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The University of Southampton
Working as a Researcher

Women in Academia

Contemporary academic career pathways are complex, set within a context that contains a good deal of uncertainty and entails a wide range of demands. Women’s careers, in particular, may involve multiple-role commitment and may not follow the notion of a ‘traditional’ linear trajectory.

The road to success for women needs to be thought of in more varied and, perhaps, longer terms. With careful planning and lots of help from our friends, colleagues and mentors, and with great role models - like the women in these videos - to inspire us, we can and do triumph!

Universities have a long way to go to address the deep structural problems that prevent women, especially BAME women, achieving similar levels of career success as their white male colleagues. 

In the meantime, we can support and help each other, and learn from the amazing women around us! 

Listen to the different voices and experiences of women academic staff in the University of Southampton who were interviewed on The Glass Ceiling and...




...Balancing Work and Family

There are several well-known factors (listed below) that enhance one’s chances of career success.

Listen to the different voices and experiences of women academic staff in the videos below, who were interviewed on Mentoring and how they built a High Profile through networking, creating a digital identity, being invited to speak, and using the resources around them to raise their visibility. 

Get a mentor or mentors

Mentors are absolutely critical for career success!  They can be informal or formal, for a set period of time i.e. for six months, or for a single issue you would like help with such as advice on a fellowship, job application, work-life balance, etc.  Whoever and where ever they are, it is the mentee who will drive the relationship forward.

Draw up a career plan

Make sure you have clear goals and milestones, and regularly review your progress.  Start with longer term goals i.e. 5 years ahead, and work backwards through medium term goals (2 to 3 years) to the short term, i.e. a year from where you are now.  Review your plan regularly to see if you are on track.  What action do you need to take to realise your goals? 

Build your network

Women judge their success, on the whole, by the quality of the relationships they develop; so build a strong support system i.e. a network for both your career development and emotional support.  'Find your tribe'

Join a women's network in your discipline or learned society, such as WiSET+ the network for Women in Science, Engineering, Technology and Humanities in the University of Southampton

Sign-up to The Academic Woman  'An international platform championing recognition, well-being and positive action for more female empowerment.' 

Become more visible

You will need to raise your academic profile and your voice, so people know who you are and what you are known for. This may be hard, but learn to 'sing' your own praises and then engage some 'champions' who will sing them for you as well. Who sings your praises in the department or University other than your line manager/PI? Who needs to sing them? Do not do invisible work - share your work and achievements!   


Be aware of your attributes and professional skill-set

As a professional you will be the primary driver of your career progress. There is always help and support to draw on but you should have a heightened sense of self-awareness of what your strengths are, where you can add value, and which areas you are less confident or skilled in, and those areas you might need to develop further. There are lots of tools available to help you identify your skill-set – a useful place to start might be the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.

  • Passion and enthusiasm for your subject – to keep you going in spite of everything
  • Perseverance – tenacity and determination to draw on in the face of adversity
  • Resilience – the ability to ‘bounce back’ and quickly recover from set-backs
  • Risk-taking - of the calculated and strategic variety rather than reckless kind
  • Self-confidence – this is an absolutely essential trait, which you can develop if you do not have much of it
  • Self-efficacy – you must believe in yourself and what you are doing
  • Self-leadership – you need to do this because in academia no-one is going to ‘lead’ your career, although there are lots of people to help.

With the exception of passion and enthusiasm for your subject, if you do not naturally possess perseverance, resilience, self-confidence, self-efficacy and self-leadership, you can train yourself and develop these attributes. Taking more risks in your career becomes easier with practice and is linked to self-confidence – i.e. do not wait until you ‘tick all of the boxes’ before applying for a senior post, take a chance and apply anyway, you can always learn something from the outcome

The reality of many women's lives makes ‘traditional’ conceptions about work and careers (i.e. that work is central to one’s identity, the main way to meet one’s needs, can be separated from other aspects of life, and that progression is linear and rational) problematic.  The academic environment can present barriers to women's success - some common issues, with sources of help, are listed below:


An example of overt discrimination would be the view that you cannot succeed in academia as a part-time member of staff and the line manager/PI makes no effort to understand, support or accommodate part-time staff and may even actively speak against this kind of work.

Low level or micro discrimination comes in the form of a line manager/PI simply not understanding the needs of BAME staff, and/or the requirements around maternity/paternity - family leave and not supporting their staff adequately.

For help, speak with a University Harassment Contact or see the Management Pocketbooks on Resolving Conflict and Flexible Working.

Lack of career management knowledge and skill

For career success you will need a sense of direction, or vision, and of how the work you are doing is adding to your CV. You will need to be pro-active, self-aware and actively seek out the support, advice and guidance they need to secure a successful next step. You cannot afford to be passive - you must manage your career.  Get a mentor and/or career coach to help you.  

The ECR Development Hub on SharePoint has a list external providers and independent coaches, all with experience in academia.

All University of Southampton staff have access to Vitae's career development resources for researchers.

For further information see Career and Employability Service - although aimed at students and PGRs they do have useful online resources about Job Hunting and the Job Application process.

See the Management Pocketbooks on Career Transition and Self-managed development.

A workplace culture of the ‘old boys club’/'white male privilege'

The 'old boys club' is where ‘traditional’ and out-dated ideas about work and how one interacts with one’s colleagues still dominate; in a more serious way, they are manifestations of 'white privilege.'  Such ideas might include the assumptions about the diverse needs of staff that lead to daily micro-aggressions and forms of discrimination.  They may assume that staff have to work full-time, work long hours, attend alcohol based after ‘office hours' functions, and do not have any caring responsibilities. Everyone needs to challenge these assumptions in their working environment to ensure fairness for all.

For help, speak with a Harassment Contact; and/or see the Management Pocketbooks on AssertivenessEmpowerment and Managing Upwards.


Fear comes in a variety of guises: fear of being too successful, fear of being seen as too ambitious, fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of taking on too much responsibility, fear of being found out as a fraud (the 'impostor syndrome'), fear of not being promoted as quickly as peers, fear of being left behind, fear of being invisible…etc

Be kind to yourself! Remind yourself of your achievements - no matter how small they may seem.  By focusing on the good things, we can help to put our fears into perspective. 

For help, speak with your mentor; get a Career coach; see the Management Pocketbooks on Assertiveness and Empowerment.

Superwoman syndrome

Beware of this syndrome, where women pressurise themselves unreasonably.  It is essential that you look after yourself and maintain a healthy work-life balance and push-back on aiming for perfection in everything or taking on too much - especially in the Covidian era.  

For help, speak with your mentor, a Career coach, see the Management Pocketbooks on Energy and Well-being and Stress.

The Superwoman fallacy: what it takes to be an academic and parent by Melissa Terras

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