Llongyfarchiadau!

…or ‘Congratulations’ in English. Up and down the country this is the time of year for graduation ceremonies. Proud parents, wider family and friends go along to watch their loved ones briefly smile and shake the (Vice)Chancellor’s hand, or something along those lines – such as being doffed with a hat made from John Knox’s breeches, according to tradition at Edinburgh University. Subsequently, either sweltering in unaccustomed heat or cowering under umbrellas according to our unpredictable weather, formal and informal photographs are snapped and, finally, sad partings from friends take place. Graduation. A day that means so much to so many but rather little to some others. My impression is that my generation tended to be in that second camp, but now that I see graduation from different angles (see here) I feel rather differently about the process. For many students and their families this is a day wreathed in smiles, relief and emotion.

Universities are not in the business of teaching deportment, nor fashion sense or how to pose for a photograph. For the duration of the taught course that is usually adequate and appropriate, but there comes a point, at this final juncture of Graduation, when this absence of relevant tuition may show! For that brief moment when each student has their moment of glory as they walk up to the podium, all eyes are upon them. Now I don’t wish to draw any parallel with the ‘catwalk’ that is Downing Street, either in the Daily Mail’s original version commenting on dress, marital status and other factors totally irrelevant to ministerial duties of the women involved, or the New Statesman’s and Guardian’s  responses discussing the sartorial elegance of the endless variants of the navy blue-suited male ministers. Nevertheless it is impossible to sit on a graduation platform and not consider the characteristic appearances of male and female graduands alike.

This week I was at Swansea University (Prifysgol Abertawe), honoured to be awarded an Honorary Degree, a ceremony mainly carried out in English but with distinctly Welsh overtones. I was told, being Welsh, they wanted to include the powerful trio of poetry, prose and music. The poetry was in Welsh and English; the music was show music, although the Welsh National Anthem was also sung. This is a wonderful tune, familiar to me (I suspect from footage of Rugby matches), but few people seemed to know the words. Additionally some of the formalities were carried out in Welsh and the programme itself was printed in both languages.

From my vantage point of sitting on the platform watching the hour-long stream of students walk onto the stage and off again, let me offer a few words of advice to those still to graduate (or coaching them), keeping them as gender-neutral as I can.

  • Chewing gum as you greet the (Vice)Chancellor is not attractive. If you really can’t bear to be without it, try at least not to make the chewing visible for those brief moments of exposure on stage.
  • Bare midriffs or jeans don’t really seem appropriate.
  • Wear shoes you know are comfortable. Shoes that look as if you’ve never worn them before and which cause you to teeter are ill-advised. At the very least practice walking in them in advance, ideally up and down some steps since most stages are raised and steps are likely to be a hazard you should anticipate.
  • Personally, light tan shoes and navy trousers don’t strike me as a good fashion statement on such a formal occasion.
  • Slouching, ambling or shuffling whilst staring at your feet may not convey confidence or pleasure in being present. (And if you are tall and wearing a mortar board, check the height of any doorways to avoid knocking the hat off.)
  • Be prepared to respond to any questions posed succinctly and appropriately. ‘What are you going to do next?’ is probably not asking whether you plan on getting hammered that evening so much as your future employment, further training or travel plans.

Most people end up getting some photographs taken some time around the ceremony – and that applies as much to an honorary graduand as to the ‘regulars’. For myself, this is not a process I feel very comfortable with and I tend to be very critical of my posture, my teeth and/or my hair when I subsequently get sent the prints. I don’t seem to have a set of face muscles that easily relax and can too readily look anxious, cross or simply tense. Indeed, my mother’s favourite and encouraging phrase (such as mothers are wont to produce) is that I look as if I’m waiting for my execution! Unfortunately for the honorary graduand, the speech celebrating their life and achievements may take some time, during which you are required to stand (or possibly sit) looking and feeling like a lemon in full view of the audience. However honoured and chuffed you may feel, it is also deeply embarrassing to listen to the flowery prose and wonder who this wunderkind who is being described really is. So, in my experience any photos taken during that phase do not show me at my sunny best.

