Dr. Gillian Collins - Lecturer in Physical Chemistry
I started working as a researcher within the School in 2011 and worked in a highly productive research environment with balanced representation of both male and female researchers. Personally, I never felt that gender would be a barrier to career progression, although this perspective changed at the juncture where career and parenthood met.
In 2017 after returning from maternity leave, I was appointed to a lectureship position in Physical Chemistry, which provided greater opportunities for career advancement and enabled me to diversify my skills. Returning to work after the long absence of maternity leave, establishing a new work-life dynamic and also taking up a new role were all well supported. The School facilitated a flexible return to work and I benefited from specific actions implemented through Athena SWAN. The Academic Returners Scheme allowed me to employ a research assistant to conduct laboratory experiments, which was helpful to make up for lost research output. I found practical policies such as ‘keep-in-touch days’ useful as they appreciate the realistic necessity to do some aspects of work while on maternity leave, but this time could be recouped and added on to my maternity leave. Senior staff were very supportive both in terms of providing advice and guidance in my new role as a lecturer and accommodating to childcare commitments.
Athena SWAN has created a more concrete framework around how to encourage positive working practices, for example ensuring that key meetings are scheduled within core working hours. The School is supported within the wider University, in particular I benefit from the convenience of the on-campus crèche facility. Returning to work from my second maternity leave in 2020 was a very different experience against the backdrop of the pandemic. It was clear to me that the ongoing activities of the Athena SWAN initiative fed into greater awareness of our home and work responsibilities, which at times became intertwined and severely hindered my ability to work productively. I received excellent support from the School such as the absolute necessity for flexible working.
An important aspect of seeing the implementation of Athena SWAN within the School, and University in general, is to create a more balanced workplace culture. This is quite relevant to our School as the academic staff are predominantly male. I think Athena SWAN has made an impact on cultivating long term positive change within the School over the years. There is continual dialogue from the committee to staff regarding activities, upcoming events etc. reinforcing not just gender-based issues but diversity in the wider sense, and this is contributing towards achieving a more inclusive work environment which values varied perspectives
Ms. Kasia Pyrz - Senior Executive Assistant
I am a graduate of Polish Philology from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and emigrated to Ireland in 2002. In 2010 I graduated as BA Honours of Fine Art and Design at the CIT Crawford College of Art. In 2013 I achieved a Higher Diploma in Applied Psychology in UCC and won a PhD scholarship funded by the School of Medicine. Between 2013 and 2017 I was a researcher with an EU-funded transdisciplinary consortium iFAAM (Integrated Approaches to Food Allergy and Allergen Management). In 2017, I started to work as a member of Professional and Support Services (PSS); my current role is that of a Senior Executive Assistant in the School of Chemistry. Simultaneously, and with the support of the School, in 2020 I reregistered to finalise my PhD studies. Outside of work, I parent two children. In 2010 my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome; I have been attending to his additional educational needs and advocating for him since.
The Athena SWAN Charter has given me the language and opportunities to voice ideas and concerns around topics such as workload, well-being, flexible working hours, inclusion, and much more. Beyond conversations, my participation in the School’s SAT empowered me with insightful data and actionable goals. Far from being intangible, the Charter enables me to expect, and to influence the impact and implementation of policies and actions. As a full-time employee, a single parent, a carer, and a mature student, my flexibility needs tend to exceed the flexi-leave policy measures, which are currently available within this Institution. As a member of PSS, I cannot avail of the informal time management autonomy available to other colleagues so the benefit of a higher degree of flexibility and support within my working environment is of paramount significance to me. It as a necessary precondition for my fulfillment of overlapping and complex roles, rather than for the sole acquisition of a healthy work-life balance.
I recognize the existence of systemic structural challenges, at both institutional and national levels; in the face of such impediments, I applaud the School for its critical self-evaluation. While still at an early stage of the journey, its sustained focus on obtaining tangible improvements in terms of equality and gender balance has brought benefits to my career.
The School’s recognised prevailing culture of inclusivity and openness (Athena SWAN Bronze Award, 2018) was already evident when I joined in 2017. Belonging to a minority (one of two PSS having English as a second language), no occasion left me feeling as different. On the contrary, my diverse talents and pursuits were cherished and supported by my colleagues and line manager. In 2018, I led the School to a win in an all-University Well-being in the Workplace competition, during the National Workplace Wellbeing Day, for the promotion of a positive and supportive working environment. In 2021, during the pandemic and while working remotely, I have developed and facilitated a series of online art classes that highlighted various challenges of students and staff with disabilities. This initiative has seen me receiving an award at the UCC 4th Annual Athena SWAN President’s Symposium for the first place in Staff Category in the EDI Creative Narratives. Once again, I gained confidence and drive from a culture that believed in the talent and importance of my actions regardless of origin, gender, or employment seniority/status.
Furthermore, having identified leadership as my main growth need, I was actively supported in achieving a digital badge in the First Steps to Management programme (2020), and in becoming a Lead Worker in the School’s COVID Management Team (2020).
The School’s informal policies of flexible working hours, and of holding all meetings in core hours help address real-life issues as experienced by parents and carers, especially in unprecedented times of the full-time caregiving and homeschooling during the pandemic. The School has recently supported my resumption of a part-time PhD registration.
I look forward to further use of the Charter’s remit and the SAT’s action plan as forces for genuine change. My story is just a sample and a promise of what could be achieved, should greater recognition of needs, and degrees of flexibility and support become established as a foundation of work relations concerning all professional groups in the University.