Professor Liz Kay is Foundation Dean at Peninsula Dental School at Plymouth University. She is the Plymouth University’s stakeholder Governor on the Board of (Shadow) Governors for Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust and she sits on the university Athena SWAN Committee and the university’s Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She is also a member of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena Swan Medical Practice committee and also a judging panel member for Athena SWAN, a cause about which she is passionate.
“…The reason I want to help, in whatever way I can in the Athena SWAN cause is because I do not want any younger women EVER to have to put up with being treated the way I have been on occasions, or to have to fight the sometimes arduous battles I have had to fight…”
Being the “fixer” and getting hooked on academic life
I became a dentist because I knew I wanted to go to university, but I knew I wanted to go to learn to “be” something, as opposed going to just learn – i.e. I wanted a vocational career. However, I did not wish to do medicine. My step father was GP and I knew that I wanted to be the “fixer” rather than just to listen, diagnose and refer.
I delayed going into “high street dentistry” after I qualified as I was offered a research fellowship. Once in this role where I have the opportunity to teach, to research and to publish… and I was hooked on the academic life.
Sparing others the battles I have had to fight
Athena SWAN is about women in academic scientific careers being properly encouraged and supported in those careers, in the same way that men are. The reason I want to help, in whatever way I can in the Athena SWAN cause is because I do not want any younger women EVER to have to put up with being treated the way I have been on occasions, or to have to fight the sometimes arduous battles I have had to fight.
I was lucky enough to break a hole in a very thick glass ceiling (I was the first ever female Professor of Dentistry at Manchester University, and only the third ever in the country) and I knew when I gained that accolade at age 39 that one thing I was going to do was to try to make that hole bigger and to pull other women up through it!
The Equality Challenge Unit asked me to be a member of the Medical and Dental Practice Committee because I had led a Dental School and because I would be able to give insights into the particular career challenges to women, and gender inequalities and inequities in those professions.
My role as an Athena SWAN panel member
Assessors read the submissions sent in and judge them against set criteria. My role in this was as a panel member, on a panel of seven assessors. Best practice is judged by assessing what the applying organisation has learnt from looking at their data, and what they plan to do about it to improve it (in terms of gender equality).
My tips for success are to look at the data carefully, make sense of what it means in terms of inequalities, then fix the problem! The best ways for getting buy-in and men on board is to make the clear business case for equality to them.