I have had several doses of media training, but no one has taught me how to look relaxed and comfortable when I am anything but, how to keep a smile without feeling as if rigor mortis is setting in or that my facial muscles have started twitching. I would also like to know what tricks I can learn that would remind me before the photographer starts snapping that I should stand tall, shoulders back and stomach tucked in rather than only when I’m told it’s a wrap. The freshly graduated class may fare better because, with luck, they are being photographed in the presence of family and friends who will giggle with them and help them to look at ease. But the comments about posture may equally apply even so. Deportment lessons may once have been de rigeur for young ladies but we are all – men and women – sadly lacking in this department these days.

Despite these caveats, graduation should be and generally is a joyous occasion with a great sense of success and a journey well-travelled. I certainly enjoyed my time at Swansea. If my attention occasionally wandered during the ceremony it was only temporary. (I did find myself trying to work out, for instance, why graduands A and B received loud cheers whereas most individuals did not. Were they the most popular or simply had brought the largest family contingent? Was there anything in their gait or appearance to explain the enthusiasm with which they were greeted?) The organisation was superb. I felt like royalty when I arrived at Brangwyn Hall where the ceremony was being held, the car door was opened and I was instantly relieved of my luggage and escorted to the ‘green room’. Thank you to my delightful hosts and to those who nominated me for the honour.

 

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Shuffling Forward in Education

This week has been full of surprises in Whitehall. The departure of David Willetts was foreseen. Indeed, it has been predicted just about every time there has been a ministerial reshuffle in the recent past. He will be missed by many who thought he ‘got’ science – and other parts of the university sector too (although perhaps not the financial bits). The much less expected departure of Michael Gove seems to have come as a shock/delight depending on where you sit. That part of the teaching profession he rudely referred to as The Blob will undoubtedly have been cheering in staff rooms up and down the country, but there are some who seemed to believe his reforms really were likely to improve the quality of our education, despite their effect on morale and retention of teachers coupled with the continuing likelihood of teaching to the test remaining a necessary key strategy for schools.

During my recently completed stint as chair of the Royal Society Education Committee I had opportunities to interact with several of the ministers involved in education including Gove, Willetts, Liz Truss (now Minister of State for the Environment, so we can hope her Norfolk constituency has given her a good grounding in badgers, fact and fiction) and the newly reinstated Schools Minister Nick Gibb. These interactions ranged from the surreal to the depressing via the hilarious and the uncomfortable (not all of which I feel able to share!). What did I learn?

Chris Huhne reportedly said Gove was ‘the politest man in the House of Commons’ and certainly during the uncomfortable period when I had to host him before he gave a speech at the Royal Society in 2011, he was superficially perfectly charming. This was a speech whose content was unknown to us and so I had no idea whether I wanted to harangue or congratulate him on what he was about to say. In fact it turned out that what he said that day about science and maths education was entirely positive and consistent with Royal Society views, describing amongst other things the importance of maths for all post-16. During those awkward 20 minutes or so in which I was left to entertain him – he had, to everyone’s consternation, turned up early – we talked more about the portraits displayed in the basement of the Royal Society’s building (a safe topic I felt) than education, nevertheless it was clear how much his own experience taking Scottish Highers thereby enabling him to stick with maths beyond 16, was important to him. This idea of breadth of education post-16 sits at the heart of the recent Royal Society Vision Report, launched last month, which recommends all students to study maths, science and humanities/social sciences up to 18. On that Gove and I would be in agreement.

However, as my previous post on education matters made clear, many of the edicts issued at rapid speed from the DfE under Gove’s leadership seemed to be completely untouched by views from the education establishment and professional bodies. They, including the Royal Society, made repeated attempts to inform policy through their responses to the many consultations issued over the past 2-3 years. Gove and his cohorts (notably his ex-SPAD Dominic Cummings, he of the colourful reputation for bullying  and short fuse) have pressed on with wholesale changes to education regardless. Gove believed his own experience gave him a good indicator of what schools needed but a brief exchange with him at a dinner of a right-wing thinktank about the lack of careers advice now available in schools suggested his understanding was less acute than he thought. (The exchange was brief as I was then effectively told to shut up so that more sycophantic attendees could metaphorically pat him on the back.) He clearly believed children did not need careers advice provided because (and I quote what he said to me) ‘any self-respecting 16 year old can find all they need to know on the web.’ Really? How would the confused child know what questions to put into a Google search when they have no idea what careers are out there? How would they begin to know what careers might suit them given a particular set of interests/ strong GCSE subjects? I was not impressed, but I was not allowed to challenge his response.

