Birkbeck is a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence and London’s only specialist provider of evening higher education.
Founded in 1823 by Dr George Birkbeck to educate workers through part-time programmes, Birkbeck officially became part of the University of London in 1920. The College is recognised for providing the highest quality teaching that is informed by its outstanding research excellence, and it has consistently ranked number one in the National Student Surveys. About 18,000 students study at Birkbeck every year. They join a community that is as diverse and cosmopolitan as London’s population. Birkbeck’s flexible approach attracts many non-traditional students and the College offers them the opportunity to fit university studies around busy lives.
Birkbeck consists of five Academic Schools: School of Arts; School of Business, Economics and Informatics; School of Law; School of Science; School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy.
The College is particularly committed to gender equality: this is reflected in the Single Equality Strategy (2009-2012), which was revised in 2013. Women represent over 56% of the enrolled students at Birkbeck. Nevertheless, they are underrepresented among higher level professors (but also among readers and senior lecturers), and even more so in those fields with relevant science, engineering and technology components (SET), such as the School of Science and the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Women are also underrepresented in influential committees at College level, such as the Academic Executive Committee, the Research Committee and the Teaching & Quality Committee.
Among gender quality oriented policies and initiatives which have been adopted over time, the following can be mentioned, which, however, are not uniformly present at all Schools and Departments: career support and training, mentoring schemes, flexible working policies, workload management, childcare provisions. However, the need has recently emerged for a change of scale, especially as regards SET areas. The College’s efforts have been recognised with a National Athena SWAN Bronze award (aiming to promote good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in SET). Birkbeck was praised by Athena SWAN for its career development strategies and flexible working practices and childcare provision. It is in this framework that Birkbeck decided to join the TRIGGER project. Even though TRIGGER promotes a completely independent and original plan of action, it also represents a unique tool to support the achievement of the objectives of Athena SWAN, while at the same time widening and deepening its scope.
Birkbeck, University of London for TRIGGER web site
Contact details of the members of the TRIGGER staff.
Project coordinator at Birkbeck:
Prof. Helen Lawton Smith
Dr. Viviana Meschitti
Official websiteAction Plan
The implementation of the TRIGGER project at Birkbeck comprises more actions regarding understanding
gender cultures in the College, raising awareness about the role of gender in academic work and in the
research process, fostering the career of early stage researchers, and enhancing leadership and networking
skills. A new action will involve supporting the commercialisation of women’s work.
TRIGGER will mainly involve the SET fields studied at Birkbeck: the School of Science and the Departments
of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, and Computer Science and Information Systems in the School of
Business, Economics and Informatics. The main activities are the following:
– Systematic observation of potentially discriminating formal/informal behaviours: an in-depth
research study on Birkbeck’s organisational culture and on the career trajectories of its academic
staff will help to understand the implications of gender issues on the work of scientists and to
formulate recommendations for action;
– Promoting the inclusion of women scientists in external collaborative arrangements, with a focus on
building effective networks;
– Designing and implementing a permanent mentoring programme, especially targeted at the needs of
early career researchers and junior academics, and developing a handbook of best practice;
– Training on gendered aspects of research and testing of tools for gendering research procedures;
– Mainstream teaching module on gender for PhD courses;
– Launch and organisation of Development centres for researchers (focused especially on managing
teams and bidding for funds) and of a leadership programme;
– Creation of structural opportunities for the commercialisation of women’s work in research and
The more general objective is that of changing the academic culture, by focusing on the strategies to
positively involve all potential stakeholders and overcome indifference, resistance and backlash. TRIGGER
actions at Birkbeck aim to impact different sides of the gender-and-science issue and to build new
perspectives beyond the traditional “neutral” understanding of science. The actions are designed to
complement or reinforce the Athena SWAN scheme. The main expected result is a change towards an
innovative and gender sensitive academic culture, and, more specifically:
– Increased knowledge on and monitoring of the gender situation at Birkbeck to identify further
actions to be implemented;
– Dissemination of knowledge and expertise on gendered research;
– Enhanced status of young women researchers (and more generally of all early-stage researchers);
– Visibility (and eventually commercialisation) of women’s research results;
– More women in senior academic and management positions.