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Initiatives and impact

Initiatives and impact

Initiatives and impact

Initiatives and impact

As Head of Department, I am deeply aware of the importance of inclusivity in science. Since 2004, when I began my independent research, my group has comprised men and women with a wide range of nationalities, backgrounds, faiths and career stages. I have found that this diversity provides a collaborative and dynamic context, in which stimulating and novel ideas come to fruition.

Our actions and initiatives aim to ensure that staff and students have the same opportunities to fulfil their academic potential, irrespective of gender, race, faith, sexuality or any other aspects of their background. I look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues to fully realise this aim.

Dr James Wakefield - Head of Department

On this page: Gender equality | Anti-racism | Recruitment EDI checklist

Gender equality: Athena SWAN

We are hugely enthusiastic about ensuring that individuals have equal opportunities to progress in Biosciences. Athena SWAN allows us to bring about genuine cultural and structural change in areas where we feel individuals can be better supported. In order to do this we have written an action plan which we are continually developing as we aim to promote gender equality throughout the department.

Athena SWAN is a Charter that recognises the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM). Within STEMM disciplines, women are typically under-represented at senior levels and this is ubiquitous across the Higher Education sector. Athena SWAN recognition comes in the form of institutional or departmental awards of varying levels.

Fundamentally, though, Chartership requires that institutions adhere to six key principles:

  1. To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation
  2. To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation
  3. The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine
  4. The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern which the organisation will address
  5. The system of short-term contracts has particularly negative consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the organisation recognises
  6. There are both personal and structural obstacles to women making the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science, which require the active consideration of the organisation

» More about Athena SWAN

» Athena SWAN at the University of Exeter

Athena SWAN actions taken:

We aim to increase the proportion of women in our academic faculty, especially in open-ended and senior roles. To attract more female academics:

  • We have developed an EDI checklist for all stages of the recruitment process to ensure it is inclusive and accessible to all. Read the checklist below.
  • We encourage Early Career Researchers to be involved in the wider interview process: increasing diversity on panels and providing them with valuable experience.
  • We have secured Daphne Jackson fellowships that provide a unique opportunity to researchers to return to a research career after a break of two or more years for a family, health or caring reasons.

Actions we have taken to support staff of all genders to develop their academic careers in the Department include:

  • Additional support for Early Career Researchers, including an academic lead of the early career researcher’s network, to oversee the mentoring, training, and engagement in the department of our research staff, who are fundamental for our research and at a crunch point in their academic careers.
  • Promoting the role of cross-faculty mentoring and the uptake of leadership programmes, like the Aurora leadership development initiative for women.
  • Organising promotions workshops to demystify the promotions process and provide an opportunity for staff to get advice from those that have undergone recent promotion and senior members of the Department and Faculty.


We aim to consolidate a positive working culture of support for our entire Departmental family, including our academics, professional and technical services staff, and postgraduate and undergraduate students.

  • Our family-friendly policies include a core hours rule for Departmental meetings, and increased support for staff and their colleagues during and following periods of maternity and paternity leave.
  • Our monthly Departmental newsletter celebrates the achievements of all members of our community. It includes an EDI section celebrating inclusion events, signposting support and highlighting the work of the committee, including the principles of Athena SWAN.
  • We have helped develop a local, departmental induction process in order to welcome all staff and make sure they are aware of support at an important an often uncertain time in starting a new job.

Our impact so far

Biosciences is proud to hold an Athena SWAN Silver Award.

This award recognizes our work towards addressing gender inequality, tackling unequal gender representation and improving career progression for female academics.


We understand that, as a Department, Biosciences still has work to do to promote an actively anti-racist and inclusive culture. Racism and other forms of discrimination, whether they are active or passive, through bigotry or lack of understanding, remain an issue across society, including within academia and in universities.

We actively promote inclusivity, equality and diversity through our Departmental structures and leadership, and are acutely aware of the negative effect discrimination and ignorance has on our success as a Department and on the individual success of our staff and students.

