Equality and Diversity

We are proud to be a department where all staff, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, religious belief and disability, work in a supporting environment where they can reach their full potential. The Department holds a Juno Practitioner Award, which recognises its commitment to gender equality.

The Department's Equality and Diversity Group provides the focus for our efforts:

  • within the Department, to ensure that there is a supportive and egalitarian culture at all levels and across all staff groups;
  • to gain Athena SWAN accreditation, to tackle the under-representation of women in science by changing cultures and attitudes;
  • internally and externally, to promulgate good practice and to promote a culture of equality in higher education.

The Department is represented on the Faculty of Science Equality and Diversity Committee
Details of University policies on Family Leave
Details of University policies on Flexible Working
The University Equality and Diversity webpages
The University Promotions webpages

Diversity in the Cultures of Physics – International Summer School

The Department is participating in a three-year project with the University of Manchester and universities in Germany, Sweden and Spain to run three international summer schools aimed primarily at female students who are considering PhD studies. The second summer school in 2018 will involve Sheffield, Manchester and Berlin. Details can be found here


The Equality and Diversity Group is responsible for monitoring progress towards our goals and overseeing the implementation of new policies. We aim to ensure evidence-based good practice in all of the department’s procedures.

Current members of the group:

Ashley Cadby, Jenny Clark, Paul Crowther, Trevor Gamble, Rhoda Hawkins, Richard Jones, Jordan Mcelwee, Nicola McKonkey, Matt Mears, David Mowbray, Richard Parker, Catherine Phillips, Angie Rollinson, Neil Spooner, Clive Tadhunter, David Whittaker. The group includes members from all parts of the department.

Benefits of Good Practice (adapted from RSC):

  1. Good practice benefits all, staff and students. However, bad practice adversely affects careers of those in under-represented groups (e.g. from minority ethnic groups, women, disabled people).
  2. The best departments don’t target measures specifically at the minority groups because improved working conditions benefit all and make for a happy department: Good Practice isn’t about how many under-represented groups are in the department, it’s about processes that are fair, flexible, accessible and transparent to all.
  3. Good Practice departments appear able to attract and retain under-represented groups far better than other departments.
  4. There is no evidence that the introduction of good practices adversely affects the excellence of the science carried out. Good practice equates with good science. In contrast the detrimental effects of bad practice are incremental.
  5. Leadership from the top, with the Head of Department acting as champion, is critical to changing culture, to making the changes stick, and to changing behaviour. Simple changes to processes, which deliver clear benefits to staff, can start to change policy and behaviour, but without a Head of Department prepared to introduce changes and monitor adherence, little will be different in the medium and longer term.
  6. The age profile of the department, and the diversity of its staff, makes a difference. Young men and women with families have different expectations and needs from their older colleagues. Those younger staff members careers (and their science) cannot thrive unless the working culture of the department reflects the reality of dual career partnerships.
  7. Successful action is based on good planning, which takes account of the department’s academic plan and which is based on evidence.
Strategic Aims

Our strategy is informed by our surveys, accurate data/statistics and their analysis and is focused on clear, measurable and ambitious targets.

Our work is underpinned at all levels by the evidence from the social sciences. For instance, our focus on unconscious bias stems from well-established psychology studies. In another example, our focus on unbiasing job adverts and anonymous shortlisting is evidenced by studies in academic behaviour.

2016 Strategic Aims.

We still have much to do to implement good practice into everything we do as a department.

In 2016, we are targeting:


Unbiasing job-adverts. Evidence suggests that specific wording carries a gender bias, and affects the proportion of female and male applicants. We are therefore trialling ‘textio’, a web-based software which uses ‘big data’ to produce more effective and less biased wording for job adverts.
Timeline: review after 6 months (July 2016) and again after 12 months (February 2017).

Anonymous short-listing. In its report, ‘Unconscious Bias and Higher Education’, the Equality Challenge Unit suggests that “wherever possible, HEIs should consider anonymous shortlisting of candidates. All of the CV studies highlight the level of conscious and unconscious bias that can influence shortlisting decisions when irrelevant information is included on application forms.”
Timeline: (1) anonymous shortlisting for selected positions between November 2015- April 2016. (2) If practical, continue trial more widely with a view to departmental-wide anonymous short-listing within 2 years (January 2018).

Unconcious bias training

Open to everyone in the department. We are taking advantage of the course offered by the University but in collaboration with members of the departments of Philosophy, Psychology and the Schools of Management and Mathematics and Statistics, we are developing tools to make unconscious bias training feel more relevant to academics.

Equality and Diversity Seminar Series

In November 2015, we ran the first of our lunchtime equality and diversity seminar series. These will run, roughly 3x per year and are supported by both the department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Mathematics and Statistics.


