Deborah Beck and Mark Miodonvick at the launch event for the plastics project

#BalanceForBetter at the Grantham Centre

The theme for this years International Women’s Day is #balanceforbetter. Here, Grantham Centre Manager Deborah Beck explains why balance is better in the workplace, and how she has gone about ensuring it’s part of everything she does.

Everyone has a part to play in trying to ensure a better balance in their lives around them. This can be at many levels and different ways. Balance is not just a women’s issue, it is essential to everyone working at universities for communities to thrive.

For me, balance drives a better working environment. A difference can be made by seemingly small everyday practices such as encouraging a female student to introduce a speaker at an event to embedding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in your staff recruitment process.

Gender equality should infuse all aspects of our work at the Grantham Centre. Last year our Communications Officer worked with female students, academics and me to produce six blogs to celebrate International Women’s Day. These blogs reached an audience of more than 7000 people on Twitter alone and website traffic rose by 300% as a direct result. This work was subsequently used for our Annual Report to funders – evidence that a focus on diversity has key benefits.

I seek out ways to support female students and encourage them to alert each other about initiatives and opportunities –  especially on gender issues. One example is the ‘500 Women Scientists organisation, which seeks to empower women to reach their full potential and to be advocates for science and equality. This organisation was spotted by one of our female students and was publicised via our internal mailing list. The Faculty of Science picked up on this and 500 Women Scientists was subsequently publicised to staff as well.

I have also worked with Professional Services colleagues and given students opportunities to engage with an Early Career Researchers group for female researchers. Students were involved at the early stages of this group and so were able to influence the issues to be highlighted.

Through the Grantham Centre training programme I support our first year Grantham Scholars as they organise an annual Festival of Debate. I give students advice on how to recruit an interesting and diverse range of speakers. Scholars are encouraged to contact people at the earliest stage possible, so there is time to get a good range of speakers. Debates are scheduled to be outside of school holidays in case speakers have childcare responsibilities. In addition, speakers are recruited one at a time so that a good range of people can take part. These principles also apply to our Annual Sustainability lectures.

Since taking on the role of Grantham Centre Manager I have volunteered to take on responsibility for staff recruitment. This is an exciting aspect of my role as recruiting the best staff is both essential for us and the University as a whole. It’s also an opportunity to recruit a better balance of a diverse range of staff.

Last year we had a vacancy for a new Associate Director for our Centre. This is an important role which includes responsibility for leading on future funding applications, contributing to the doctoral training centre programme and advising on our strategy and future direction of the Centre’s work.

All our current Directors and Associate Directors were male and I wanted to encourage a more diverse range of applicants for the post. I consulted Katie Bryan and Charlotte Axon in Human Resources and Katherine Linehan, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Faculty of Science. They all provided invaluable advice on the job advert and introduced me to Textio – an online tool that helps write job descriptions and adverts that encourage a greater diversity of applicants.

Using Textio resulted in a number of high quality applications for the role. We were then then able to conduct interviews for the post and subsequently appointed Dr Rachael Rothman to be our new Associate Director. Rachel is based in Chemical and Biological Engineering and was the Faculty Director for Women in Engineering between 2014 – 2017, leading the Faculties equality and diversity activities.

Collaboration with HR lead to some great outcomes; we now have a more diverse range of leaders in our team of Directors and Associate Directors. In addition I have had an opportunity to work closely with colleagues in the Faculty of Science and HR. As a direct result of our collaboration the text that we created for the EDI statement in the advert has now been adopted for all job adverts in the Faculty of Science.

In future I would like to continue working on EDI issues and see how together we can all spread good practice more widely across all faculties at the University of Sheffield.