Hello, this is talking to Titans a brand new podcast from University College London with myself Cathy Giangrande, UCL Alumna, art historian and conservation scientist and me Gudrun Moore, professor of molecular genetics at UCLA Institute of Child Health.
In celebration of International Women's Day on Sunday, the eighth of March, we're chatting to seven women who are at the top of their academic game. We've called them the Titans. Kathy and myself have been professional mentors to each other and good friends for many years now. We've watched each other's careers grow and know first hand how difficult it can be to climb the ladders that are so often owned and claimed by men. One of the ways that UCL has been measuring its gender balance is through the Athena SWAN charter, which recognizes good employment practices for women working in higher education. In this episode, we're speaking to the woman behind the first gold to Part mental Athena SWAN award ceremony. Hi, Sarah. Hello, you're UCL probers envoy for gender equality. What exactly does that title mean?
It means I think about impact on gender and the fairness of gender in our workplace at UCL as we go back to our sort of day to day work, but it also means that I'm thinking about how we can learn about gender equality or influence the world to think differently about gender. I know the foundations of UCL are radical in that they, it was a university set up to allow people to attend who otherwise were excluded from university. So, you know, the foundations of UCL are radical.
Do you think they're still radical today?
radical? Yes, because we're pushing the boundaries and other universities are doing this as well?
Yes. I mean, in the UK, there's a chartering scheme called Athena SWAN, which universities now work to Or at least choose to work towards. The whole scheme is looking at gender equality in all aspects of university life, not just academics, but also the professional service staff that support all the academic work going on in the university. Do you think Athena SWAN has been successful at UCL Sarah? I do. Because I can remember what it was like before. And I know what it's like now. And I think the recognition of inequality that was there, but perhaps not it wasn't realized that it was there has been profound. And we wanting people to be able to be themselves to be their authentic selves. And because in that way, you give the best of yourself. You have diverse opinions, I mean, all sorts of outcomes for you know, the life of a university in both its teaching but also its research and its impact on society.
But is it true that probably most of the work that's behind the swan committees that put themselves forward for the gold, silver bronze status is done by women,
I think often the women are stepping up and perhaps the men aren't. So funny actually does a lot of work.
What do you think it would be a good way of engaging men in these Institute's departments to see this as important because I think the changes that come about are good for them as well. So if you're thinking about good practice, things that are good things to do, and fair things to do, then everyone benefits from those. And so the men can help bring those about as well. How are you trying to reach men? Because that's not easy awareness? Really. I mean, I think at a local level, of course, you can invite them to join and participate. So there's no agenda Working Group, you know, which is deliberately we've tried to make the net wide in terms of people is it because we didn't achieve 5050. At the top levels in UCL, we're not 5050 for professors. 70% are men, which means only 30% are women. And if we have as we do, 1800 professors, that means there are only 600 women in that group. And so it's basically two to one. Of course, there's a historical reason for that, recruiting people in fairly allowing them to progress in a fair manner. And of course, that eventually leads to 5050 at the top. But because that hasn't happened historically, in the past, we've still got a legacy of not as many women at the top or losing women along the way, actually, and that's the thing that we can address and and if you understand why, the reasons for that, then you can start addressing them. I'd also like to add another thought, because I think if our picture of success, perfection is a white man's thing, we have to change that. Yeah, we have to say Actually, no, we know we need to value all types of leadership. We need to value different ways of working different ways of having discussion, because I think if women have been forced to be like men, then of course, they never themselves.
Still takes an enormous amount of time. It seems. Yes. Yeah.
Yeah. You can't change fundamental things quickly, quickly. You just can't. But you can put in processes to for, you know, putting things to force the process. Yeah. And then it just becomes easier and easier. So I guess that's one of the things I try and do is envoy sometimes is what's a really key thing we can change that will start that process.
One of the things that's interesting for us because we're in the Faculty of Population Health Sciences is that in fact, their professors are 42% women. Yes. Maybe that's something to do with you and being within the institute and pushing for these values going forward.
