Why change will take a long time to filter through

Women and work: Report urges the strengthening of maternity provisions, childcare facilities and retraining programmes; Liz Searl finds the first female Fellow of Trinity keen to win improvements

Dr Sue Kingsman, 43, is a lecturer in biochemistry at Oxford University and was appointed the first female Fellow of Trinity College in 1984.

"You just can't say that male attitudes are outdated any more," she said. "My particular generation of male colleagues have treated me at all times as an absolute equal, if not as a superior, depending on the environment."

But she believes that adequate change will only be effectively established when the older, staid generations of academics retire.

"Universities are now very conscious of the problem, and ensure that women are placed on hiring committees. But once someone is offered a chair, they can hold it for up to 30 years, so change in established posts will obviously take a while to filter through."

She agrees, however, that present maternity provisions remain a great barrier for women. "There is still the idea that science is a vocation, and not a profession in which you can take time off to have a baby and return afterwards on a similar level. In science, there is no defined career structure which means that this automatically happens."

Dr Kingsman feels she has had more support than many other women colleagues since she became pregnant in her late thirties.

"I had a baby later than most, when I was established in an office with a good team around me," she said. "Charles is now five, and the team will still pull together if I have a problem."

She says other women still approach her with caution when they have to reveal that they are pregnant.

"We must be able to feel that having a baby can be part of our academic life," she said. "Science is so fast-moving that without support from the institution women can find it extremely difficult to manage both family and an academic post.

"I think many women get through to their early thirties and start to think about families. They're on short-term contracts and are worried they won't be able to get back in after a break. They think, `sod this, I'm only getting paid pounds 20,000, what's the point?' Then they go and do something else."

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