Category Archives: Parenting

Many working and studying at Newcastle University are parents, and face prejudice and issues with progression as a result. We hope to promote equality in this area, and in particular, flexible working.

FMS EDI Week 21st-25th January – save the date!

FMS will be holding its very first EDI Week from the 21st – 25th of January – why not get involved?

The week is firstly to celebrate our successes so far, with the unveiling of our Athena SWAN silver award, which recognises our achievements in promoting and progressing gender equality for all staff and students. However, as well as reflecting how far we have come, we will also be thinking about what we would like to achieve, and will be running a number of events and activities that staff and students can get involved with.

Although we are still confirming some events (final programme to be announced early January), we have some already pencilled in and you can get the times into your diary now!


21st January:

  • Launch Event – 12-1pm,
    “Why does EDI matter?” – hear from staff about why EDI matters to them.
    X
  • EDI and the Professional Pathway – 2-3pm,
    Katherine Rogers, Director of Faculty Operations

22nd January:

  • EDI Bitesize: “What is Athena SWAN?” – 2-3pm
    Candy Rowe, Director of EDI for FMS will explain what Athena SWAN is and what it means for the Faculty.
    X
  • Athena SWAN Silver for Newcastle University – 3-4pm
    Judith Rankin, Dean of Diversity will talk about the work currently going on to renew the University’s institutional Silver Athena SWAN Award.
    X
  • Wellbeing Session – lunchtime (TBC)
    Session hosted by Michael Atkinson on mindfulness.

23rd January:

  • EDI Design Principles for FMS  – 12-2pm
    Jane Richards and the Good to Great (G2G) Team will run a session about embedding EDI into faculty working in the future.

24th January:

  • EDI Fair – 12-2pm
    A fair to showcase information and get a chance to speak to the EDI Team, representatives from different staff/PGR networks, and the ECR Mentoring Scheme.
    X
  • Athena SWAN Celebration & Unveiling – lunchtime (TBC)
    PVC of FMS, David Burn, will unveil the Faculty’s Athena SWAN Silver Award and celebrate the incredible work and achievement the award symbolises.

25th January:

  • ‘For Families’ Launch Event  – 10am – 12pm
    Event jointly hosted by NU Women and NU Parents. It will provide information on NU’s new family-friendly initiative, update on progress, set out plans for the future and take feedback and questions.

NU Parents’ Network

NU Parents’ Network is a network for all parents at Newcastle University, including students. They aim to build and oversee an interactive and supportive network for parents and to be a voice for parents with children of all ages at institutional level.

I spoke to Helen Elliott, a Project and Programme Coordinator and Chair of NU Parents’ Network, to find out more about why the network is important.

How did the Parents’ Network first come about?

The network was first founded in 2015, but was recently reinvigorated based on the Parenting and Childcare Review which the University is in the process of undertaking. The Review showed a clear desire for a network to support parents and share information with each other. These findings motivated us to build up the network and make it a real presence within the University.

Last year, we appointed a brand new steering group, with male and female representatives, to shape and run the network. We also had a large relaunch event and set out a great program of activities which begin this September.

Why do you feel the network is important?

I found returning to work from maternity leave really daunting and wanted a place where I was able share information with other parents (such as information about childcare vouchers) and make connections with parents going through similar experiences. I hope this is what the network will be for its members, and that it will provide all parents, irrespective of age or gender, with a sense of solidarity and support.

What have you got planned for the upcoming year?

We’ve got a lot of exciting events and activities planned, including:

  • A Q&A about childcare scheme. We will compare the government scheme (represented by a member of the local council) with the University voucher scheme, to help parents understand the differences.
  • An applying for schools talk. This is to try and make the process less daunting and confusing for parents. A representative from the local council will come in and talk to parents about the process of applying to a school, how to appeal a decision, and our members will be able to share their own experiences.
  • First aid course. To inform and train parents in infant and child first aid. We’ll be offering a discounted rate for our members.

To find out more about these events, please sign up for our mailing list here.

Where do you hope to see NU Parents’ Network going in the future?

We all really want the network to be something that people are excited about and really want to be a part of. We want to provide a space our members can turn to for support. It’s also really important to us that everyone has a say and that we have as much collaboration and feedback as possible on events.

In the future, we’re hoping to develop subnetworks, which will group parents with similar aged children, to offer greater support and understanding. We’re also looking at potentially creating a parenting calendar, to share events at the University and in the local community that would be of interest to parents, such as half-term activities like the coding for children event run by the School of Computer Science. Finally, we’re looking to develop a system of benefits for our members, such as retail discounts.

If you think all this sounds exciting, click here to find out more about how to get involved with what NU Parent’ Network has got coming up.

Our Faculty now has a Silver Athena SWAN Award!

