Nicola Woolcock, The Times (London), August 10, 2018
Young female and ethnic minority academics will “reverse mentor” senior professors as part of a drive to remove barriers to career progression in science.
The project, which will see young black female academics at the start of their careers coaching older white male professors, is part of a £5.5 million anti-discrimination drive being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
It will be led by Jon Rowe, director of research in the University of Birmingham’s college of engineering and physical science.
He said that female academics in science, technology and engineering departments “often struggle to progress in their careers” but that the reasons for this were not fully understood. The mentoring project aims to expose unconscious biases held by senior staff.
He told Times Higher Education magazine: “Quite a lot of the time, people who have been around at a university for a while assume they know everything … but actually they need to be educated themselves.
“In ‘normal’ mentoring, you tend to have a senior person whose job it is to coach a junior person. In reversing that we will take, for example, a black, female junior academic, who will then explain to a senior white, male professor what it’s like being who they are, the journey they’ve come through and the challenges they have faced.”
Researchers on the project will also conduct experiments on how academics’ work is valued compared with that of non-minority colleagues.
Staff from Birmingham will work with researchers from Aberystwyth University and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. Eleven initiatives involving 23 universities have secured funding from the EPSRC.
Another project, led by Heriot-Watt University, will create immersive virtual-reality games for line managers and research leaders to help them appreciate the challenges faced by disabled researchers.
The Times reported two years ago about a leading consultancy firm, Ernst & Young, introducing reverse mentoring. Junior female employees were matched with older male executives to coach them on how to behave in the workplace — for example, not assuming that a partner in the firm would have a stay-at-home spouse.