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Protected: Week 9: your vision

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Week 8: Communication and negotiation

By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • understand the importance and relevance of communication skills
  • understand the concept of Emotional Intelligence and how this relates to communication in the workplace
  • find out more about your own Emotional Intelligence and identify further development if necessary
  • apply the concepts of Emotional Intelligence to an interview situation and in negotiations
  • identify good practice in negotiations
  • understand your own behaviour within negotiations and improve on it.

Uncomfortable stuff, most of this….


The concept of Emotional Intelligence is explored:

Mayer and Salovey (1993) organised EI into four branches:

Identifying emotions – the ability to recognise one’s own feelings and the feelings of those around them.

Using emotions – the ability to access an emotion and reason with it.

Understanding emotions – emotional knowledge, the ability to identify and comprehend the emotional chain – the transition of one emotion to another.

Managing emotions – the ability to self-regulate emotions and manage them in others.


These skills are looked at in the context of interviews and Negotiation.

Interestingly, both examples for successful negotiation given on the course were women who were negiotiating conditions prior to taking a career break. We were not provided with any examples of women who had successfully negotiated a return to a new position in SET after a break with unusual conditions (part-time or whatever).

Week 6: What’s going on in your industry?

By the end of this week you should be able to:


  • identify useful resources specific to your industrial sector
  • be aware of the latest trends and issues
  • refresh your study skills (by reading and taking notes from a journal article)
  • consider career options relevant to your background and experience.


All good points, and useful skills, and I’ve done as much as I can. I’m feeling a bit of a fraud though, as I’m becoming more and more convinced (as, it seems, are lots of senior women in the UK) that a career in SET isn’t compatible with the kind of life, and quality of life, that I want.


Points of reference for career paths provided by the OU are:

Week 5: Women and SET – your ideal job

Imagine what you would like to do and the sort of environment you would ideally like to work in.

Obviously a very good idea, as before you can find your job, you need to know what you’re looking for. However, the overall result of the course so far has been to convince me that if I stay in SET I have two choices, neither of them good.

  1. To fight my way back into SET and focus on my career to the exclusion of family/personal life.
  2. To fight my way back into SET and accept that I will miss out on promotion, leadership and other ‘markers of success’ if we as a couple decide to have a family.

As I said, neither prospect is particularly appealing.

I’m ambitious, focussed and driven: I would hate to be passed over and seen as less-committed just because I was known to have a child. Sadly, the examples on the course confirm that this attitude is still incredibly common. I’m also not ambitious or driven enough to be willing to sacrifice the very good relationship I have with my partner in order to be a success in any career. He’s the same, so it’s not that I’m going to be a traditional wife sitting at home to make sure that darling hubby can be a big cheese either!

To return to the question….

My ideal job will include the following (not in order of priority):

  • the opportunity to increase my knowledge/experience
  • the opportunity to use and/or share my knowledge/experience
  • the potential for progression to a leadership role
  • a high level of autonomy and personal responsibility
  • a pleasant, supportive working environment (and yes, I consider a lab to be a pleasant place, even if you are working with thiols!)
  • flexible holiday provision (I’m not one to enjoy an enforced 2-week break)
  • a level of reward which I consider shows that I am valued, including the possibility of a pension scheme and other non-financial benefits if appropriate
  • a commute of no more than 45 minutes in each direction each day!

Things I need in my life which may or may not be part of a job:

  • creativity
  • social interaction
  • thinking space

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 – 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 3: First Assignment

Things are getting serious: this is the first time we’ve been asked to provide work for formal assessment.

To do:

  1. Use the OU’s proprietary databasing software ‘Profile’ to generate a report and full CV. Not something I’m quite ready to do, as the CV I need, with all the ‘old’ details is on an obsolete iMac which isn’t connected to anything at the moment. Profile seems to be good for record-keeping if you don’t have a current CV, but as it’s forcing me to use Windoze and re-enter all the information I already have, including some I regard as out-of-date and irrelevant, I’m not enjoying it.
  2. Prepare a very brief summary (no more than 400 words) projecting who you are to a potential future employer. Hell, that’s going to be tricky if I don’t have a specific employer in mind. Who I am doesn’t change, but the skills and personality traits I emphasise may well do.
  3. Write a short summary (no more than 400 words) to describe the main issues that you will need to consider when you return to working in SET and how you plan to address these. OK, that’s not going to be particularly difficult, being as I’ve got two complete blog postings to refer to. I’m not sure how I address the need for a rediculously high (or so it feels) starting salary, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something.
  4. List the three most important aims you have in studying this course. Reflect on how far these are being achieved in what you have done so far in the course. Most important, and way above everything else: find a job that I can do well and which gives me a sense that I am using my skills and abilities rather than just being a set of hands, brain optional. I can do front-of-house very well, it seems, but I need to feel stretched, and to have the opportunity to learn new skills, in order to be fulfilled.

This is all due as a zipped file by Thursday at latest. I’m struggling to find the time, what with DH being away so much, but will do what I can.