Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (III)

Other things to think of when networking:

The Royal Society of Chemistry has specific advice on networking for women in the members only section of its website. This covers topics such as ‘Why should I network’, ‘Where do I start’, ‘Making an impression’ and ‘Personal safety and responsibilities’.

You should network because:

  • You are a better advertisement for yourself than any CV, no matter how good
  • Most jobs aren’t advertised at all
  • You will have the opportunity to share and receive useful information and to raise your profile
  • You will almost certainly gain new perspective and ideas, and widen your professional interests

If you want to start networking:

  • Make sure you’re getting the maximum value from any professional or trade organisation that you belong to.
  • Are there meetings, conferences, local groups, or other opportunities to meet people outwith your normal working environment
  • Remember that family and friends can be part of your network too: if they don’t know what you are looking for, they won’t be able to tell you when they bump into it.

Before attending your first networking opportunity:

  • Research the event and the people who are likely to be there
  • Think about the questions you would like to ask, and who you would like to meet
  • Think about what you have to offer: prepare a short explanation of what you are doing to avoid nerves robbing you of your eloquence
  • Think about body language and how to convey interest, enthusiasm, and confidence
  • Be professional: using your employers facilities (email, telephone, meeting rooms) without permission is unwise, and discussing matters which may be confidential or commercially sensitive may be career suicide. If you are willing to share confidential information with this person, they may well conclude that any information you have about them will be treated in a similar manner.
  • Plan to be safe: if you treat a networking opportunity as a blind date, and follow the same rules, you reduce the chances of something going wrong.
  • If you are setting up a meeting, remember that a neutral venue such as a coffee shop is more generally acceptable than a pub or other place where alcohol is served.

After the event:

    • Keep careful records of names, contact details and information
    • Follow up useful leads
    • Keep in touch
    • Always do what you promised to do for others!

For an unconvential approach to networking….

You might want to visit The Ripple Effect, which is a blog set up by Steve Harper.

And if you’re considering setting up on your own….

Escape from cubicle nation, and in particular the Open letter to CEOs is as good a place as any to start.


Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (II)

Formal networks are organisations that bring together people with a common interest. There are a number of networking organisations which have been set up to support women in building formal networks.

The reasoning behind developing women-only networks appears to be:

  • Women need to be encouraged to make time for themselves and to invest in both their personal and business development.
  • Women often feel more comfortable and safer in a women-only environment; it can be the only option for some cultural groups
  • Women’s networks can act as a stepping stone, developing networking confidence and leading to the eventual introduction to other networks.
  • Networks run by women for women are more likely to consider the demands of life’s wider commitments.
  • Group dynamics are key and women often provide a nurturing and educating environment.

In practise:

I attended an excellent networking event run by Dinah Bennet of Women into the Network. Titled ‘I hate Networking’ it was a chance for a group of women to learn and practice networking skills and develop the self-confidence to take those skills into a less ‘safe’ environment.

Women Into the Network is an initiative which assists the integration of women entrepreneurs, both aspiring and practising, into existing business networks. There is a clear opportunity for women to take advantage of the broad range of support available to them, but many are unable to overcome the barriers that arise. Open to men and women, WIN supports the creation and management of businesses by women, through addressing & overcoming these barriers.

Women into the Network offers their 20 top networking tips as a starting point.

Probably the most useful tip I received was from another delegate: groups of three or more, or people on their own, are far more likely to be open to your approach.

Other networking opportunities:

The OU suggests a number of other starting points:

For further tips, the OU suggests:

Timperley, J. (2002) Network Your Way to Success. London, Piatkus Books (ISBN 0 7499 2283 4)

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (I)

Networking has been defined as:

“the building and nurturing of personal and professional relationships to create a system or chain of information, contacts and support”

On the basis that up to 70% of jobs are never advertised, your network can be one of your most valuable resources when you are jobseeking.

I have investigated my own networks in the past: the advice is usually to start with your area of ‘need’ in the middle of the page, and then note down all the people or organisations you have links to who might be able to help.

