How are we progressing gender equality?

From challenging preconceptions of Muslim women to breaking down barriers and stereotypes in mathematics, our staff are helping to build an equal world and progressing gender equality.

Here they share their stories in celebration of International Women’s Day 2020 and the campaign theme #EachForEqual.

Ensuring equal opportunities for all staff to flourish regardless of age, gender or family circumstance

Professor Katherine Linehan, Faculty Director for Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Professor of Anatomical Education

Katherine Linehan

As Chair of the University's Gender Equality Committee I take every opportunity I can to advocate for other women, particularly those early in their careers, those who work part time and those who are carers.

This has included encouraging a number of women, who were reticent to apply, to successfully gain promotion, working with Human Resources to ensure the new Academic Career Pathway had a mechanism to make it equitable for those who work part time and ensuring Faculty Directors for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across the institution were part of the recent University flagship recruitment panels.

Locally in the Faculty of Science, this work has involved the adoption of a faculty-wide policy that all leadership roles in departments are recruited to by a transparent call for interest and interview process ensuring that opportunities for career advancement are available to all staff. In addition, to engender an inclusive culture in the faculty for new parents we have recently created a purpose built parent room that offers women a private space to express and store milk or breastfeed their child close to where they work.


Sharing experiences and talking about our truth

Professor Amaka Offiah, Chair in Paediatric Musculoskeletal Imaging and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Radiologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Chair of the BAME Staff Network

I am progressing gender equality in my role by being an example to those I mentor and supervise as a part of my job. This includes medical, radiology and PhD students.

I am open about telling my truth and sharing my experiences. I have mentored women in my field and other areas of academia who have had questions about work-life balance during studying and working, from having children and doing exams, to being in new relationships or being married. Because I have done all of these things myself, I am able to talk first-hand about them and I believe that my honesty and openness are appreciated. Sharing our experiences and talking about our truth is how we progress gender equality for all.

Breaking down barriers

Professor Sarah Whitehouse, Deputy Head of School of Mathematics and Statistics

As a pure mathematician, working in an area called algebraic topology, women are under-represented in my subject area and I am keen to break down barriers and promote gender equality in my field.

I am part of the Women in Topology network which aims to address the gender balance in this area and one of the main activities of the network is to host a series of workshops to support and expand research efforts by female mathematicians in the field of algebraic topology. I was one of the organisers of the most recent workshop which brought together more than 50 senior and junior female mathematicians together at the Hausdorff Institute for Mathematics in Bonn in August 2019.

The main Women in Topology workshops have an interesting model, bringing together senior and junior researchers including advanced graduate students to cooperate on research projects on topics of common interest. Each team produces a paper as output from the workshop. This model has been taken up more widely as a productive and enjoyable alternative to standard conferences.

Professor Sarah Whitehouse

Catherine volunteering at a Parkrun

Parkrun and me

Catherine McKeown, Head of Financial Support, Student Support and Guidance

Parkrun is a free timed 5k run, jog or walk in public parks across the globe every Saturday morning at 9am. As mother to four boys and working full time, Parkrun is my time to recharge. Not only am I fitter and stronger, I have more energy and feel better at dealing with whatever life throws at me.

It is such a supportive community with all kinds of people turning up to run or volunteer or both. Although 54 per cent of registered parkrunners are women they are in a minority when it actually comes to taking part.

Parkrun can only happen due to the amazing volunteers who ensure a safe event. I alternate running and volunteering in various roles including run director and I hope to encourage more women to get involved. You know that good feeling you get when someone says 'thank you', volunteering at Parkrun gives me that buzz every Saturday morning come rain or shine.

Each for equal means not imposing boundaries or barriers

Dr Rachael Rothman, Associate Director, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures

When I was younger (this applies until at least age 20) I had no idea what I wanted to be when I 'grew up'. I liked maths, science and working out how things work, and I loved being outdoors. As far as I was concerned, I could be and do anything I chose when I grew up. Looking back I realise how lucky I was – no one was imposing any barriers on me and I wasn’t putting any up myself. Nothing was gendered – I didn’t feel like girls shouldn’t climb trees or like physics and my parents helped that by treating me and my two brothers equally.

I never felt like I was breaking any barriers; I’m a very competitive person and I’ve always just wanted to push my own boundaries and strive to be as good as I could be, whether in sport or academic life. I went from a state school in north east England to study chemical engineering at Cambridge. To me it seemed like the natural step and it was only after that I realised other people felt like I had overcome a barrier. In my first year of chemical engineering, two weeks before my exams, my director of studies told me I would not pass if I didn’t stop running (at the time I was in the British Orienteering team and training often twice a day). I was incensed. How could he be so short sighted? Needless to say I kept running every day and I achieved first class marks. His negativity drove me to achieve better things. At the time I saw it as proving him wrong rather than breaking boundaries, but it was probably actually the first instance I truly felt someone else imposing a barrier on me. Since then there have been many other instances.

At a big international conference as a post doc I was in a meeting with 15 men and one other woman. They were selecting the committee and the new chair pointed straight at me and said “What about you? You look like you’d be a good secretary”. I was so astounded I was speechless. The really disappointing part is that no one else in the room said anything either. The irony was that had he not said anything I would have volunteered, but after that there was no way I was taking the role. This kind of mindless bias should not go unchallenged. If not challenged things will never change.

Dr Rachael Rothman

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would now be an academic researching sustainability and leading the University sustainability activities, I would have a lovely family with two young sons, I would have a sporting career behind me and I would have just returned from a year in America and sabbatical at MIT, I would never have predicted it. But I would have thought 'yeah that sounds pretty fun'.

