Case Studies - Athena SWAN

Staff and Students' experience of Athena SWAN in the School of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Sciences

Jennifer Cumming

Senior Lecturer

After completing my PhD at the University of Western Ontario (Canada) in 2002, I joined the School as a full-time lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology. My career has followed a typical path, having successfully completed period of probation in 2005 and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2011.

Because the School had no previous history of arranging maternity coverage for academic members of staff, it was with some trepidation that I informed our newly appointed Head of School (Prof Kathy Armour) of my pregnancy in 2012. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that she supported the need for a maternity leave cover and made arrangements for this to happen.  Human Resources was also very helpful in making me aware of the different leave options, including keeping in touch days as well as the kinds of  support the University provided in terms of childcare payments. 

I was involved with selecting my maternity leave cover and finished work with the assurance that my teaching and research supervision was being left in very capable hands.  During my leave, I was able to keep in contact with my colleagues via email or telephone.  At no time did I ever feel that my leave was an inconvenience or burden to the School and felt very valued by the support given. 

My transition back to work was helped by having some overlap with my maternity leave cover as well as the autonomy to set my own hours in the case of childcare and illness. I was very grateful to have these flexible work arrangements, which allowed me to plan meetings around having both a lengthy commute and young son who was still nursing.  Having my own office and a supportive co-worker who lent me a fridge meant that I could also express and store breast milk until my son was ready to wean. 

Early after I returned to work, I was also able to have an open conversation with my Head of School and Head of Education about my workload and received reassurance regarding making the transition back to work. I was actively encouraged to pursue research and grant opportunities that enabled me to keep on track for applying for promotion to Reader in 2014-2015. I was also awarded a small pot of money to help kick start my research again, which has subsequently led me  receiving over  £250,000 in external funding in the 12 months since returning from maternity leave.  

See Jennifer's staff profile

Professor Janice Thompson

Professor of Public Health Nutrition & Exercise

Professor Janice L. ThompsonI grew up at a time in the US when women’s rights were at the forefront of the social and political scenes. I have substantially benefited from systems and individuals who have supported my professional training and advancement both in the US and UK. I have pursued a career and life path that is considered untraditional for many women, and I have achieved success in the form of promotion to Professor by the age of 42, an internationally recognised research profile, and awards honouring me for my contributions to the exercise sciences.

But despite my own personal success and the many advances made to promote women in STEMM subjects throughout my lifetime, there continues to be inequities in pay between men and women for similar work, many women feel they must choose between having a career and having a family, and very few women are promoted to senior academic and administrative positions at Universities. Thus, the Athena Swan initiative is vital to ensuring that women can achieve their highest potential in academia and particularly in the STEMM subjects. The actions we take to support Athena Swan draw critical attention to the need to promote family-friendly work environments for both women and men, and provide support for all employees in defining a work-life balance that suits their needs, goals, and responsibilities at any life- and career-stage.

See Janice's staff profile

Diana Castaneda Gameros

Doctoral Researcher

My parents belong to an older generation where only males achieved higher education and girls were educated about how to be a good housewife. If women did find paid work, it was typically a clerical job if they were lucky. Expectations and experiences have been totally different for my sister and I, as we are both highly educated thanks to the support we received from our parents in a country where gender inequalities remain an issue.

During my career I have had the opportunity to work with low-income and migrant communities, and I wonder how many stories of deprivation would have been different if women were encouraged to go to school and moreover, if they were supported by their employers to start a family themselves. I think having a professional and a family life is possible but it remains more plausible for men than women. Women are the pillar of the family, and a balanced professional life would benefit their families, institutions and society as a whole. I have benefitted extensively from being a part of the University of Birmingham, an institution which recognises the importance of supporting women to achieve their goals and that is working towards creating gender equality awareness. I believe education and being part of the workforce is the path to a higher quality of life, and we all deserve that irrespective of our gender or ethnic background. 

See Diana's Doctoral Researcher profile