University of Glasgow: NEW STUDY HIGHLIGHTS BARRIERS FACED BY WOMEN AND MARGINALISED GROUPS IN SUPRAMOLECULAR CHEMISTRY

A new study by the international network Women In Supramolecular Chemistry (WISC) has highlighted the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues faced by women and marginalised groups working within that field.

The network has also set out a ‘calling in’ approach to address these issues.

The study was led by Dr Jennifer Leigh and Dr Jennifer Hiscock of the University of Kent, alongside WISC’s wider team of international researchers, including Dr Emily Draper of the University of Glasgow.

The researchers found that both men and women in the supramolecular community wanted to see more mentoring opportunities and more visibility for women and marginalised groups. There is a desire for more guidance during the transition from postdoctoral researcher to independent Principal Investigator, to ensure women can be retained and progress in supramolecular chemistry.

Furthermore, it was established that there is the need for a space to share concerns around career breaks, parenting, and the demands of balancing work with other aspects of life. Shared lived experiences documented in the survey showed differences in experiences between men and women taking career breaks or parental leave, with women reporting obstacles in progression and increased pressures upon return. The men surveyed did not note problems upon return.

WISC is following up on the study with a mentoring scheme to actively support the needs of the supramolecular chemistry community and will continue its approach to ‘call in’ colleagues to act together to address EDI issues. ‘Calling in’ is the gentler act of alerting peers to their behaviour with compassion and guidance, as opposed to ‘calling out’ which usually refers to publicly pointing out oppressive behaviour. A second survey exploring experiences through Covid-19 (open to the supramolecular community) is currently underway as ongoing research continues.

It is well documented that women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) academia are disproportionately affected by funding structures, academic culture, research environments and caring responsibilities, which has been further implicated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Culture and other factors such as disability, ethnicity and race, are also noted by the study team as marginalising barriers. WISC, which was formed in 2019 as an area specific international community, hopes to bring change to the EDI issues experienced in supramolecular chemistry through its network.

While the study was carried out specifically in the supramolecular chemistry community, the team hope that new EDI approaches could be adopted in other fields.

Dr Emily Draper, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry, is WISC Vice Chair (Parenting and Clusters) and a co-author of the paper. Dr Draper, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, said: “A sense of community is essential for inclusivity. We didn’t feel like we had a group of people that we could relate to and often felt out of place at conferences or within our departments, so we made this network to give us that community we needed. We want to help other feels included, empowered and inspired to stay in the field of Supramolecular Chemistry. The data in our research suggests other feels the same and we want to call in other research communities to do the same, to create a safe and creative space in academia for under represented groups to feel a part of.”

Dr Leigh said: “Our strategy of calling in and rigorous social science research is not field-specific. By sharing our approach and results, we hope that our work may act as a framework to those within other fields and disciplines who are keen to tackle EDI issues.”

Dr Hiscock said: “WISC is only at the beginning of its work. When we launched the network, we were cautious of projecting our own experiences and assumptions onto others, therefore bringing a social science approach into our research ensured rigour, validity and ethics. ‘Calling in’ invites individuals to discuss something that might be uncomfortable in a safe environment without the fear of getting it wrong, and then pulls together the community as a whole to make positive changes. We look forward to continuing to bring change in the community.”

Their research paper ‘An area specific, international community-led approach to understanding and addressing EDI issues within supramolecular chemistry’ (Dr Jennifer S. Leigh, University of Kent; Dr Jennifer R. Hiscock, University of Kent; Dr Claudia Caltagirone, University of Cagliari; Dr Emily R. Draper, University of Glasgow; Professor Michaele J. Hardie, University of Leeds; Dr Cally J. E. Haynes, University College London; Professor Katrina A. Jolliffe, University of Sydney; Dr Marion Kieffer, University of Bristol; Dr Anna J. McConnell, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany) is published by Angewandte Chemie.

For notes to editors

About Women In Supramolecular Chemistry (WISC)

Women In Supramolecular Chemistry (WISC) is led by an international team of women from early-to-mid career levels, with an advisory board comprising diverse and senior researchers in the field. As a cohort we represent researchers from four continents, different ethnic backgrounds, and include members with disabilities/chronic illnesses/neurodivergencies.

WISC was formed when its founders (Jennifer Hiscock – University of Kent, Cally Haynes – University College London, Claudia Caltagirone – University of Cagliari and Anna McConnell – University of Kiel) realised that they needed more support and organised themselves to have bi-monthly online meetings to talk about their research, publications, grant proposals and to generally connect. They found support from senior women within supramolecular chemistry (Professors Kate Jolliffe – University of Sydney and Michaele Hardie – Leeds University), and quickly realised they had formed themselves into an informal mentoring cluster, with a group of peers. They all saw the value of this model and were encouraged by Jolliffe and Hardie to expand the idea and turn the network into something that could benefit the supramolecular community as a whole.

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