The OU adds a refinement to this:

  • Next to each name, draw a line and make this into a scale of 0 to 10 by noting the numbers 0 and 10 at each end of your line (0s should be in the centre of your diagram and 10s round the edge).
  • Now, for each person, place an X on this scale of 0–10 (where 0 = highly unlikely and 10 = extremely likely) at the point which you believe reflects that person’s willingness to help you, or the likelihood that they will give you the support you need.
  • Join up all the Xs, and look at the space that you have created around your problem. This space represents an area of opportunity and resource that you can tap into. Look at areas where there is little space around your problem. This is where your personal support network is weak.
  • Think about any weak parts of your personal support network and how you might strengthen them. Write a short list of actions that will help you to strengthen your contacts. Your actions might include making a phone call, attending a meeting, or offering to help someone else out.

T160 course notes, the Open University, 2007

Networking is a vital resource, but it needs to be two-way: if you network only for what you can get, your network will shut you out very quickly indeed.

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – mentoring

In an effort to explain what mentoring is, we are directed to a number of websites:

UK Resource Centre for Women in SET
The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation
South Yorkshire Female Entrepreneurs’ Network and Mentoring Programme
Clutterbuck Associates

Definitions of mentoring:

“to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.”

Eric Parsloe of The Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring

“a practical way of helping you get to where you want to go. To explore issues to come to a different understanding and different thinking.”

Bob Garvey of Sheffield Hallam University

  • showing people the ropes – and helping them to climb them
  • passing on knowledge and/or skills, formally or informally
  • looking after people
  • acting as a sounding board
  • helping people put learning into practice
  • being a role model
  • being a guide
  • being a champion
  • talking to people about their careers
  • coaching
  • a guide not a guru.

Julie Hay in her book Transformational Mentoring (Hay. J., 1999, Transformational Mentoring: creating developmental alliances for changing organisational cultures. Sherwood Publishing, Watford)

A mentor is a listener, adviser and guide; a person with a flexible approach, prepared to deal with the opportunities of progress and change. They must be prepared to support, constructively challenge and advise their ‘mentee’ on their studies and their longer-term objectives.

A mentor is someone who is a few steps further down the path you want to travel.
And whose background is close enough to be able to say:
‘I was where you are now …
You can be where I am now.’

Andy Forbes, Oldham College

The UKRC operates a RETURN mentoring scheme: at the moment I would feel a bit of a fraud for making use of it, as I’m coming to the conclusion that my life choices and working in science are incompatible.

Week 5: Women and SET – attitude, culture and practice of the workplace

In their recent report ‘Good Practice in University Departments’ the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Athena Project describe the ‘fantasy’ Chemistry Department at the University of Utopia (file available only to OU students at this stage). Does this cover all the things on your list or live up to your ideal brief description? For indications of workplace culture in the private sector, the website is a useful resource.

The Times has provided a useful list of the criteria used when evaluating employers.

There is also an analysis available online of the top 100 US companies to work for from the perspective of working mothers.

Both lists show similar characteristics, and I wonder again how well these translate into small/medium sized businesses without the resources or manpower of large multinationals.

Week 5: Women and SET – the legal framework

The Equal Opportunities Commission is working to eliminate sex discrimination in Britain today. It is (or should be) the first point of reference for anyone looking for information on gender equality in the UK.


  1. Am I entitled to apply for flexible working?
    If you have a child who is under 6 or a disabled child under the age of 18 and have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks you are entitled to request flexible working arrangements from your employer.
  2. Is it legal to apply for time off to look after a dependant?
    Each parent can apply to take up to 13 weeks of parental leave up until the child’s 5th birthday. You are also entitled to take time off to care for other dependants.
  3. Can my employer make me do overtime if I don’t want to?
    Under the Working Time Regulations you can’t be forced to work more than 48 hours a week.  Well, unless you’ve signed an opt-out as part of your contract anyway….
  4. If I want to apply for a job share, do I have to find someone else to share the job with?
    Once your employer has agreed that your job is suitable for job-share then it is their responsibility to find an appropriate partner for you to work with.
  5. As a part time worker would I be entitled to the same career development and training opportunities as a full time employee?
    Yes, Regulations make it unlawful for a part-time worker to be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers.
  6. Can an employer ask me about childcare arrangements in an interview?
    Although an employer is entitled to ask questions to ensure that you are able to carry out the requirements of the job this should be in a gender neutral way and all candidates should be asked the same questions.

Week 5: Women and SET – some solutions

According to the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, major barriers to the progress of women in their chosen field include:

  • the absence of family-friendly practices during family formation phase

  • slow take up of work–life balance policies

  • lack of affordable childcare

  • pay gap

  • lack of transparency in pay and promotion

  • short-term contracts

  • SET is less flexible than non-SET

  • attitude, culture and practice of the workplace

  • intangible cultural factors slowing progression

  • few role models and mentors.

