Statement by the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Committee, adapted from Head of School Letter for the Athena SWAN Action Plan (2018)
We are immensely proud to be part of a discipline based on understanding our planet, how we live on it and our shared future. We are likewise proud to be part of a discipline that is inherently global and international, that not only invites but demands collaboration with all cultures. However, it is a discipline partially founded in 19th century adventurism and it has long struggled with the legacies of toxic masculinity, colonialism and exploitation. Few departments had female academic staff until the 1980s; and even when appointed, they had to navigate a frequently toxic environment of harassment, microaggression and often overt aggression. Women were only allowed to join the British Antarctic Survey’s field station from 1986, emblematic of being locked out from many opportunities and pathways to academic achievement. The discipline’s track record with respect to racial and minority ethnic diversity and equity is similarly flawed, with no significant progress in racial diversity over the past four decades.
Consequently, we are pleased to see recent progress in our discipline, making important steps in diversification and gender balance and evolving from exploitation to co-production. And we are especially proud to be part of the School of Earth Sciences at Bristol, where we have supported women, at all stages of their career, through PhDs and PDRAs to esteemed Fellowships and into Lectureships. We now have near gender-parity in every part of the professional, technical and academic part of the school, and at every career stage, from students to the most senior staff. Nearly 50% of our Professors are women, a balance surpassing the vast majority of STEM departments in the country. Similarly, we have a large and visible LGBTQ+ community, embraced by our colleagues, and transforming the image of our discipline.
However, the legacies of our discipline’s origins run deep; and, of course, gender diversity is only one aspect of a challenge that is profoundly intersectional. We refuse to be complacent and our successes in some areas highlight our shortcomings in others. We therefore commit to four main Themes for Action: Visibility, Equity, Agency and Anti-Racism.
Visibility: Our female staff are global leaders, serving as Presidents of international societies, winning accolades and advising governments. They are also visible in our teaching and leadership. But we must enhance the visibility of the specific issues they face; it is astonishing that only in the year 2019 has our discipline begun to publicly discuss the challenges of having periods during field work. Similarly, we need to raise their profile amongst young people, ensuring that the Earth Sciences is seen as an inclusive destination for young women choosing their degrees.
Equity: Just because we have achieved gender diversity does not mean we have achieved equity. We recognise the unwritten hierarchies of academia and how that stifles debate, protest and progressive change. We will empower the voices of all staff and students in the School to advance their careers and safely advocate for change. Our governance will be open and transparent.
Agency: Intellectual freedom is often touted as one of the great benefits of an academic career, but true agency and independence can be reserved to the most senior and privileged of us. Early Career Researchers, especially in a highly competitive job market, feel that they have little power; even Lecturers feel compelled to prioritise some efforts over others in order to be promoted. We have created fora and representation for our PDRA community, helping them initiate change and create their own opportunities. And we have led in University efforts to reform the Promotions framework, such that it will soon recognise a wider range of contributions.
Anti-racism: Despite our gender and sexuality diversity, we have very low BAME diversity. It is a well-documented problem for the entire discipline – as well as the wider environmental community. We have few BAME staff and no permanent BAME academic staff. Our support for BAME staff and students has been inconsistent. We are committed to engaging more broadly with society, diversifying our recruitment at all levels, and ensuring a safe and empowering environment for our students and staff.
The EDI Committee and the School are proud of what we have achieved, from developing the careers of many amazing women to creating a safe environment for our LGBTQ+ colleagues and collaborating with race equality champions in the city of Bristol. However, we recognise that much remains to be done and we are committed to that positive action.
We will do this through culture and process, through training and policy change. Where we lack the power to directly change policy, we will advocate for that change with the University, government and funders. We commit to this as individuals and as a School.