As part of the Department’s commitment to fostering a culture of equality and inclusivity, innovative new working practices have been introduced.
The Department supports a healthy work-life balance. We encourage the use of flexible working arrangements through a flexible working scheme (requiring a contractual change) or flexi-time scheme (no contractual change needed). This includes:
The Department strives to overcome barriers to flexible working by ensuring that hours are family-friendly. This stands for Departmental meetings and seminars where possible. We work with the Timetabling team to ensure that impromptu requests to accommodate school hours and family duties within the academic timetable can be agreed.
The Department has introduced baby changing facilities and access to a Quiet Room. This is for prayer, breast-feeding and time away from communal offices. We also use it for our 'Time to Talk' days.
Arrangements have also been made for delegates at York conferences to have access to childcare.
An important aspect of the flexible working scheme is the ‘part-time working assurance’. This means staff can request changes to their working hours without threat of losing a future full-time contract (now emulated elsewhere). To date, all applications for part-time working have been approved. This includes those where an increase in hours was requested following on from a previous decrease to allow for family commitments.
Since the introduction of flexible working policies, there have been notable increases in flexible and part-time working. This has been seen across the sexes, with an increase in part-time male academic staff from 5% in 2009 to 20% in 2015.
Caroline Dessent started in 1997 as a post-doctoral researcher, then held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship from 1999-2008, and is now a Senior Lecturer in physical chemistry holding a ERC Starting Grant (2008-2015).
"I have had three children (James 14, Grace 9, and Kitty 5) over the time I’ve worked at York. As my children are spaced out in age, I’ve had the chance to experience first-hand how attitudes to maternity leave and flexible working have changed. I had James in 2000, and came back to work full-time after four months of maternity leave. When I had Grace in 2005, I returned to work full time after six months, but was able to work very flexibly with the department’s support. After Kitty was born in 2009, I was on leave for ten months and then returned to work three days a week initially.
The demands of having three children and a busy husband are substantial (!) and I felt that it wasn’t possible for me to balance the demands of caring for my enlarged family with working full-time. It was very reassuring to know that the department would be fully supportive of my decision to work part-time. Like most issues around work-life balance, what was good for my family was not ideal for my laboratory, and I’ve increased my part-time hours gradually since Kitty turned 2, so that I now work 4.25 days a week. The three quarters of a day “time-off” is important to me as it gives me flexibility to pick up my daughters from school several days a week. Working four and a quarter days is certainly a much more comfortable compromise for my working life. However, it was probably essential for me to have the flexibility to work less when Kitty was very young due to the demands on the whole family over that period, and it was certainly very good to be able to make these decisions knowing my employer was supportive."
Lucy has worked in the Department since 2000, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2006 then Chair in 2009 and is now Chair of the Departmental Research Committee and Deputy Head Research in the department. She is an Atmospheric Chemist, specialising in the chemistry of the clean marine atmosphere and in natural emissions of volatile organic compounds.
"I've had two periods of maternity leave lasting 5 and 6 months for Josie (now 13) and Finlay (10). The Department was very supportive in allowing me to return to work half time for the first few months, which really helped whilst the chlidren settled into the University nursery, and then giving me the flexibility to work hours which suited my family life. Since having children I've moved from full-time to various degrees of part-time and back again. Once the children started school, I used the flexibility of part time working to be able to pick them up from school several times a week. I feel fortunate that having a flexible job has meant I’ve spent maximum time with them whilst attempting (not always succeeding!) in trying to keep on top of things at work. The Department also supported my career helping me with promotion (including to Chair) when working part-time. Now the children have longer hours at school, I returned to full-time work in 2016, but like many working parents or carers, I'm thankful for flexible and home working."
Dave Smith started in the Department in 1999 as a lecturer; became a Senior Lecturer in 2004 and Chair in 2006. Dave is an 'out' gay academic who was selected as one of the RSC's 175 Diverse Faces of Chemistry in 2014 and has won national awards for his teaching and research. Dave has given flagship lectures on the representation of LGBT scientists, a topic he has also written about in Chemistry World and discussed as part of his extensive YouTube outreach work.
In 2010, his husband, Sam, was listed for a lung transplant, which took place successfully in January 2011.
Dave says: "The department was very supportive in helping me spend a full month away, in the middle of teaching, with effectively no notice."
In 2014, Dave and Sam adopted a little boy, at which point Dave took 6 weeks away from work, and in December 2014, Dave came back to work 80% time.
Dave says: "The department was fully supportive of this process and helped fund a postdoctoral researcher in my laboratory to assist with group management and my small group teaching responsibilities. Furthermore, my role as Chair of Board of Studies was redeveloped as a shared administrative job (with Prof Jane Thomas-Oates - also currently 80% time)."
