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Athena SWAN and the Technician Commitment

18 Jun 2018 | Advance HE Technicians are a body of staff often referred to as an ‘invisible workforce’. They are essential to research and teaching and yet represent a relatively understudied occupational group in higher education.

Technicians are a body of staff often referred to as an ‘invisible workforce’. They are essential to research and teaching and yet represent a relatively understudied occupational group in higher education.  The Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre, both Gold Athena SWAN award holders, are working in partnership with the Science Council and the University of Nottingham to champion the Technician Commitmentacross the sector.

The Technician Commitment is a university and research institution initiative led by a group of sector bodies, supported by the Science Council and the Gatsby Foundation’s ‘Technicians Make It Happen’ Campaign. Institutions signing the commitment are pledging action against the challenges facing technical staff working in higher education and research, and commit to improving the visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability of their technical communities. These themes have strong synergy with the key principles of the Athena SWAN Charter.

Following the announcement of the Gold awards in September 2017, the Institute of Integrative Biology (UoL), John Innes Centre and the Science Council, alongside the University of Nottingham, have been exploring opportunities to highlight and tackle equality, diversity and inclusion issues facing the technical community within higher education and research. Through presentations and workshops at a number of conferences (Technician Commitment; Technical Managers in Universities; and Advance HE Scotland) this collaboration is championing how Athena SWAN and the Technician Commitment can work together to drive positive change.

From work already undertaken using both quantitative and qualitative data, it is evident that issues of equality, diversity and inclusion are consistent across the sector. These include gender bias in certain discipline areas/job families and significant gender disparity at senior technical levels. Research is underway to explore challenges particularly around recruitment and career progression to allow for root cause analysis, and to spark discussion to identify possible interventions at both a local and national level.  Findings will be presented at the Advance HE EDI conference in October 2018.

While the focus of this research is on technicians, other ongoing initiatives will be a catalyst for wider impact for other professional services job families. By way of example, the Institute of Integrative Biology (IIB) is presently developing its own professional services skills and training framework to assist colleagues across all areas to identify their development needs. Personalised and team orientated skills matrices will be developed to identify strengths, gaps/risks and opportunities.  In addition to the Technician Commitment IIB’s framework will focus alignment to other professional frameworks such as the AUA’s CPD framework to encourage development aimed at broadening the scope of an individual’s current role as well as opening up opportunities for their career progression. 

Guest blog by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology for Athena SWAN’s 13th birthday #AthenaSWANis13

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