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. In the planning of Departmental meetings and seminars we try to be aware of the working patterns of members of staff with family. 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 which can be used for time away from communal offices.
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 for all genders. with an increase in part-time male academic staff from 3% in 2009 to 18% in 2019.
Dr Elizabeth Dickinson, Daphne Jackson Fellow
Holding a Daphne Jackson Fellowship in the department of Chemistry at the University of York has been a life-changing experience for me. After taking a seven-year career break to start a family and be a stay-at-home mum, I didn't think that there would be a way back to research. Through the Daphne Jackson Trust, I have been able to return to conduct cutting-edge research, and the support I have received from the Department of Chemistry has been crucial to this being a success. My supervisor here, Prof Julie Wilson, has been fantastic – approachable, encouraging, and unendingly patient during my slow start!
From the start of the Fellowship, the department embraced my need for flexible working and caring for family. I was immediately made to feel welcome by everyone, from other research staff and students, all academic staff, and even the Head of Department, who arranged a meeting to welcome me to the department. I felt that I was a valued member of the analytical chemistry section, and was included in meetings, which were arranged to fit around my part-time working. At no point have I ever felt under pressure to work more or to apologise for my choices - the whole ethos and feeling within the department is of acceptance of the need for work-life balance to get the best out of its staff. This was obvious from day one of my fellowship, as was the fact that equality for all is integral to every aspect of working life in the department.
The departmental support that I have received to progress my career has been immeasurable, from mentorship from another Fellow, organisation and inclusion of many early-career events, and support for further funding applications - again with understanding of the need for flexible working around caring responsibilities, not just for myself, but all members of the department. I am so glad that I was able to return to research at Chemistry at York – I don’t think that I could possibly have received more in the way of support, and as a result I have been able to make the most of the opportunity of my Daphne Jackson Fellowship.
Liz is now working on a three year part-time Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the Department of Mathematics and Croda.
Dr Leonie Jones, Employability and Diversity Officer
I came to York as an undergraduate attracted by the friendly nature of the department, spending my final year on a year-in-industry placement before returning to do a fully funded PhD in supramolecular chemistry.
During my PhD I became increasing ill and two months from the end of my PhD I was admitted to intensive care. The department was extremely supportive as my initial six-month leave of absence became several years. I was eventually well enough to write up in bed and with a huge amount of support from my supervisor and our lab technician who helped me finish off my last few experiments, I graduated in 2009 (a fantastic achievement although I did not expect to ever be well enough to enter employment).
In 2012 my health improved and I began looking for work although, after a nine-year career break, I felt almost unemployable, and was unsuccessful in applying for a number of roles. After a chance meeting with the then Chair of the BoS (Prof David Smith), I was offered some part-time demonstrating for six months. We agreed a working pattern which allowed me to rest in between shifts and gradually rebuild my strength, skills, and confidence. Two weeks before my six months were up, I successfully applied for a Training and Education role in the Green Chemistry section. I was very unsure as to whether I would be able to manage a full-time job, but noticing the job description mentioned part-time and flexible-working and learning that the line-manager worked flexibly and at 0.6 FTE, I applied. As the role required a very specific skill set, I was hired at 0.75 FTE and the rest of the role was later filled by a colleague who had their own caring responsibilities. Neither of us would have been able to apply had it been full-time only. The Department provided a specialist chair and desk for me and there was never any issue with the cost.
I was given the opportunity to gain many valuable skills and experience in teaching and project management, and was able to build up my professional networks. I was positively encouraged to take time for personal development, including training in pedagogy and grant writing. My contract was extended and my hours increased to 0.8 FTE as my health allowed.
With an eye on securing a more permanent position, I then applied for my current role as Employability and Diversity Officer. This was advertised at between 0.6 and 1.0 FTE giving me confidence to request 0.8 FTE. As the interview approached, all candidates were provided with the first question in advance, which helped with nerves.
I felt very fortunate to be able to apply for roles where my experience of having a (hidden) disability, a career break and wanting to work part-time were seen as positives rather than a risk. I now have the opportunity to support students and staff in their career development and I see equality as being an integral part of that. Working 0.8 FTE allows me to balance work with rest, and I have been given a laptop to facilitate working from home when I need to, which I find very productive (I am writing this from home!).
I feel that the department is very supportive of new ideas, such as allowing me independence to develop PG E&D training and trans* awareness training. The Department has also been great at supporting my career development, funding me to attend conferences, external training (Stonewall LGBT Ally training), give external talks, and Leadership Training this year.
I started working in the Department in 1999 as a lecturer, becoming a senior lecturer in 2004 and Chair in 2006. I have won national awards for both teaching and research, and have published over 150 papers. Such success was facilitated by good departmental mentoring in the very early days.
I am an out gay academic who was selected as one of the RSC’s 175 Diverse Faces of Chemistry and was nominated for the 2017 Gay Times Barbara Burford award for LGBTQ+ work in STEM. I am a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry Inclusion and Diversity and Committee and have worked very hard to maximise support for, and visibility of, LGBTQ+ individuals working in STEM, through an extensive range of articles, interviews and national/international lectures. In addition, I am passionate about widening participation in HE and have been Academic Chair of University of York’s highly successful Widening Participation initiatives for the last 5 years.
There are very few academics in the UK who have developed this sort of profile and then chosen to work part-time; most are wholly career focussed. The fact I felt able and supported to do so demonstrates the positive culture that has been fostered in this department.
In 2010, my husband, Sam, was listed for a lung transplant, which took place successfully in January 2011. At this time, the department was very supportive in helping to facilitate me spending a full month away, in the middle of my busiest teaching period, with effectively no notice.
In 2014, my husband and I adopted a little boy, at which point I took 6 weeks fully away from work (again during a teaching period), and then returned to work 0.8 FTE for the following year. This was really beneficial in enabling me to ring-fence one day a week when I did not need to feel guilty for dropping everything work-related so that I could build a relationship with our 2-year-old son. There is no doubt that, as a member of Professorial staff at the time, without the part-time working assurance implemented in the Department, I would not have worked part time.
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 working 0.8 FTE while caring for an elderly relative).
At the time of submission in November 2018, Sam unfortunately has serious rejection of his lung transplant, and the future does not look great. Given the loss our son has already experienced through the adoption process, if the worst happens to Sam then I would want to provide our son with as much stability as possible, especially during the difficult-to-cover school holidays. For this reason, it is likely that I will look at moving back into an unusual part-time working pattern at some point, so that I can build up more flexible days’ leave to take during school holiday periods. I have already discussed this with departmental leadership and it is very reassuring to know that the department provides such excellent support, both for compassionate leave and part-time working.
Post Script: Sam Smith passed away in February 2019, aged 39. Dave is now working part time flexi so he can take more time off in school holidays.
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."
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."