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A new study by Radcliffe Department of Medicine researchers argues that the widespread implementation of NIHR-funding incentive-linked Athena SWAN action plans has contributed to a positive culture change in medical sciences  

But the study in the special issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews devoted to gender in scientific practice, also found that women’s experience of university culture remain less positive than those of men, and there are still divisions between academic faculty and professional/support staff. 

A team of researchers led by Dr Pavel Ovseiko  and Professor Alastair Buchan analysed 2014 data from nearly 5000 Oxford University staff members working in medical and social sciences.  

The RDM researchers carried out the surveys in collaboration with a Brandeis University and Oxford University Department of Social Policy and Intervention project.  The project came about following recommendations of an expert international workshop held at Wadham College in 2014, and input from Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer and then Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health.

Dr Pavel Ovseiko said, “While the C-Change surveys showed that a more positive culture in medical sciences is being created thanks to the wide-spread implementation of Athena SWAN gender equality action plans linked to the NIHR funding incentives, there is still much to be done.”

”On the positive side, women and men in medical sciences reported similar perceptions of work-life integration and institutional change efforts for faculty support. But our data also revealed gender disparities showing that women were less positive than men on six dimensions in medical and ten dimensions in social sciences. This suggests that women’s experiences of the university culture were different to those of men and that the university culture disadvantaged women.” 

The comparative analysis between medical and social sciences revealed higher positive mentoring experiences in medical sciences as well as lower proportion of faculty and staff intending to leave the university due to dissatisfaction when compared to social sciences.

The team’s qualitative analysis also provided novel insights into the factors contributing to the perceived isolation and exclusion of research staff, as well as divisions between academic faculty and professional/support staff. In addition, it underlined the importance of intersectional connections between gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, and socio-economic class to understand the disadvantages and experiences of people with different identity profiles.

Among the key findings, the authors attribute a more positive, yet far from ideal, culture in medical sciences to the wide-spread implementation of Athena SWAN gender equality action plans linked to the NIHR funding incentives.. 

The authors conclude by arguing that institutional change efforts to increase gender equity and provide more support with career advancement to all faculty and staff must accelerate.

Funding for this study included support from the University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund, the Horizon 2020 award Structural Transformation to Attain Responsible BIOSciences (STARBIOS2), and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Read the full paper at Interdisciplinary Science Reviews