We are celebrating this week after hearing that we have been awarded a Faculty Silver Athena SWAN award from AdvanceHE!

The award recognises not just our commitment to advancing gender equality in the Faculty, but also our achievements in supporting the career aspirations and progression of our staff and students. Whilst many of our schools and institutes have held individual awards, our work now extends to all academic and professional staff, including those who sit outside academic units. This award is for everyone in the Faculty, both in Newcastle and at NU Med Malaysia. It is an immense achievement, and one that we are hugely proud of.

“Being recognised for an Athena SWAN Silver award is a tremendous achievement and represents an important milestone on our Faculty journey towards having a truly sector-leading approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.  We cannot and should not rest on our laurels, as there is much still to be done in reaching this goal. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful EDI team – Candy Rowe, Ann Armstrong and Malasree Home – for their efforts, as well as all those people in the Faculty who have contributed along the way to creating such a strong submission.” – Prof David Burn, Pro-Vice Chancellor, FMS.

The award marks a step-change in our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which now aims to be fully inclusive of all our staff and students, not just those in our Schools and Institutes in Newcastle. Working together as a Faculty, rather than as separate units, will enable us to be more ambitious, and tackle bigger issues with more resource.

“Two years ago, we decided that we should make one single Faculty application, rather than 11 separate ones. There are so many advantages to this approach. I believe that the work we have still to do around gender equality, and equality and diversity more broadly, will be better tackled as a Faculty, and this award demonstrates what we can achieve through that approach.” – Prof Candy Rowe, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for FMS.

FMS is the only faculty or department in the University to currently hold a Silver award. Our key achievements include: improved progression of women into fellowships, improved gender balance of academic staff, and increasing numbers of women professors.Over the next four years, some of the areas that we will be working on will be: improving the support for staff and student parents, addressing issues around career progression of professional staff, and improving career support for post-doctoral researchers. This will involve working with a large network of staff both inside and outside the Faculty.

“The success of a faculty level silver Athena SWAN award is an exceptional achievement resulting from the commitment and hard work of many people from across FMS. This is a real opportunity for FMS to become sector leading and I know that some of the existing initiatives are already considered beacons of good practice, and are being shared  inside and outside the University. This is a collective success for all staff and students as we progress our ambition of being a fully inclusive global community, which actively seeks to recruit, support and retain staff and students from all sectors of society equally.” – Prof Judith Rankin, Dean of EDI.

The journey to get us to this point has truly been a team effort, not just from our EDI teams, but from a whole host of individuals who helped us prepare the application, and who continue to be champions for equality, diversity and inclusion. We really appreciate all your work and passionate support. We plan to invite everyone to a celebration once we have collected our award.

What’s important now is to keep up all the good work and the ambition: after all, what’s to stop us going for a Gold award in a few years’ time?

Our Faculty Athena SWAN application and 4-year action plan is available to view and download on the intranet. Please note that all schools and institutes will have their own action plans to address discipline-specific and local cultural issues, and that these will be made available by the end of the year. Queries and feedback to: FMS.Diversity@ncl.ac.uk

 

“Multiple Barriers”

Breastfeeding

An online article in The Guardian today raises the question of why the UK has such a low rate of breastfeeding, especially post 6 months? Of the 10 countries being compared, the UK’s rates were in the bottom 3, especially for longer-term breast feeding at 12 months. In their letter to The Guardian, 17 signatories from health and government sectors called for the government to address this issue, citing ‘multiple barriers’ as being in the way of a more accepting and progressive attitude to breastfeeding.

So what are some of those barriers? Certainly, practicality is a big one. Maternity benefits vary dramatically depending on the UK job sector one works in, so that many mothers cannot afford to take longer than 6 months (or even less) leave. A return to work is often what coincides with an end to breastfeeding, indicating that there are not enough support mechanisms to continue doing so within the workplace. Things such as on-site childcare facilities, spaces to breastfeed or express milk, secure places to store milk and, most importantly, feeling comfortable to do these things at work. The workplace has a social responsibility to ensure these things happen, but perhaps this needs to be something the government should more formally address.

Access to accurate information might also be a barrier for some women. Whilst the WHO does huge amounts of work around the world to educate and support women to breastfeed, there is more that could be done on a local level to ensure this information is getting across. Not every mother in the UK can read an information pamphlet or access the Internet. Not every mother in the UK Has English as their first language or the intellectual ability to understand a barrage of medical terminology and acronyms. Not every mother has the physical ability to access medical centres or seek help. Even when they do, the advice can sometimes be conflicting and unclear. More work needs to be done by local organisations to reach out to the diversity of groups who might need support the most.