Two complimentary approaches to tackle these are proposed: legislation outlawing discrimination, and education on the economic case for diversity.

Week 4: Employers’ diversity policies

Do some research on specific employers’ diversity policies. If possible include employers that you might be interested in working for. You may be able to do this by looking at employers’ websites. Here are some examples to get you started, but you can also look for other companies if you want.


Do these companies have diversity policies? Do they say anything about structures to encourage flexible working practices; work–life balance issues; challenging stereotypes; continuing professional development; training in diversity; staff satisfaction surveys; and childcare policies and schemes?

Later.  Much later.  This is not a priority – and I’m short on sleep and free time!


Read Section 4 from the EC report, A vision for 2010: opportunities and approaches, pages 28–30.


The report reads very like the Mission Statement Generator at Dilbert.

“One approach to changing organisations and their cultures to increase the representation and participation of women is to apply the EU-backed approach of ‘gender mainstreaming’,  … to industrial research. But what is gender mainstreaming? It is‘integrating gender equality into all organisations and their cultures, into policies, programmes and projects, into ways of “seeing and doing”’ (Rees, 1998). Instead of targeting the ‘special needs’ of the ‘disadvantaged group’, it focuses on practices and policies that give rise to that disadvantage in the firstplace. “

Right, OK.  So what you’re basically saying is that you need to look at your employees as people, rather than as male employees, female employees, pink/blue/purple employees….  Fairly obvious, I would have thought.  Everyone has a life outside of work (or at least I would hope so) and any employer who ignores that fact is unlikely to have a happy or loyal workforce.

The paper appears to take an unusual view of where the responsibility for career development lies:

“Companies in industrial research need to take active responsibility for building the careers of their employees, …”

Which is of course the opposite of the whole idea of continuous personal development which has been touted throughout this course: the employee takes responsibility for building their own career, on the assumption that no employer will do so.

Good practice in this area includes focusing on prejudice in promotion, retention, returning and recruitment, and putting systems in place to counteract any unintentional bias.

In terms of promotion, action could include:

  • monitoring succession plans to check for the inclusion of under-represented groups in promotion to top positions and setting aspirationaltargets for their increase.
  • analysing current career paths and success criteria used in promotions. Identifying blockages that hinder women’s progress.
  • ensuring that development plans include experience of other parts of theorganisation – different functions or different geographic locations – aswell as relevant off-the-job activities (possibly even include managing a home!).
  • ensuring that women receive support from internal networks (e.g. female managers, professional organisations, a helpline, etc)
  • offering opportunities for ‘work shadowing’ (spending a day or week following and observing a board member doing their daily work) in the boardroom or in top management teams.

In terms of avoiding prejudice in recruitment, retention and return:

  • planning ‘returner’ and ‘keeping in touch’ schemes, as well as confidence building for those who are or have been out of the company for a while.
  • taking into account the fact that ‘dual careers’ may mean men and women require jobs for their partners in the company or the vicinity.
  • providing childcare or subsidising childcare costs (if there is insufficient affordable, good quality, public childcare available),
  • offering careers breaks, flexibility and part-time working, for men and women.
  • offering exchanges with researchers in the public sector, in keeping with other EU policies on mobility.

Umm: in your dreams!  The other papers we have been given to read have emphasised that the only way a company is going to provide ‘family friendly’ conditions is if they can see a benefit to their own, short-term, bottom line.  Women needing flexible working conditions have spoken of the difficulties in arranging even part-time work, or a planned career break – never mind company-provided childcare and jobs-for-partners!

According to this paper, there are a number of characteristics of women-friendly employers:

  • they have examples of ‘real’ role models (not superwomen).
  • they send women to represent the company at external events (conferences/analysts meetings/launch events, etc).
  • they organise mentoring and networking schemes, to ensure that there are sufficient women around to avoid a feeling of isolation.
  • they encourage girls into science by participating in ‘take your daughters to work’ days and ‘girls and science days’.
  • they send women scientists to schools and universities to deliver the message about the excitement of science in industry in schools liaison programmes.
  • they organise properly managed summer student (internship) schemes, a valuable way of enticing students of high potential to join the company and generating good PR.
  • they use internships to award fellowships and scholarships, hence developing relationships with high-potential female candidates.