Education sits uncomfortably between the DfE and BIS with less communication than is desirable. In order to help joined-up thinking (at least I assume this was the underlying motivation) via the use of outsiders, a group known as the DfE STEM Ministerial Group was set up to meet 3-4 times a year. In principle both the Schools minister and the Universities minister attend, plus an entourage of associated civil servants. Too often these meetings were rearranged at short notice, so that many of the group members – representatives from key professional STEM bodies including the Royal Society – weren’t able to attend. Meetings took place with any number between zero and two ministers actually present because of the other calls on their time. When two ministers were present I think the meetings were genuinely useful, with those of us making up the group able to express our views freely on the key topics of the moment. When this wasn’t the case, the meetings were much less valuable or even interesting.

At the meetings the body language between the officials present (including the ministers; Willetts was obviously much more comfortable with Truss than with her predecessor Gibb) was interesting, with the civil servants from the two ministries often sitting as far apart as possible. At least that’s what it looked like to the outsider. Also remarkable upon occasion was the civil servants’ (in)ability to answer fundamental questions about the reforms that were being rushed out. This occurred particularly during the meeting discussing A level and GCSE reforms, when no one seemed to have any useful answers to the barrage of questions we raised. It was not a reassuring performance. This was at a point when no minister was present to hear the unease voiced, which made it all the more depressing.

Now Truss has moved on to higher things as Environment Secretary, Gibb is back as schools minister. I don’t feel particularly optimistic about his vision. During a one-to-one meeting I had with him at the DfE (one-to-one, that is, if you discount all the civil servants who lined the walls) I was astonished to find him challenging me to do a sum of long division he had written down on some paper on his desk. Well known for having a bee in his bonnet about this particular approach (as he discusses himself earlier this year here) I declined to play his game, saying that I thought there were more useful things to use the time for. One key outcome of that meeting was the upping of the frequency of the group meetings from 3 to four a year. I was told by one of his minders as we headed for the lift that the Minister must have enjoyed the meeting, since it overran by 15 minutes. I can’t say I did, or that I was edified by what I learnt. I have no doubt he will be more than happy to continue with Gove’s ‘reforms’ as, presumably, will the new Minister of State Nicky Morgan although I have no first-hand experience of her.

I live in hope that the Vision for STEM Education Report that the Royal Society has produced in its recent report will indeed provide some vision for the new ministerial team, although without very much confidence that my hopes are well-placed. The one encouraging sign I see in terms of joined-up thinking is that Nick Boles (again not someone I have met) is a joint BIS-DfE appointment covering Skills, Enterprise and Equalities. Anything that enables these two ministries to work well together to the benefit of our young has to be a good thing; the disjunction that has been the norm over the past few years cannot have helped post-GCSE STEM progression, apprentices, FE colleges or any other of the crucial stages at 16+. So, although no longer so closely connected with this work, I will continue to follow it with keen interest.

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Holiday Questions in Natural History

Last week I escaped to the Shropshire hills and blissfully allowed my brain to stop turning over matters concerning committee-work, exams, grants and other responsibilities past, present and future. Instead I have been exercising my limbs up and down the slopes of the Long Mynd and surrounding countryside and refreshing myself in local hostelries, albeit largely with substantial quantities of iced lime and soda to cool me down and replenish my liquid levels after hefty hot walks: the weather was generally kind and the countryside gorgeous and enticing me to walk further than I would have expected my stamina could take me.

The area was delightfully quiet with no major roads. Noise mainly seemed to come from the tractors busily cutting the hay and baling it (or whatever the correct term is for those cylinders tightly wrapped in black plastic; bales from my youth were rectangular), the mechanical growls sounding across the valleys. Gliders circling on the thermals above the Long Mynd also produced an eerie hum as they passed overhead (naively I had thought gliders were silent). But there were also the sounds of chattering swallows as they swooped around farm buildings, the frequent call of chiffchaffs from the hedgerows, the mew of buzzards above the fields and the incessant bleating of (nearly full-grown) lambs who’d temporarily lost their dams.

When indoors my reading matter was also pleasantly irrelevant to my normal daily round. But it seemed particularly appropriate to spend evenings enjoying Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel, describing a year on a Herefordshire working farm’s pastures and meadows, situated somewhere not very far south from where I was staying. His descriptions of the meadowlands of the title in the summer months absolutely chimed with the appearance of the fields across which we were walking. Resorting to a scythe (an instrument I dimly remember seeing once in use in my far-distant childhood) when his mechanical equipment for cutting failed, may seem extreme, but he was clearly very much at one with his fields and lingered on descriptions of the wildlife he found therein.