However, we fully acknowledge that we must do more to tackle it – from feeling empowered to report perceived racism, to ensuring a fair, decolonised curriculum, to encouraging engagement with unconscious bias and authentic lived experience training. Everyone is involved and everyone should take personal and collective action. As individuals, a Departmental community and as a University, we fully support action to become a truly anti-racist institution.

Biosciences anti-racism actions

Reflecting on the priorities highlighted by the University of Exeter Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) network and our own Departmental open meeting after the death of George Floyd, we have set ourselves a set of initial actions across the activities of Biosciences:

  • Publish a clear anti-racism message and communicate this to staff.
  • Regular inclusion of race equality and anti-racism messages in the equality, diversity and inclusion communications at Departmental meetings and newsletter.
  • Increase visibility of Exeter Speaks Out for reporting harassment and discrimination (including racism), and the Staff BME network.

We aim for an average proportion of more than 25% BME students across the outreach events supported by the Department. This level remains an initial goal and the importance of outreach activities reaching a more diverse audience will be championed.

  • From the 2020 academic year every module will issue a statement online (via ELE) that emphasises our commitment to an inclusive learning environment and a culture that promotes mutual respect.
  • We will continue actively reviewing our curriculum with annual reporting by module leads reporting how they have made their teaching more inclusive (including BME diversity).

We have published our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Recruitment Checklist that includes actions throughout the recruitment process, with the specific aim to increase the diversity of our academic staff.

Use local Department budget to run face-to face social justice training for members of Biosciences. This will focus on leadership training for senior/strategic staff, but training in this area was highlighted for principle investigators who manage research groups and academic staff actively involved in teaching. They will also be encourage to gain inclusion training, with a focus on anti-racism.

Academic recruitment: EDI checklist

This checklist aims to increase the diversity of our academic staff to better reflect society more widely; increase the range of perspectives/experience and provide role-models for students from a variety backgrounds; and increase the proportion of women in our academic staff, especially in open-ended and senior roles.

  • Write an inclusive job description. Remove gender, age and other restrictive terms from the job advert. Gender-decode adverts
  • Use pro-diversity language. Include an explicit statement emphasising our desire to fairly recruit a diverse workforce and better represent women in our academic staff.
  • Review essential criteria – long lists of skills and requirements may deter all but the most confident applicants. What are the key requirements of a role?
  • Provide male and female informal contacts for all posts.
  • Highlight potential for flexible working & childcare facilities. Double check the diversity statements and support are featured prominently (i.e. not right the bottom).
  • Adverts placed on websites focusing on under-represented groups, such as WISE, and vary where jobs are advertised.
  • Normally shortlist at least five candidates for academic positions.
  • Review membership of shortlisting panels to identify where they could be expanded to include junior staff and include more diverse representation.
  • Unconscious Bias training for lead of appointment (100% of chairs of panels to have undertaken Unconscious Bias Training).
  • Gender mix on all interview panels – aim for at least sector average for proportion of female staff > 30 % representation of women on interview panels for research and academic posts.
  • Review membership of interview panels to identify where they could be expanded to include junior staff representation and the diversity of panel, without overburdening specific groups of staff e.g. BAME members of the Dept.
  • Include a question relating to creating an inclusive working environment e.g. 'How have you managed your research group/teaching to make it more inclusive?'
  • Advertise posts internally e.g. via the Department's monthly newsletter.
  • Request staff to encourage applications for open-ended roles by female and BAME collaborators or colleagues.
  • Encourage uptake of Recruitment and Selection training for all staff, including post-doctoral researchers, and include ECRs in the wider interview process e.g. during round table discussions, presentations etc. This will help ensure a more diversity in recruitment process and provide ECRs with training for job applications and CV development.
  • Include wider staff feedback, with a focus on ECRs, on candidates' performance in presentations (where appropriate).