Brooks, Director of HR, said:

The changes we have made to how we advertise, the composition of selection panels and, in particular supporting people through our promotion processes have made a positive difference in bringing forward new talent into the Professoriate.

Professor Karen Edler, Department of Chemistry

Among an enlarged network of female professors at Bath, we have seen a diverse range of routes women have embarked upon on their journey to professoriate level.

Internal promotions featured Karen Edler, Professor in Chemistry, who moved to Bath from the USA in 1999 as a postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA). Discussing her academic career path, Karen acknowledged that her PDRA supervisor was extremely supportive and encouraged her to apply for a Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship. The award of the fellowship enabled Karen to build her independent research and develop networks which has led to her having a national and international research profile.

In 2014, she became the first female professor to be appointed within the Department of Chemistry, which has gone from zero to five women professors. Karen mentioned the support and encouragement from the Head of Department was key to her promotion and added: "Take opportunities even if you don’t feel like you’re ready yet. Especially if people around you keep telling you that you are ready!"

Professor Nancy Harding, School of Management

The University has also attracted high calibre external appointments, including the arrival of Nancy Harding, Professor and Head of the Management, Strategy and Organisation division in the School of Management.

Nancy joined University in October 2017 and has followed a non-traditional path in her academic career. She left school at the age of 16 and had two children (at the age of 18 and 19). She decided to study at University when she turned 27. After graduating, Nancy started her PhD, which she completed at the age of 34.

Nancy mentions the importance of the role models and finding "your tribe" – early on she established a network of women around her that would support, mentor and help push each other when needed. She said: "After all these years, we still meet every 6 months and plan what we are doing next with our careers, we keep each other accountable, but also tell when it’s time to slow things down'.

Nancy was promoted to a Professor role at the University of Bradford in 2010. She said: "I think my support network was crucial to my success. Also, it was key to not take no for an answer".

Now, Nancy is based within School of Management and she commented on the culture in the School: "Environment here is so supportive. It’s very rare to see a Dean so involved and passionate about its staff and students. I'm pleased that Bath offered me a post when I made no secret of being, at the time, 64!"

Next steps

Data shows that the rate at which women are getting promoted has significantly advanced, driving this increased representation of women amongst the professoriate (9 female and 103 male professors in 2009 compared to 42 female and 165 male in 2018). Some Departments, such as Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering, now have two female professors each, compared to zero in 2014.

There is still work to be done in addressing gender imbalance at senior levels in the University but the increased visibility of women in the professoriate and the potential impact of these role models will continue to support more women to put themselves forward for promotion.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager Georgina Brown added:

Athena SWAN aims to drive forward the cultural and systemic changes needed if the University is to remain competitive and attractive to talented staff and potential students in a global market. These outcome-focused programmes are catalysts for change – encouraging the University to transform its culture in order to make a real impact on the lives of our staff and students.