How Research Institutes Have Responded To Covid-19 And Gender Equality

Monday, May 17, 2021

Jessica Kitsell, Equality Charters Adviser at Advance HE, introduces the findings of our recent study undertaken with research institute members which highlights best practice responses to Covid-19 and gender equality.

Like all other organisations in 2020, research institutes had to adapt quickly to the changing landscape caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, unlike at universities, little has been made of how independent research institutes have responded and adapted, and the gendered impact the pandemic has had on their staff and students (where relevant).

Best practice responses to Covid-19 and gender equality within research institutes aims to enable research institutes to learn lessons from each other and sets out recommendations for how to harness any positives emerging from the pandemic, as well as mitigate against any long-term inequalities.

Advance HE currently has 30 research institute members with a strong history of achieving Athena Swan awards. We consulted with these members through an online survey and a focus group to share their thoughts and experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of the overarching themes explored in the survey include:

  1. promoting and enhancing staff health and wellbeing
  2. enabling and supporting remote working
  3. facilitating, promoting and supporting those with caring responsibilities
  4. empowering staff to progress and develop professionally.

The recommendations made in this report are linked to the overarching themes of the responses and provide an opportunity for research institutes to embed inclusive practices more fully, improving the future working experiences of all staff and students.

Here is just a snapshot of what research institutes could do to support staff and ensure long-term gender equality in the workplace:

  • focus on the strategic priorities of the research institute, and then look at how staff are enabled and empowered to deliver strategic priorities.
  • give particular consideration to groups underrepresented in the research institute, and how engagement with these groups, both internally and externally, could be increased.
  • use staff networks and working groups to better understand the experiences of staff and ensure their voices are heard and acted upon.
  • establish frequent internal communications from a range of leaders and managers making clear the range of support available to staff, recognising ongoing concerns and how they are being addressed.
  • invest in resources to support and enable effective remote working long-term.
  • invest resource into training for managers and leaders at all levels to support them in effectively managing remote working teams. This should help to ensure good communication, awareness of wellbeing issues and, in turn, staff productivity.
  • support for flexible working and acknowledgement of the challenges and opportunities caring responsibilities bring should also be demonstrated from senior leadership, to enable and promote an inclusive culture.
  • consider how recruitment and promotion processes will take into account the impact that Covid-19 has had on applicants’ careers.
  • initiate and encourage open conversations with funders about how the impact of Covid-19 is being considered through funding and grant applications to help funders form their policies and help research institutes be more responsive to their staff requirements.