Ruth Purvis works for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and has been based in the department since 2008.
She returned part time after her first maternity leave and has varied her hours since returning to work and currently works 30 hours a week.
"I have had two periods of maternity leave since joining the department (Tom 3, Lucy 1) and have found the whole experience of maternity leave and returning to work very good. I found the department to be very flexible and was not worried about asking about returning part time. I returned at 3 days a week after having Lucy which I later increased to 4, which I was able to do as I work from home one morning a week.
I find a major challenge with balancing work and family. However my colleagues are supportive and I find that a nice balance has been achieved and flexibility is the key!"
Laurence Abbott has worked in the Department since 1998 in a role combining teaching, research, and research support in physical chemistry.
"In 2011, my daughter Jessica had to be delivered 10 weeks prematurely owing to the deteriorating health of her mother. Jessica subsequently spent 6 weeks in the Special Care Baby Unit, which tragically coincided with my wife entering into palliative care. I took some time off to adapt to my new life as a single parent, and after Jessica was allowed home, I was fortunate to find a local child minder who was willing to take her despite her young age. Owing to the circumstances, I was very keen to keep busy and return to work full time to get a sense of normality back, but was able to be flexible to fit work around Jessica’s care needs.
Jessica now spends weekdays with her child-minder and at nursery school, allowing me to continue working full time. With no family nearby, I am fully responsible for Jessica’s care and have to stay at home with her when she is suffering from the endless illnesses that small children catch. This can involve having to drop everything immediately to go and pick her up at short notice. Fortunately, the department allows me to be flexible and work around any sick days. Jessica being ill sometimes means rearranging commitments at very short notice but staff and students have always understood, even when not being aware of the full reasons.
Now being older, Jessica has several ‘adult’ friends in the department, allowing the potential for help in the future if there are problems with childcare. Jessica has joined me at several departmental social events recently such as the BBQ and Christmas drinks, meaning I can join in without the hassle of arranging additional childcare. The departmental flexible working scheme has been crucial in these difficult times."
Robin Perutz started as a lecturer in 1983, and was Head of Department from 2000-2004.
"Athena SWAN has changed the way I try to support women in science. As Head of Department, my plans were to support staff to do their best, to foster a collegiate atmosphere, to ensure staff were promoted, and to increase transparency. When Caroline Fox and colleagues surveyed the working practices in chemistry departments they soon signalled that what we were doing was unusual. I remember my acute embarrassment at being singled out at a meeting held at the Royal Society with several well-known women scientists. At that stage, I had no intention of plotting male/female ratios and analysing our work in the detail required by Athena SWAN. My successor, Paul Walton, ensured that we put in for Athena SWAN Awards though I helped in the applications. Now I think about the women in science aspects far more frequently than before, whether in appointments or recommendations for conference lecturers or working practices. The ideas of the AS Charter are so embedded with my colleagues that many a discussion is assessed against AS criteria.
The importance of scientific opportunities extends to my family: my son and daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law are all in STEM professions.
A few years ago I became Departmental Disability Officer. Although I had no experience of disabilities, I had heard about the issues because my wife coordinated support for children with physical disabilities for the City of York. This has become a task where I address very different sorts of diversity. My wife continues to be my first port of call to work out how to approach disability issues."
Louise Summerton has worked in the Department since 2003 and looks after the Training, Education and Networks projects and initiatives of the Green Chemistry group.
"Since 2008 I have had two periods of maternity leave lasting 10 months each time to care for my two children, Katie (born 2008) and Thomas (born 2010). Upon returning to work in April 2009, I began working part-time – 2.5 days a week. After my second maternity leave, I changed my working pattern again and increased my hours to three full days. From a personal perspective, I found it better to work full days rather than half-days. Getting two small children dressed, fed and ready for the day ahead and driving 17 miles to get to work is no mean feat, and it made more sense to stay for a whole day!
Initially I found it difficult to adjust to working part-time, especially due to restrictions for scheduling/attending meetings and catching up on developments from the second half of the week. Things move at a fast pace and quite often Monday mornings can feel like returning after a holiday due to the volume of emails! I now find it beneficial to check my emails intermittently from home (when the children are asleep!) which allows me to keep on top of things and act on any urgent matters.
Working part-time demands a high level of organisation skills and forward planning is essential as deadlines can approach much faster when you don’t work Thursdays and Fridays! Working part-time, although clichéd, does feel like having the ‘best of both worlds’ – I get to spend time with my children, but also apply myself to various challenges at work such as writing grant applications. I feel fortunate to have a supportive working environment which allows me to balance my responsibilities at work and at home."