We have regular social activities:

  • Weekly coffee morning for all staff at which our head of department gives us updates about the department (Thursdays 10am Austin Room).
  • Monthly postdoc society events, see here for more details.
  • Christmas mince pie event.
  • Christmas event organised by postgraduate students (everyone invited).
  • Staff/student pub quizzes.
  • Hicks Spring Ball.

We have started exit interviews to monitor reasons for staff departure and to ensure that we can continuously improve as a department.

We aim to have all meetings and seminars between 9.30am—4pm to accommodate those with caring duties.

We are working to organise undergraduate timetabling far enough in advance that any students with caring responsibilities have time to make arrangements. (Timeline: 2017 start).

We are looking to make the department more of a friendly place to work by having photo competitions, decorating the walls and common room.

Any suggestions for other activities always welcome, email jenny.clark at sheffield.ac.uk.


To ensure that we tackle bullying/harassment openly and transparently, we are: (1) collecting data to pinpoint specific problems and ideas on how to deal with them; (2) implementing local ‘listeners’ to listen to anyone who would like to talk and to signpost those in need to services within the University; (3) streamline the advice offered by the University regarding bullying/harassment policy/procedure.

Timeline: implementation of all points by September 2016.

Widening Participation.

We are continuing to target school students who do not usually study physics at university. Our “Sheffield University Physics: Experience Research” (SUPER) work experience scheme is targeted at students who meet one or more widening participation criteria. This has been incredibly successful since its launch in 2015.

Past Events.

9th September 2016 - Picnic and diversity in physics themed quiz.  Staff brought a cake/treat from their own region to share with colleagues. 

Equality and Diversity Lunch  E&D Lunch - attendees

Case studies

Dr. Mike Weir

Photo of Mike Weir

Mike is the first academic in the Department to take advantage of the UK's new regulations on 'shared parental leave'. He is pictured here with his son Leo making the most of a daddy day in Sheffield's Bole Hill Park. Mike says that "these rules are a step forward in gender equality in the workplace since they acknowledge that parents may wish to share out the early parts of childcare, and help employers realise that it is not only new mothers who will take extended periods of absence. Now our split was very moderate, with me just taking four extra weeks (6 if you include statutory paternity), but as I understand it things could be a lot more equal". For more of Mike’s musings on what the shared leave meant for him, see his Blog.

Dr. Saida Caballero-Nieves

Photo of Saida Caballero-Nieves

Saida is a postdoc in the Astronomy group. Saida says “I moved to Sheffield from the US in late 2012. Being a postdoc in a new country can be an incredibly isolating experience. I initially approached the department about doing a postdoctoral social over tea and coffee. They were incredibly supportive and gave me the initial funds to cater it. They have now given us an annual budget and it has now grown into a monthly event where we can meet other postdocs in physics and maths. The socials have evolved to include events such as 2-minute elevator pitches on one's research, science and the media workshop and a careers panel Q&A, as well as large participation in the Faculty of Science researcher away day.

As a woman in science from a small island in the Caribbean, I feel strongly about issues regarding equality and diversity. When recent sexual harassment scandals broke out among prominent astronomers, I was able to lead an informal discussion among the astronomy group. This not only brought awareness to some of the existing issues in our field, but also lead to an interesting and engaging discussion that included academics and postgraduate students.

In my short time in Sheffield, I have seen the department change and evolve into not just a place to work but a community in which to grow.”

Dr. Jenny Clark

Photo of Jenny Clarke

Jenny moved to the University of Sheffield in 2013 heavily pregnant with her second child. Jenny says “I chose to move to Sheffield in part because of the welcoming culture in the department during my interview and from seeing that highly successful professors in the department take active roles in childcare.”

She took the full maternity leave for her second child and came back to work in 2015. Jenny says “The department and university have been incredibly supportive; offering me a small grant to get my research up and running after my leave, for example. No one bats an eyelid that I work flexibly and part-time, which is still unusual for academics. This has enabled me to work around my childcare duties and my research group is now up to 7 people and we’re doing exciting science”.

Dr. Earl Campbell

Photo of Earl Campbell

Earl Campbell is an EPSRC Fellow working in the theory of quantum light. Earl says “Me and my wife settled in Sheffield just a few months before the birth of our daughter Elora, now almost two years old. Elora's upcoming arrival into the world was certainly one of the factors that attracted us here. Sheffield was a step closer to family. Also, the physics department seemed friendly and the leafy city ideal for starting our own family. Once here, we felt instantly at home. I discovered the physics department was a community of genuine, interesting and fantastic people. There are numerous coffee mornings, away days and lunch groups, through which I've made friends from different research groups in the department. My previous experience has been of universities composed of non-interacting research silos, so I was surprised the variety of researchers that warmly introduced themselves. Many of these colleagues have their own children and have been an enormous source of support and advice.”

Prof. Nigel Clarke

Photo of Nigel ClarkeNigel was head of department until summer 2016 when he took up the post of Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science.

