Career Progression - a range of complementary initiatives and activities from 1996 onwards.

Brief description

Since 1996 Edinburgh University has undertaken a wide range of activities designed to support and promote equality of opportunity for women. The activities, which all contributed to Edinburgh’s diversity strategy and action plan:

  • SET mentoring programme
  • researcher career development initiatives
  • promotion research
  • monitoring and use of statistics

continue to have a long term impact. The University has both quantitative and qualitative evidence of change. Although the change is slow, Edinburgh is confident that the change is sustainable and will be helped by mainstreaming.

Contact: Elspeth MacArthur -
The University of Edinburgh Equality and Diversity


After a number of individual initiatives, the University identified the need to provide a more comprehensive and detailed statistical base for reporting on progress, and it established its Equal Opportunities Technical Advisory Group of senior academics chaired by the senior Vice Principal. Their first report in 1999 produced a number of findings. Some supported the identification of immediate action, others required further research to fully understand their underlying causes. The University’s approach is based on the evidence of its long term collection and use of equal opportunities statistics.

Edinburgh has some 1200 research staff, of whom 46% are women - a considerably higher percentage than that at lecturer level. This group was seen as a key target for increasing the numbers of women in academic posts, particularly in SET. The University recognises that women are under-represented at senior levels and has taken a number positive steps, including the establishment of a Women’s Network, supportive HR policies and development programmes specifically for women staff.

SET mentoring programme

Initially funded by SHEFC in 1996 and now funded by the University, this programme is in its seventh year, and provides mentoring for women near the beginning of their careers (post-graduate students and researchers) by more senior women. The mentees also take part in the Springboard Women’s Development Programme, which provides an opportunity to review key career development options. This programme has grown substantially. It started with 18 mentoring pairs, peaked at 45 and now supports around 30 pairs each year. Following the University’s restructuring and requests from women in other colleges, the scheme has been expanded from its SET bases to include all academic women. The scheme is evaluated every year and continues to be highly successful. Many of the mentees and mentors on the programme have gone on to achieve promotion following their involvement.

Researcher career development initiatives

The University’s researcher development programme, again, was funded initially by SHEFC in 1997 as part of their contract research initiative. The programme now provides a wide range of professional and career development support for research staff. Activities include briefing sessions, short courses and workshops, designed to ensure that researchers have access to practical advice at different stages in their careers. Researchers also have access to mentoring, a career contact register and a job seekers register. Individuals taking part in career development workshops also access individual careers advice. By providing an integrated and complementary range of support, the divergent support needs of participants are more likely to be met more effectively.

The first academic appointment

Athena Report 9 describes the work undertaken by Edinburgh with funding from Athena in 2000. This explored the first major career hurdle, the move from researcher to lecturer. They looked at research staff and their approach to career planning and development, their attitudes to applying for lecturer posts and their experience of that process. They worked with Principal Investigators and Heads of Departments to determine their approaches to recruitment to academic posts and the criteria used in the selection and to develop a range of materials for those making selection decisions including standard objective selection criteria for academic posts. This project resulted in a range of recommendations for changes in university practices, many of which have been implemented. In general there was little evidence of overt discrimination but rather a wide range of more subtle and complex systems and practices which had a long-term and persistent effect in disadvantaging some women.
University of Edinburgh Athena Project – Supporting the Involvement of Women in Science, Engineering and Technology


A key finding from Edinburgh’s monitoring of statistics was that when women got into the promotions process they were as likely, if not slightly more likely, than men, to be successful. The data also showed that women were put forward for or applied for promotion in lower numbers than would be expected by comparison with the numbers in post. One to one interviews with 20 women and 10 men who had recently been involved in the Lecturer to Senior Lecturer promotion process were used to gather their views and experiences. Focus groups of Heads of Departments then explored the key areas identified:

  • blocks to promotion – the balance of research, teaching and admin, circuitous career routes and covert discrimination
  • impact of fixed-term contracts
  • transparency of the promotions process
  • creation of supportive structures- appraisal, mentoring and the active identification of potential candidates

The monitoring and use of statistics

Edinburgh has monitored its performance for some years and can measure the changes in its workforce over time. The University takes the view that this information should be in the public domain and their extensive statistical monitoring reports are openly available on the University website. They monitor both stock (workforce, salary levels, fixed-term contracts etc) and flow data (recruitment, promotions and leavers) and can identify improvements in most of these areas over the past five years.

Edinburgh is also working hard to establish appropriate benchmarks against which it can measure its performance so that it can judge whether the rate of progress is as good as other universities. They have also commissioned a sophisticated econometric analysis of difference in pay levels which, among other things, revealed no underlying gender difference in pay within grades, but some between grades, once age, length of service and qualifications were taken in to account.

Edinburgh now has a body of quantitative and qualitative evidence which they will continue to use in addressing and confronting the issues as they are identified.