International Women’s Day 2024: inspiring inclusion for a better world

The year’s International Women’s Day theme is #inspireinclusion. I find this exciting and challenging because it is a reminder that, while we have done so much to increase women’s representation, it is not evenly distributed. I am acutely aware that women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women have had fewer opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills than white women like myself.  

As a leader, I’m very conscious of my responsibility to inspire others as well as to acknowledge those who have inspired me. I want to ensure we nurture a culture where everyone feels they belong and can fulfil their potential. International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity for us all to consider these questions and reflect on the journey we have undertaken towards fostering a more inclusive and equal world.  

This day has always been an excellent way to recognise the significant achievements of women, but we must also use it to highlight continued inequities and barriers that prevent women from feeling seen, heard, valued, and empowered to fully participate. 

Let’s start with the positives.  

I’m proud to lead a university that was the first in England to admit women on the same basis as men. Our fifth Chancellor, Dorothy Hodgkin, was the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize. More recently, our former Chancellor, Baroness Hale, made history by becoming the first female President of the Supreme Court.   

I’m pleased the University continues to make progress in reducing our gender pay gap. We’ve seen a reduction in both median and mean gender pay gap metrics. The median gender pay gap of 10.6% in men’s favour is below national average and has reduced by 5.6% since our first report in 2017, while the mean gender pay gap in men’s favour of 14.4% is below sector average. This has reduced by 6.7% in the same period.   

Elsewhere, 34% of our professors are now women, compared to just 13% in 2013. The success rate for female applications in our latest round of promotions was 85% (compared to 72% for male applicants) and University Executive Board is currently evenly split, male and female.   

Our excellent staff networks, including the Women’s Staff Network, serve as catalysts for change, providing a platform to share experiences, amplify voices, raise awareness, provide mentoring and advocate for the rights and recognition of women. 

We offer a range of fantastic programmes to support women’s progression, such as the Female Leadership Initiative and the Bristol Women’s Mentoring scheme, and the University’s broader progress to advance gender equality was recognised last year with a highly commended institutional Athena Swan Silver award. This comes alongside the increasing number of faculties and schools achieving their own Athena Swan Awards. 

When we look at our efforts to enhance the diversity of our enterprise and entrepreneurship activities, I’m pleased that women made up 49% of our SETsquared Bristol companies’ founders or C-Suite execs last year – far higher than the UK average of 15%. As a research-intensive university, we can all take pride in the fact that our research is actively informing and shaping the outside world, providing an evidence base for public policy and practice. For example, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, commonly known as ‘Clare’s law’, gives people the right to find out about an individual’s prior domestic violence offences and was a direct result of work done by Professor Marianne Hester and her team at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Likewise, we can celebrate academics like Professor Roberta Guerrina, whose work examines the politics of gender in the EU, and Dr Sumita Mukherjee’s exploration of the role of Indian women in the global suffrage movement.

But we still have a way to go…

While there are many positives to point to, and more to come, we also need to be clear about how much more work there is still to do, particularly to be truly inspired and inspiring in terms of our approach to inclusion. As we see greater gender parity, we need to ensure that we are similarly supportive of colleagues from global majority backgrounds. This is something I and my senior executive colleagues are determined to address here at Bristol.  

We are, for example, bringing onboard HR-Rewired, who specialise in supporting racial equity and are partnering with 100 Black Women Professors NOW – a pioneering systemic change programme aiming to increase the number of Black women in the academic pipeline. This is only the start of a very determined programme to ensure the success of all our staff of colour, male and female, at the University of Bristol.   

Every day belongs to women 

Finally, by coming together on International Women’s Day, we reaffirm our collective commitment to dismantling barriers to equality and inclusion, and creating an environment where every individual can thrive. But I am clear that every day, not just one day of the year, belongs to women around the world.  


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