Nigel says “When I started my first academic post I was amazed and daunted by my colleagues apparent ability to work 60+ hour weeks. Since I would typically be at work from 9 until 5.30, I started taking work home with me to keep up with expectations, but then felt depressed for failing to do any due to being distracted by one of what felt like guilty pleasures: cooking, cycling and drumming. Over several years feeling that I wasn’t working hard enough, it dawned on me that the quality of my work, whether it was my teaching, my research or my support work for wider department activities was on a par with that of most of my colleagues, and I started to realise that my working pattern was not only good for my work/life balance but also good for the quality of my work.

When I became Head of Department, many of my colleagues warned me about the long working days I would now face and how I would have to work weekends to compensate. Strangely the opposite has turned out to be the case. Many of my days are so “full on” that I often leave at 5, head home and take myself out for a strenuous bike ride: one of the great pleasures of living in Sheffield is how easy it is to find a route filled with long steep climbs! The main pressure on me to not go out on my bike is my cat who is determined to be the centre of my attention for the evening. Admittedly, I might read and send the occasional email in the evenings and at weekends, but I’ve been working hard to reduce even that activity, as much to leave my colleagues in peace as for my own sake!”

Dr Matthew Mears

Photo of Matt MearsMatt joined the department in 2002 as an undergraduate, then a PhD under Professor Mark Geoghegan, followed by an EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellowship (2011-2012) and Teaching Fellowship (2012-2014) and most recently as a University Teacher in physics.

With both my partner Drew and myself working in academia we both know the pressures involved so both he and I have to try hard to maintain a work-life balance. The flexibility and support within the department mean that I know I can speak to my colleagues if I need to reshuffle workload, even when this needs to happen with little to no warning.

I also feel both supported and encouraged to dedicate some of my time to the LGBT Staff Network, working with different Equality & Diversity groups and committees throughout the University, and most recently launching our institutional ‘straight allies’ programme called Open@TUoS.

Dr. Pieter Kok

Photo of Pieter KokPieter Kok joined the department of Physics and Astronomy as a lecturer in July 2007 and is now Reader in Quantum Information Theory.

Pieter says “When I came to Sheffield, my then two-year old son Xander managed to get a place in the university nursery at very short notice, which helped a lot with my ability to go into the office and my wife’s job hunt. Six years later, my daughter Iris was born, and again we were lucky to secure a place in the university nursery. In addition, the department has been very supportive in allowing me to work flexibly, and reschedule some late-afternoon lectures.”

Prof. David Mowbray

Photo of David MowbrayDavid has worked in Sheffield for 25 years. Between 2006 and 2012 he was Head of Department. He now heads the Department's Equality and Diversity committee and is a member of similar committees at both faculty and university level.

David says: 'I have three children, 19, 15 and 12. Following the birth of our first child my wife returned to work three days a week. On the three days that she worked she would drop my son off at child minder and I would leave work early to pick him up so that he didn't have too long a day away from home. I really valued those hours caring for him before my wife came home. My wife also had to work away from Sheffield for two weeks each year which I was able to cover.

Following the birth of our second child my wife decided to take a career break and only in the last few years has she returned to part time work. Even when I was Head of Department I tried to keep weekends free for the family. I believe it is very important that senior people within the university set an example that families are very important, for example cancelling meetings when they have unexpected childcare issues, hospital appointments etc and avoiding a culture of excessive working hours.'

Links and Resources.

Athena SWAN links

Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science
Equality Challenge Unit Resources
Unconscious Bias

University of Sheffield Links

University of Sheffield Equality and Diversity

Twitter - E&D at Sheffield Uni

External resources

10 Principles for Conference Organisation
Gender Bias in Acadame:Summary of Recent Studies
University of Edinbrugh
Imperial College London
University of Cambridge, Department of Physics
Equality Challenge Unit
Project Juno
Juno Champion video
Gender Competence in Business and Research: GenCo
WISE - Women in science, technology and engineering
York Racial Equality Network (YREN)
RCUK Diversity statement
The RSC and diversity
The Daphne Jackson Trust
Virginia Valian homepage, author of 'Why so Slow?'
Hunter College Gender: Schemas and Science Careers tutorials
LGBT Foundation
Disability Support in Higher Education
AHEAD: Association on Higher Education and Disability
Time to Change: End Mental Health Discrimination
Working group for the Promotion of Mental Well-Being in Higher Education
Sex in Science, Sanger Institute
Michigan State University: Advancing Diversity through the Alignment of Policies and Practices

Articles and reports

Nature: Special issue on Women in Science
Athene Donald's blog
BBC article on UK Gender Pay Gap
Guardian article: The Realities of Academia for Women
NY Times: Unconscious Bias training at Google
Ouch! BBC's blog on Disability issues

Pay Gap

RSC Pay Gap consultation
Deloitte reveals its gender pay gap
THE article on how Inequalities in Higher Education fuel the Pay Gap