It’s not just the information (or lack of) that might stand in the way of continuing to breastfeed. Actual, real hands on support on how to do it, with some friendly faces, is definitely needed more. Of the reasons cited in a mumsnet survey as to why mothers had ceased breastfeeding, most were around the physical drain it put on them: Feeling beyond exhausted; frustration over the baby not latching on; concerns over the baby not feeding enough; extreme pain when expressing.These are part and parcel of breastfeeding but can be incredibly off-putting and downright frightening, especially for new mums. Some GPs could certainly do more to take concerns over breastfeeding more seriously. In one personal story, a new mum had to go to her GP 3 times complaining of mastitis before she was taken seriously enough to be prescribed antibiotics. She was originally sent away having been told “You’d be in more pain if it was mastitis” and was told on her 2nd visit “You’re a new mum. Of course you will worry. But breastfeeding does just hurt”. These are definitely not the helpful or supportive comments that might encourage one to persevere with the breastfeeding. As it turns out, this particular mum did carry on, because she was absolutely determined to and had excellent support to help her at home. But not everyone is in that position. Having more support in place to talk through these issues with other mums as well as friendly, empathetic healthcare practitioners could make all the difference.

Last but probably worse, is the social stigma that stands in the way of breastfeeding. Perhaps one of the most worrying findings to come out of Professor Modi & colleagues’ research was young children’s perceptions of breastfeeding as being ‘yukky’. A lot of mothers simply do not feel comfortable enough to breastfeed in public for fear of the looks or comments they might receive; this means that, if their daily routine is largely in the public domain, they have no choice but to squirm their way in a state of stress through what should be a bonding and positive experience, or just stop. Professor Modi suggests that we need to be addressing and removing this stigma in our future generations by teaching children from a young age that breastfeeding is perfectly normal. Even better, exposing children to it in their siblings or friends’ parents so that they can see it’s a perfectly natural process.

Breastfeeding has increasingly become a much debated issue in the media. And there will be women who, for any number of personal or health reasons, choose not to do it. But that’s what we want to see: Women having a choice. In an ideal future, we would like it to be the case that the only women who don’t breastfeed are the ones who have made an informed decision based on their own needs, rather than a lack of help or support. No woman should have to stop because something is standing in the way.

Guilty

Baby

As a PhD student, how many of us felt immense guilt over taking a day off or, gasp, even a whole holiday? How many of those coveted hours off did we spend thinking about all the work we should be doing, getting in a stress over how much there was to do when we got back? For anyone familiar with that sinking feeling of guilt, the minefield of maternity may not be such a stranger. Because there is a certain guilt, especially reported amongst those in academia, of somehow ‘letting the team down’ or ‘asking too much’ in requesting your entitled time off. In my personal experience, of the handful of academics I know who have taken time out for maternity, not one of them has had the full 52 weeks. Most, in fact, have culled it at 6 months. And then have returned with papers half written through sleepless nights and all emails answered. That’s less maternity ‘leave’ and more some kind of work-baby limbo.

It’s true that some of these academics have chosen        to juggle the nappies with the grant applications. Some women are just so ambitious and driven that they don’t want to step fully away from the work. But there are others, equally ambitious and driven, who would really like to ‘leave’ when it comes to their maternity, but are too worried about the consequences and reputation of doing so. Not to mention the financial costs of taking extended leave, especially for those on fixed-term contracts. One extreme (but sadly not uncommon) example was covered earlier this year by The Guardian of a woman who was made redundant following her retun from maternity leave, despite other similar roles on her project being kept open. You don’t have to do much Googling to find other similar stories of where women across a range of industries have been made to feel ‘punished’ for taking time out for a baby. So what is going on?

The problem with academia is, it’s busy. Grants are competitive, and nobody is going to move a deadline because you have a cute new bundle of joy. Promotions are based on time-limited criteria, such as your publication record for the year. Outlining on your CV how many nappies you changed or all the baby milestones you’ve nurtured unfortunately won’t count. Papers don’t write themselves. Recruitment doesn’t magically happen. Your students don’t stop needing supervision because you’ve got a younger and messier little thing to supervise as well.

Whilst the whole point of maternity leave is that somebody else should be drafted in to cover all of these things for you so that you can smoothly sidle back in and pick up where you left off, it doesn’t in reality work like that. Academia is lonely. And competitive. So there is a certain guilt attached to handing anything over. Which means that you’re not alone if that conversation begining with “I’m pregnant and I’m going to be taking a year off” sticks in your throat just a little bit.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. A lot of work is being done, especially with the advent of Athena SWAN, to make maternity leave a much better supported process. Equally as importantly, most HEIs now have initiatives in place to really help new mums return to work, offering flexible working and nursing or childcare facilities. Newcastle Uni still has some way to go in fine-tuning some aspects of these, but over the coming year our faculty E&D team will be running workshops and focus groups to get a real sense of what new parents want, and hopefully put some actions in place to get it. It’s not a short road. But if we take steps the same size as our babies’, we will get there…