I think there's been an increasing number of women professors, because women are perhaps more ambitious, are allowed to be more ambitious or willing to work towards the criteria that allow them to go for promotion. And I think that's particularly true in fairly recent years. I mean, at UCL, we know the promotion criteria framework has changed in the last couple of years and that made it Huge difference, there was a huge increase in the number of women being appointed. And that was really recognizing the work. They were contributing towards the university that perhaps hadn't been recognized before. To be ambitious, though, a young person, how would you say, take that forward? For young person, I think it's really important to understand who they are and how they work, how they think, what motivates them, what drives them, what makes them work that a little bit harder, because everyone wants to spend time doing something, they enjoy that motivated that making a difference, you know, whatever it is, that drives you. And if you understand how you work, then really you want to be doing work that allows you to be yourself to sort of enjoy what you're doing. And I think that's part of being ambitious really is thinking about yourself and working at where you can do whatever it is you want to do, but also contribute to whatever it is you're contributing, you know, whether it's teaching, whether it's research, could be making ice cream, I mean, right. It's, it's whatever. Whatever drives you Then I think you have to believe in yourself. So if you know yourself, and you can believe in yourself, and when other people might be trying to hold you back put you down, or those kind of micro things that just say, Oh, am I good enough? You can tell yourself? Yes, I am. I am actually I might be better. But how about diversity? I mean, we are now seeing people writing about how important it is to have diverse groups, teams of people, I think, you know, if you're trying to tackle absolutely major challenges for the world, you want people that think differently, as well, because something that you miss someone else will spot. The way I work is very collaborative in that and I guess that's to increase the diversity, it's to bring in the expertise. And to me, it seemed a really sensible way of working. I don't see why you need a hierarchical way of working where there's one person at the top that knows all the answers, because there's no way they know all the answers.
Absolutely. The UN goal is to have gender equality in 2030. How are we going to get there?
So I think you have to be active about it. If you're not active, then it doesn't happen. I'll just give you a simple story in terms of external speakers in department, where even though the discipline is fairly gender balanced, lower down, mostly that this that when you're thinking about inviting speaker, you think of a man rather than a woman, and you actively have to think about a woman. Now, that's so easy to do, because if you're suggesting speaker, you just suggest one of the opposite gender. And so you can automatically reach that, you know, inviting 50%. And so it does require you to be alert and to know where the gaps are on where those key points that will really make a difference. And then you can prioritize efforts in those areas.
So what do you feel about the gender pay gap?
Again, it's an indication of where people are now in terms of position, or rather, it's a measure so when the gender pay gap is zero, or pretty much zero, then we know that there is a complacency about it. I think there is a general complacency about pay gap when it gets to a percentage where People say, Oh, well the reason the difference is just because this person took a couple of years out to have their children and they've come in in a bit of a lower level.
And do you think that's true?
There's a gender pay gap because most of the senior people are men. And it's quite simple, really. In terms of recruitment, you can think about shortlist, I think its role models like you doing the job you're doing indirectly influences how people look at things going forward. So I mean, you know, pays hidden when you get higher up. So I'll be the pay was rather more transparent, then in those roles where pays being negotiated. You know exactly what the men are being paid as well as the women and I think that's still hidden. I mean, not just that UCL but many places I agree. But it also reflects on the injustice of the people who are applying those grades. If you can negotiate a grade up, it means what they offered you in the first place wasn't a fair profit. So you really shouldn't have to negotiate. It should be a fair Good one.
Have you ever had to do that?
Yes, yeah, it was a situation where, you know, the grade had fairly large, large width to the band, and I was offered the lowest. And I said, Well, I got paid more to previous employment. Could I have some more, please be like Oliver Twist.
And I've done the same. And they said, they talked about it for a while. And then they came back and made me a better offer. Because it taken so long to get to that point. I accepted it. Because I didn't really want to waste any more time negotiating. I could think it was fair, then, you know, you hear other people, they get paid and you go, oh, maybe I accepted something bit lower.
Well, they save no union wants to climb the ladder, pay wise at least you do have to move around a lot. And you know, that's a difficult thing. When you're in a really good institution. You don't actually want to leave you want to stay there. That's very interesting because that comes back to the issue of moving to get better salary and your children are in school.
There's an awful lot of people at UCL where the partners live in different places. That's partly the challenge of getting work. But also, some of it must be to do with family stability. And especially for that long period when your children are in school, and you don't want to disrupt them. But for young people, young woman, it's not easy to come up to her boss and say, you know, what would you suggest they do? How would they tackle that? It is about knowing who you are, and in a sense, you're worth. So I would say, you should look around at your peers and see, in a sense, compare yourself but at least look and see what where, where you're good. Where you better make a case.
Yeah, make a case of self-promotion, isn't it? Really?
I don't think I don't think anyone's very good of it. But I think probably women are worse than men of self-promotion. I see you were born into a family of sisters and you also want to girls school. Do you think that gave you extra ammunition?
Absolutely. Of course, I didn't know at the time but I look back and I think I just grew up being me.
I went to a girl school too. And I found it very nurturing. I mean, everybody was in there was like a big team, we were all helping each other.
I do think it's known that girls in girls schools do better than girls in mixed schools.
And you know, we can find that now with without all Yes. So we again know that there's been studies done that if you sort of have a speaker and you're asked questions at the end, if the first question is by man, more men ask questions is the first question is by woman, more women or, you know, it becomes more equal.
You're now the person that people say, I'm going to go and talk to Sarah about this because she's in charge of this.
Yeah, I have actually heard some real hard. What do you tell them to do?