I can feel smug that, without binoculars or even particularly trying, I saw or heard 45 different species of birds (list appended below for the curious) during my walks, a figure I felt that compared extremely favourably with the 55 he listed seeing on or above his fields over an entire year. Nevertheless I also recognized that whereas, erstwhile twitcher that I am I may feel smug about my ornithological identification, my knowledge in just about every other sphere of wildlife is pathetic. The butterflies/moths that I saw were not the ones I recognize from my urban life. They seemed predominantly to come in various shades of brown – sometimes with a tad of orange – but whether a variety of argus, fritillary, brown or something completely different I cannot tell (there was also a splendid caterpillar crossing the Long Mynd trail that seemed to feel no need to avoid our boots).

Likewise I realised my knowledge of the life of trees was sadly lacking. Why, in the village of Norbury, was there a venerable yew located in the churchyard cited on a nearby helpful board as being 2700 years old and still going strong, yet the striking double avenue of beeches up nearby Linley Hill were likewise cited as dying off at a mere 300 years of age. What limits the lifetime of a tree (aside from beetle infestation or other disease or indeed a lightning strike)? Do trees simply die of ‘old age’ and if so why the differential factor of 9 between yew and beech? Can someone please enlighten me as my scientist’s mind is curious!

I was also struck by the birds I did not see, or saw only in tiny numbers. I saw a single curlew with beak delicately probing at a recently cut field of hay but not a single lapwing (aka peewit) which surely would previously have graced these fields in large numbers. I heard a solitary yellowhammer with its once-familiar call of ‘a little bit of bread but no cheese’ that I used to hear regularly even on Hampstead Heath. Skylarks were thin on the ground too although the meadow pipits seemed to be thriving. And in the hedgerows there were chiffchaffs a-plenty calling but of its close relative the willow warbler not a single cadence did I hear; this is a phenomenon I have noticed around Cambridge too.

The most magnificent spectacle was, however, of a bird that used to be all but extinct in the UK. 10 or 11 red kites circling was an amazing sight. These birds are huge and beautiful but they were all but hunted out of existence over many centuries. Recent reintroductions have seen them prosper: I believe they are now even breeding on the outskirts of Cambridge (although the nearest I have seen them is from the A1 near Peterborough). Nevertheless to see so many of them up close and personal is striking. These birds no doubt were once affected, like so many birds of prey sitting at the top of the food chain, by organochlorides such as DDT; now they are flourishing.

In contrast many of the once-common insect-eating birds are now being hit, according to a study published in Nature just this week (written up in the Guardian which was where I read about it whilst on holiday), by neonicotinoid insecticides, which have already been implicated in the drastic fall in bee numbers. Part at least of the decline of starlings (which I noticeably did not see during my week away), sparrows and swallows seems attributable to these chemicals. The decline in other species such as lapwing, skylarks and yellowhammers are probably due to changes in farming practice (and, by implication, EU subsidies) destroying their nests before their young are fledged.

So, as ever, when I go on holiday my mind does not switch off from scientific matters completely, it merely changes a gear or two. A previous trip to the seaside seemed to present more physical science challenges than this week of walking in Shropshire, but there are always questions to ask. On this occasion the frustration the unanswered questions provoked was made the worse by the complete absence of any internet access due to the poor reception on my mobile. Now I’m back in Cambridge perhaps I really should sit down and consider what determines the lifetimes of trees and the identification of the panoply of butterflies that flitted past my tired legs.

Birds seen or heard during the week:

Wood pigeon, song thrush, blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit, marsh tit, coal tit, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, linnet, redpoll, bullfinch, skylark, meadow pipit, greater spotted woodpecker, redstart, spotted flycatcher, dunnock, blackbird, house sparrow, nuthatch, chiffchaff, blackcap, yellowhammer, swallow, house martin, swift, red kite, buzzard, kestrel, carrion crow, rook, raven, jackdaw, magpie, jay, curlew, mallard, wren, robin, pheasant, wheatear, grey wagtail, pied wagtail.

 

 

 

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Metrics, Fulfilment and Career Trajectories

“More effort should be done on understanding people paths. We are too much focused on processes and structures.” JP Bourguignon #esof2014

I was struck by this quote I saw on Twitter from the ERC President Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, because of course we don’t do this at all well. Too often at a departmental level we look at people almost as a commodity, there to deliver excellence – in teaching and research – rather than as individuals to support and allow to flourish.

