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Toolkit for more inclusive conferences launched by Warwick researchers

illustrationA set of recommendations to help cure the problem of feeling ‘in two places at once’ when attending work-related events such as conferences is being launched today by University of Warwick researchers.

It’s a problem particularly affecting people with caring responsibilities, whether for children, parents, partners or pets – or all of them.

Dr Emily Henderson, Assistant Professor in the Centre for Education Studies, carried out an in-depth study with twenty academic volunteers to find out how their caring responsibilities affected their participation in work-related conferences.

She found that:-

  • Although conferences are important to career success, particularly for academics, participants often felt guilty for attending and had to negotiate with partners to receive ‘permission’ to go – and to make amends afterwards.
  • People with very complex ‘care constellations’ found it more difficult to put support plans in place so that they were free to attend their conference.
  • Getting through the door isn’t enough – caring responsibilities can distract from full participation in conference sessions and even require someone to leave early if support plans fail, limiting their travel to the ‘get me home’ zone.

Dr Henderson explains: “We’re still stuck with the stereotype that academics are footloose, care-free and can follow the job wherever it requires them to go.

“This is no longer true for many academics. People care for parents, children, partners, siblings, friends and pets. Guilt about leaving them, the emotional labour involved in putting alternative care packages in place, and worry about the consequences of support plans falling through all prevent people from making the most of the opportunities conferences offer.

“For an academic, success depends to a large degree on personal connections and visibility. Conferences are one of the best places to make contacts and to network. But if you’re spending a session break wrestling with patchy wi-fi trying to call home to make sure everyone is fed and accounted for, you’re missing out.”

Dr Henderson has put together a set of recommendations based on her study to help universities, conference organisers and academics and researchers make conferences more accessible. These are available as a postcard, a policy brief and as a short film.

Conference organisers should:-

  • Share the conference schedule as soon as possible to help delegates plan their support network
  • Avoid last-minute changes and impromptu evening events
  • Offer a day rate for people who can’t stay overnight
  • Ensure that delegates have access to reliable wifi
  • Consider live-streaming presentations and offering virtual networking opportunities

Universities and Higher Education Institutions should:-

  • Create an institution-wide policy for inclusive conference access
  • Introduce a conference care bursary scheme, which covers all caring responsibilities, not just children.
  • Support the development of academics who are unable to attend many, or any, conferences because of their caring responsibilities.

Dr Henderson added: “By making the simple changes recommended in my report, conference organisers and employers can enable more academics to attend, and participate in conferences, and reap the personal, intellectual and institutional benefits that conferences offer.”

12 June 2018

NOTES

In Two Places at Once: The Impact of Caring Responsibilities on Academics’ Conference Participation. Emily F. Henderson and Xuemeng Cao. Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick, June 2018.

The policy briefing is available here.

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Sheila Kiggins

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s.kiggins@warwick.ac.uk

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