Each for equal means not imposing boundaries or barriers on other people, and not allowing other people to impose boundaries or barriers on you. Take the opportunities that are presented to you, have courage in your conviction, strive to be the best you can and don’t be afraid to call out bias of any kind. By working together we can make the world a more equal place.

The future is bright for women in tech

Bella Abrams, Director of Information Technology

According to figures from recruiters Harvey Nash, women make up 12 percent of senior IT directors or chief information officers and in HE the figure is closer to 4 percent.

I've now been at the University for a year as the Director of Information Technology and I’ve decided to use my position to encourage other women of varying backgrounds and ages to choose careers in IT.

Previously, I have developed boot camp style apprenticeship programmes with Sheffield College that encourage women to develop IT skills at any stage of their career. At the University I have mentored sixth form students from Longley Park College in Sheffield and set up an internship programme for mainly female students from a deprived area of the city to have experience working in a large IT team and I am a founder member of Sheffield Women in IT, encouraging women at all stages of their careers to progress and have confidence in themselves.

Bella Abrams

Challenging preconceptions of Muslim women

Dr Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, Reader in International History & Departmental Director of Research and Innovation

S. Lambert-Hurley

Gender equality is making the histories of Muslim women known so that they may challenge preconceptions in the present and open possibilities for the future.

To evoke the Muslim woman in the contemporary political climate is to conjure images of black veils and shrouded faces. The hijab becomes a symbol of clipped horizons and curtailed movement. And yet many Muslim women throughout history have countered these omnipresent images in a multitude of ways.

My contribution to progressing gender equality is to tell these women’s histories including to analyse travel narratives by Muslim women from Indonesia to Morocco who criss-crossed the globe from the 16th century to the jet age.

I'm working on a new gender-focused GCRF project on 'female literacy and empowerment in Pakistan and India through life writing'. As part of that, we are using the histories of inspirational Muslim women from the past to create children's books and literacy resources for girls' schools and women's organisations in Pakistan and India.

Masculinity, women and football

David Wood, Professor of Latin American Studies & Director of Postgraduate Studies, School of Languages and Cultures

David Wood

Gender equality means it being as easy for women and girls to play football as it is for men and boys - and that the ways in which they are represented and discussed are also equal.

I’m currently the principal investigator on an international research network called A Level Playing Field. This explores the practice and representation of women’s football in South America, working with academic colleagues, players and NGOs in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

We seek to highlight the obstacles to gender equality in football in South America and share ways in which these have been challenged and overcome.

My latest publication examines women’s football in Argentina and Brazil and the impact that notions of masculinity have on the sport.

Striving for reproductive health for all

Dr Julie Balen, Lecturer in Public Health, School of Health and Related Research

Julie Balen

To me, part of gender equality means reproductive health for all, whereby women and men around the world are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life, with the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

Sadly though, this is not the case for far too many, and women are usually left carrying the burden of poor reproductive health.

In my research, together with my colleagues and students, I develop contextually-relevant knowledge and action on neglected reproductive health issues such as menstrual hygiene, adolescent parenting, premature birth, and infertility (among other issues). Our work focuses on vulnerable women, men, families and communities in resource-limited settings across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We try to understand socio-cultural, and health policy and systems factors related to poor reproductive health outcomes, and test locally-adapted means of addressing the emerging issues.

Working closely with our international partners, we research these issues from a local level, through to national policies and programmes, and international treaties and discourses, with the ultimate goal of improving access to healthcare services, and reducing health and gender inequalities in the communities within which we work. A few examples of our publications can be found here, here and here.

Gender-based violence and inequalities

Dr Parveen Ali, Senior Lecturer & Programme Lead for MMedSci Advanced Nursing Studies

Dr Parveen Ali

Progressing towards a gender-balanced world is something that underpins all my research and teaching.

My work focusses on gender-based violence and inequalities in health related to gender and ethnicity with an emphasis on gender and the issues that women face generally. I also consider the specific issues women from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds face.

My work involves working with victims of gender-based violence and domestic abuse and how health and social care professionals can support those experiencing abuse in their relationships. As a nurse, I also work to develop the capacity of nurses to become better clinicians, practitioners and researchers. I think it is very important; as a majority female profession, nursing does not always get the recognition it deserves.

I developed an interactive board game to help health and social care professionals recognise and respond to domestic abuse. It’s now being used by police and other professionals as well.

I also recently developed a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) titled ‘Supporting victims of domestic abuse’ on FutureLearn which aims to help those in professional support roles identify the signs of domestic abuse and guide those at risk through the network of help that is available. The course was only introduced in November 2019 and was recently identified among one of the best courses of 2019. The course starts again on Monday 9 March 2020.

My book 'Domestic Violence in Health Contexts: A Guide for Healthcare Professions' is also published this year. This book is a key point of reference for professionals working within a broad range of health care environments.

In my family life, I ensure that my children learn the importance of gender equality and can achieve their full potential regardless of gender.

It starts with recruitment
Angela, Security Services

Lucy Brooke, Security

In Security Services we were significantly underrepresented by females and had justified cause for a genuine operational requirement to bring more females into the service. We created a campaign to attract female applicants by changing the name of the role, the format, imagery, and wording of our job descriptions and adverts, and completely rethought our advertising process.

As an equal opportunities employer, we wanted our employees to reflect the rich diversity of our staff and student community, and as such we found ourselves with a much broader applicant pool, with applicants best fitting the job description, which enabled us to employ high quality staff.

Having successfully run the campaign now on several occasions, we have addressed good gender balance by increasing our female staff by 120 percent.

In 2019 we took the decision to introduce a number of part-time roles, which gave staff within our team the flexibility that part-time work affords.