I assume Bourguignon was discussing the value of ERC Starter grants as a means of giving an initial boost to those outstanding researchers just starting on their personal, independent research trajectories. The success rate for all the ERC grants is only around 10%, many are inevitably going to end up disappointed, but departments need to offer all the support they can to those setting out to find the right way forward for them. Not everyone needs to be a research superstar and not everyone travels in a straight line zooming up through the hierarchy. And all these other people’s aspirations and strengths should be taken into consideration, whether someone is destined to stay in academia or not. We need scientists in the big bad world just as much as in the corridors of academe. And we need to find better ways of assessing who might be best suited to staying in academia which don’t simply rely on outdated ideas and crude metrics of dubious value.

I recently came across an article in Science*, written nearly a year ago by Sandra Schmid who heads up the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explaining how they were going to change the way they carried out recruitment in their department. Instead of simply relying on volume of publications or impact factor of journals in which these had been published – in other words those most simple of metrics which removes the need for much thought or judgement – this particular department was going to go for a more subtle approach. This will be an approach that also downplays other aspects that all too readily are used as a proxy for looking at the individual themselves, such as whether the person had been trained in some big name’s group. Instead, a letter covering the following four aspects was to be the submitted material at the first stage (i.e. before interview):

  • their most significant scientific accomplishment as a graduate student;
  • their most significant scientific accomplishment as a postdoc;
  • their overall goals/vision for a research program at our institution; and
  • the experience and qualifications that make them particularly well-suited to achieve those goals.

I can see the attraction in this approach because it weakens the power of the purely metrics-driven judgement and takes individual circumstances better into account. It may also reduce the tendency to hype or go for a hard sell that some people find so much easier than others. It should, in principle, allow someone to explain how a particularly innovative approach to some problem has yet to lead to multiple Nature papers (but perhaps they’re on the way), or what they learned from some experiment that failed. Whether it actually leads to ‘better’ hiring decisions will, of course, remain to be seen but it may facilitate hiring individuals who are not just clones of those already in post.

BIS/HEFCE’s call for submissions regarding the use of metrics in any form in assessment has just closed. I am unclear whether a digest of these is actually going to be used to inform REF2020, other aspects of BIS funding or simply as background insight into how quantitative data could or should be used. Whatever, it is probably helpful that the community’s collective views (and I suspect unease) are collated. I am, however, nervous that what a university may say in such a response may not exactly tally with how individuals in that same university actually go about making decisions themselves. Individuals and organisations who have signed up to DORA (Declaration of Research Assessment), for instance, rejecting the use of journal impact factors as a judging criterion, may still implicitly be using them (possibly even barely consciously using them) when it comes to decision-making. If I write, as I just did quite deliberately above, a reference to Nature papers you all know what I mean. I am using Nature as a shortcut to express a ‘good’ paper and in a post like this that’s not a problem. But if I continue to scan an application – be it as a CV or in a more thoughtful, extended cover letter – to look for demonstration of publication in such a journal I am not living up to my signature on DORA. I fear many are still too wedded to such actions and, as with any kind of unconscious bias, we have to bring it explicitly into the open.

So, to return to people paths, what can we all do in our institutions to get away from the mere ‘processes and structures’ that Jean-Pierre Bourguignon referred to? We have to look at each student or postdoc as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Firstly we need to recognize that some people may have projects that go badly through no fault of their own (bad choice by the supervisor included, but also failure of equipment or delayed supply of samples). If they can explain why, explain what they did to circumvent their problems or how they tackled finding an alternative project to get their teeth into, that may actually be a better recommendation than someone who had an exciting but ‘easy’ set of experiments handed to them on a plate because someone else previously had done all the hard legwork.

Additionally, not everyone will simply travel linearly but some may take time out for all kinds of personal reasons, or decide to move in and out of university research. But we also have to recognize that at every stage people need support, encouragement, advice and, sometimes, a good kicking if they are to fulfil their potential. And finally, we have to appreciate that fulfilling that potential does not always mean sticking around in academia in the vain hope that a job will come up. Those of us sitting in academia will probably only be making decisions about jobs in academia (clearly the thrust of this post) but that’s a tiny part of the world. There are so many places where smart scientists can deliver novel ideas and academia is just one small part of the ecosystem our multitalented early career scientists should be exploring.

