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Case studies


Athena SWAN actions have made a real difference to members of the WMS community. Take a look at our case studies below to find out more:

Case study one: Professor Sian Taylor-Phillips


I was recently promoted to Professor of Population Health at Warwick Medical School. It felt great to be promoted, because I felt the University demonstrated that they value my work, and recognise that I’m working at that level. Two things really helped me along the way, having a wonderfully supportive line manager, and the clarity of the University promotion criteria, so I knew what I was aiming for. I had applied for an advertised job at Professorial level within the University, and was told that whilst I had interviewed very well and my career trajectory was steep, it was only two years since my promotion to Associate Professor so it was too soon. In post-interview feedback I was advised to wait another two years before applying in the internal promotions process, because I needed to prove that I could sustain achievement at that level. I read the criteria for promotion, and disagreed with their assessment. I systematically went through the criteria estimating my scores in the four areas, and asked my line manager to check my scores. She backed me all the way and said I was ready and so I put in the application and the central committee promoted me to Professor. I have learned about inherent biases through a series of meetings of the Women’s academic network, and that empowered me to just go for promotion, rather than wait until I was sure they would say yes or until I had everyone’s approval. I would encourage anyone considering applying for promotion at Warwick to look at those criteria, and remember they are examples of how to demonstrate your work at that level, and not all of them will be applicable to every person.

Case study two: Flexible, family-friendly working for an early career researcher (female)

I am an early career post-doctoral researcher, a physiotherapist and a mum. I started in my new role as clinical lecturer while I was pregnant and I was fully supported by my department in planning my maternity leave, which was due to commence after only five months in post. My immediate line manager was expecting her third baby at the same time as me and there had been lots of celebrations of recent new arrivals amongst staff. I felt relieved to be employed by an organisation that values qualities such as being driven to produce outstanding academic achievement while also nurturing a family friendly working environment.

Many elements of my working life are ‘family friendly.’ I work part time (29.2 hours per week). The process of obtaining approvals to reduce from full time to 80%FTE on my return from maternity leave was very smooth and easy to navigate. I have been impacted by many Athena activities across WMS. These activities have included simple things to make my own working life easier, such as providing a fridge for baby milk so that new mums can continue breast feeding their baby on their return to work; and encouraging line managers to support flexible working which allows me to collect my baby from nursery when she is sick and make up the hours at other times.

My working life has also been enhanced by Athena activities, which have been implemented at a wider level in WMS. For example, in 2018 I attended a health and wellbeing event and since then initiatives such as yoga in the work place and lunchtime walking groups have continued. I can see that embedding strong health and wellbeing beliefs and values within the workplace can reduce practices that may otherwise feel ‘expected’ such as regularly working late and scheduling evening meetings. Such practices can otherwise become engrained so it is wonderful to see the impact Athena has had not just on making changes that are easy to see, such as providing a fridge, but also on organisational culture, which is harder to measure.

I am now expecting a second child and I am due to go on maternity again in March 2019, returning in March 2020. The opportunities for professional development and career progression that have been afforded to me have remained wholly positive throughout my second pregnancy. My line manager is supportive of my role as an Athena SAT member and I have contributed extensively to the silver application. I am completing a teaching course (fellowship of the academy of higher education) and the interruption of maternity leave is being accommodated by an extension to allow me to finish on my return to work. The mentorship scheme has given me valuable support outside of my immediate line management. My mentor is a senior female academic, who also has young children, and it has been inspirational for me to see what it could be possible for me, and others in a similar situation, can achieve.

Case study three: Career progression for an Associate Professor (female)

Since joining WMS, I have worked with many teams across different departments and have, at all times, been fully supported in my pursuit of a fulfilling and worthwhile career. In my early years, WMS training supported my progress on various projects, leading to enjoyable international collaborations; and subsequently my Doctorate. At a pivotal time in my career, the support from WMS enabled me to develop as an independent researcher and Health Psychologist. Throughout my journey, my enjoyment of health science research has continued to grow, with WMS encouraging and funding participation and engagement with numerous (internal and external) training opportunities – e.g. grant writing, leadership training and most recently a visit to the Houses of Parliament to learn more about implementing research into policy.

My biggest achievement to date has been leading a large multi-centre trial; undoubtedly facilitated by the years of excellent support, nurturing and guidance received from my many WMS colleagues. Such a significant and ‘newsworthy’ trial has brought with it many new challenges, and once again the support from WMS has been outstanding: from chief- investigator training to UoW media training skills (put to good use during interviews with local and national networks). Support and guidance from my line manager and mentor – both of whom had personal experience of media engagement – has been crucial.

WMS provides many excellent networking opportunities - facilitated by, for example, school wide seminars and interest groups. Such connectivity has allowed me to be creative in my thinking and research, and to develop a new research stream (e.g. de-prescribing of medication).

My current role is split between academic and clinical work; WMS supports a flexible working pattern, which allows me to achieve a successful balance between these roles, and to enjoy a fulfilling work-life balance too.

There have been challenges along the way, but the many support systems within WMS have enabled me to both overcome and to develop further through reflection and learning. I am proud of my achievements and know that WMS values and celebrates the accomplishments of all staff. I am looking forward to the next stage of my career, confident in the knowledge that WMS will continue to provide great help and support on my journey.