So obviously, it depends on the story times, it's the person that in a sense, they have to be the person that makes a stand or say something and other times I can actually bring the awareness to somewhere else who will make it right. And I certainly remember doing that a few years ago for some academic teaching where there was absolutely awful things being said In a class of men, to young female students, who were quite horrified, really, but sort of thought, Oh, this is just how it is. And I actually heard about it in a very roundabout way. And when we said No, that isn't what it should be, like, you know, basically saying what would happen if it continued? And it was it was so changed within that process?
UCL Do they have like other safe places for people to go to make comments, or at least get have some help about situations like this?
Yes, there's lots of ways you can do it. Obviously, I'm there. We also have a new system called reporting support, where you can either anonymously or with your name, submit whatever it is, you've either observed or has happened to you and follow that through and then of course, that's taken up properly by UCL and that's quite new system and really important to be anonymous. Because certainly in academic fields, it's such a quite such a small area, that if you are a young student complaining about a professor All the power and you know that your future career is in his hands and it is just which of course is such a difficult position to be in.
Sarah, you're also professor of molecular biology and have led research into battens disease, can you tell us a bit more about your work in this field, it's a button diseases, a rare disorder of children. It's an inherited disease. The children are born healthy, and you know, everything seems fine. But because they've got a mutation in one particular gene, cells in the brain start to die. And so they lose gradually, lots of things, you know, so they'll, they'll suffer from seizures, they'll lose their fish, and they lose their cognitive ability, the ability to talk ability talk, there's quite a number of different genes. So when I began to be involved sort of over 25 years ago, that point we didn't know any of the genes. So that was one of the first things that that we were tackling, identifying the genes, and then trying to understand what those genes do, and then trying to think about treatment and therapy. So now identifying sort of drugs that we can repurpose, and that will perhaps really be helpful to either treatments on their own or to support the gene therapy. So really exciting work.
So what about work-life balance, Sarah? So would you surely have to be a role model for that?
Interestingly, I very rarely work at weekends. And I have very rarely worked at weekends since I was a PhD student, but I make sure I have time to myself time to time with my family. Time to relax. I'd love to have a three day weekend, you know, but also enjoy my working week.
What do you do to relax? I mean, are you a walker?
Yeah, I am. I'm a real introvert. So if I really want to relax anything on my own is great. Of course, I love being with my family too. If I really need to, sort of innocence take time out then I love walking. I discovered running when I was 15. I can't say I've never run a marathon but I love running in the countryside and just being on my own and that sort of listening to the Whatever takes your mind off. Yeah, exactly. It's that kind of focusing really something. Yeah. That means you're not thinking about other things, I suppose. And I find that really relaxing.
Is there anyone in your life you've looked up to?
That's a good question. I've often admired various people, not necessarily some men and some women. I think, because I'm a bit of an introvert, I tend to think and process a lot. So I guess I've always been inspired by people, and especially women. And I think that's probably because they spent they were standing out in a man's world who really were at the forefront of their field, or wherever the world was at any one time, like the suffragettes or that Yeah, I sort of think 100 years ago, I was born in like Shea, you know, I'd have probably been working in the cotton mills, probably too exhausted to do anything. But if I had the energy, I would have been fighting for women's rights there I'm sure or doing whatever I could,
and that's your maybe your emotional centre that you seem to have some emotional sense. is making a difference making it so you know, wherever you are, there's something that can be improved. And that really drives me.
And lastly, I think we'd like to ask you about piece of advice you'd like to give anyone who's in a difficult point in their career, what would you say to do? I think you have to decide what is the difficulty at the time and and have you got to where you are? And where do you actually want to go in the future? Maybe you need a difference, or maybe you need to carry on doing where you are, but you need to believe in yourself a little bit more fight your corner. Yet sometimes the best thing is to change, change as well. Ya know, so don't be afraid of change, if that's what it requires. And if you're somewhere where you're not appreciated, and you're not enjoying it, no, please look for somewhere else. Yeah, go somewhere else.
Thank you very much, Sarah.
I think it's very interesting that the role that Sarah is taking in the university, which is university-wide, and she's representing a population of 39,000 students, plus Now thousand staff and making huge inroads into finding ways to make it fairer across the university.
So important, so important that someone like her, you know, takes on this extra task because a lot of people could just sit back and say, well, I've got enough to do with my research. I'm not going to do anything else for anybody else. The other point that I really liked, that she picked up on was how you know, and I think we asked, I mean, if there's an issue, where do you go, how can you deal with it? And you know, because if you say something two years, senior lecturer, Professor, you can be doomed for life. I mean, your career can be over. How do you handle that?
Thank you very much indeed for joining us in this episode of talking to Titans. In the next episode, we'll be speaking to Ruth Kennedy, founder of the Louis danda Center for children's palliative care. For more information, please go to https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-minds/podcasts/titans. If you liked this episode, leave us a review in your podcast app, share it with your friends and tweet at UCL with the hashtag talking to Titans. The series was a whistle down production