*Incorrectly cited as Nature when first posted, corrected (thanks to eagle-eyed Stephen Curry) an hour later.

 

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Moving on from Tokenism

Last week much was made of the fact that, finally, all the UK’s FTSE100 companies have at least one female Board member with Glencore, the last to make the grade, appointing the Canadian Patrice Merrin as a non-executive director. Vince Cable, who has been pushing for this for some years, declared this a ‘historic day for the FTSE’. But does one woman on a board, or indeed on any committee, make any difference? What burden of expectations are put on such an individual if somehow they are supposed to represent half the population and/or turn around a company’s attitude and fortunes by doing things the ‘female’ way?

The trouble is, thinking in terms like this rather miss the point. Of course it’s important that Boards have female members, and not just one of them per board. But it is dangerous to think that each board has to have a woman because she’ll bring a woman’s perspective. And if she does also that the board will instantly listen to what she says and act upon it. Neither of those statements can be taken as likely to be true. Having a female board member is maybe a step forward but it is only the beginning of the story not the end.

I have come across a fair number of women who absolutely aren’t interested in ‘women’s’ issues. At worst, this may be because they feel they never got any help themselves so why should they help others (or even that they don’t want other women around them to dilute their own visibility and impact); more common these days is that they don’t think there should be any special pleading for women. But there is much more to having women on boards/committees than simply that they are women and might occasionally be expected to ask ‘hey, have you thought about how this policy affects other women?’. Thinking about gender has to permeate all that an organisation does. Women should sit on boards and committees because there are some very smart women out there who have much to offer (or would have if they hadn’t been squelched comprehensively on the way up by one means or another) but they shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden of ‘women’s issues’. These must be everyone’s concern.

If we move away from the FTSE world and into universities, the EU has made this point very clearly in its rules for Horizon2020, something Curt Rice has recently written about. Every application (and this also applies to the ERC, where the Gender Action Plan discusses issues more specifically) has to discuss how it deals with three aspects of gender:

• Gender balance in research teams;
• Gender balance in decision-making;
• Integrating gender/sex analysis in research and innovation content.

The first two perhaps relate are somewhat comparable to the question of women on boards and are appropriate aspirations. In a field like physics, it is often hard to see how the last is relevant: cold atoms don’t have a gender, nor does a differential equation. But, as you move towards biology the gender of the animal from which cells or tissues are taken, for instance, does turn out to matter in some classes of experiments; and, if you are considering human health it is increasingly clear that clinical trials carried out on male patients may be most misleading regarding how females respond. If you aren’t sure about this, look at the Gendered Innovations website where specific examples are given. The reality is that scientists (typically male) have spent many years not realising that such matters ought to be worried about, probably thereby putting some women’s lives at risk since they can react differently to medication. It needn’t have been a woman who pointed this out, but it most certainly did need someone to do it. Repeatedly. And now it is enshrined in the principles of project funding. Journals are following suit. It’s high time because without this information much biomedical research is liable to be less than helpful if not actually seriously flawed. That is possibly something that FTSE companies working in the pharmaceutical sector should also be focussing on, whether or not they have women on their boards. These and other topics will be discussed at this week’s EU Gender Summit, both science and policy aspects. I am sorry not to be there.

I think for all of us there are many things that seem ‘normal’ – until someone highlights them – but which are actually deeply biased. Having women around who may have relevant (and possibly negative) experiences may help to bring things out in the open. And such things still persist. To take a specific example of how maternity leave is handled. The ERC explicitly extends periods of eligibility for its different grants by 18 months per child; RCUK has recently published a useful overview of how they collectively handle maternity, paternity and parental leave. But some other funders, smaller medical charities for instance, are still only just getting to grips with this issue. A Cambridge colleague who came to me for advice regarding her own post-maternity-leave funding was able to send the RCUK statement to her funder who has agreed to an effective extension of her window of eligibility. Possibly this is being done as a one-off; I hope the charity will move to make it ongoing policy.

We ought to be moving rapidly to a place where everyone, male and female, is alert to all such issues and it isn’t simply the few women who sit at the top table who could or should speak out. So, let’s stop focussing on the tokenism implied by celebrating the fact that every FTSE100 Board has a woman on it and start actually ensuring that every woman has an equal chance, with her male colleagues, to end up sitting on that board.

 

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