Well, I suppose it’s something to be aware of – I certainly wouldn’t expect to find it in a small or medium-sized business!

Week 4: Issues and strategies for managing work in SET (III)

Make a list of the issues that relate to you in returning to SET employment. For example, what would be the barriers for you to work part time? Do they relate to the type of work you might do because of the need to work unsocial hours due to the continuous running of experiments in a laboratory for example, or are these barriers concerned more with attitudes of others to part time working, or the funding situation for research?

I’m in an odd position here in that I’m trying to plan for a return to SET before I have a family….  My current situation is a consenquence of following my partner’s career choice and location: it needed both of us to make this business a success.

My reading around the subject, including the last two papers mentioned, suggests that I am not alone in my concern that I have an impossible choice to make: I can either be a well-educated, successful career woman, or I can be a mother, but trying to combine both is likely to result in a greatly reduced chance of a successful career.  In addition, trying to balance the developmental needs of children with the time and emotional demands of a senior position, unless you choose to pay someone else to bring up your children, can result in both family and career suffering equally.

It seems that I am not the only woman who has come to the conclusion that neither option is good: the Herald published an article  highlighting the number of women who have chosen to leave corporate life and combine motherhood with self-employment.

 “It comes as no surprise to many high-powered businesswomen that their sisters are turning their backs on senior management positions in several major British companies.Tell them that the drop is 40% over the last five years, however, and there’s likely to be an audibly shocked intake of breath, followed by a list of the hostile elements of corporate culture.

That is one of the main factors driving more women to set up their own businesses: the number of self-employed women in the UK has recently risen above one million for the first time.”

 The research mentioned was done by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers:

It revealed senior management posts filled by women in Britain’s top 350 quoted companies has dropped from 38% in 2002 to 22%. Sarah Churchman, head of diversity at PwC, pinpoints a trend which suggests that there will be fewer women in the very top positions in the future.

‘Businesses tend to pay more attention to gender issues in senior positions and there appears to be an assumption that a supply from the middle ranks will eventually feed through. For big companies at least, this pipeline is shrinking at a worrying rate,’ she says.

So, the barriers to my re-entry into SET employment are:

  1. I currently live over 50 miles from the nearest potential SET employment as far as I can tell.

  2. I would need to bring in £30k a year to cover staffing to replace myself in the company.

  3. I would like, at some point, to make the change from couple to family.

  4. I am not prepared to work part-time if the result of that is the end of my chances of promotion.  I am ambitious and driven, and expect as much of colleagues as I do of myself: I suspect I would end up trying to do both jobs full-time, and burn myself out.

 Life’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Week 4: Issues and strategies for managing work in SET (II)

The second source provided is:

‘Career and motherhood in engineering: cultural dimensions and individualistic solutions’ by Julia Evetts in the Journal of Gender Studies, July 1994, vol 3 issue 2, pages 177–185.

The author of this paper has used 15 specific women’s careers as a means of investigating:

“…how women reconcile being women, being in partnerships and sometimes families, being professional engineers and building careers in an industrial organization.”

That sounds like a reasonable approach, although I’d love to see a similar study on the difficulties men face in reconciling being in partnerships and families with being professional engineers!

One option, and that taken by four women in the study, was to choose to remain child-free and focus on the career.  The author noted that while successful, this was a particularly harsh choice, and one not faced (or not faced to the same extent) by career-minded men.

“…it seems that for both men and women to succeed in career terms, they must severely curtail the demands of personal and family lives.”

For the mothers in the study, the norm appeared to be that each had to negotiate her own working conditions directly with her immediate manager, and then on up the line of command.

One of the women was on a career break negotiated with her employers after the birth of her (unexpected) third child.

“It is a great responsibility in fact to see how it works.  I have felt that all along.  So few women have taken part-time working or career breaks or come back after maternity leave in the company, that if I don’t perform well they will say it doesn’t work, we won’t try it again.”

All the women commented on how difficult it was to achieve the balance they wanted between career and motherhood, and on the need to focus on what their employer needed/wanted over and above what they needed/wanted, and on how each woman would need a different solution to her own situation.

“They followed the examples set by other women engineers in the company but they did not expect company arrangements or trade union procedures to help solve their problems.”