Academic anya

Becoming an academic anya

October 2022

Being on maternity leave with my son has been one of the toughest and most amazing years of my life. This little rainbow baby helps me learn new things every day, gaining a much deeper understanding of who I am, too. It is also incredible to watch him grow into a chubby, inquisitive, constantly moving, bilingual, friendly and kind human. Becoming an academic anya has of course its own challenges: negotiating a new identity that is more important than anything else before, feeling torn when managing my time, and knowing that something – well, mainly my work – has to give.

A while ago I looked into the inequalities of academic careers, a rather disheartening read. For example, based on the growth of the ratio of female academics seen in recent years (0.7% a year), we will reach parity between male and female professors as soon as 2053… Bias in hiring means women get more questions and interruptions, and grant reviewers often judge the scientist, not the science. Student evaluations of women and academics of colour produce more negative feedback, when compared to those given to white male academics. The focus on measured outputs of papers, external funding, impact, and student evaluations as such is problematic. There is a clear “leaky pipeline” for women and academics of colour throughout the institutional hierarchy, with “sticky-floors” keeping them in less valued roles – academic citizenship and care-work are crucial for a healthy institution, but these are rarely recognised as important in promotions. Women and academics of colour are also more likely to work part-time, have insecure contracts, and experience vertical and horizontal occupational segregation. As a result, the overall gender pay gap was 10.8% (median) and 11% (mean) in 2020 across the sector, being low at 6 months upon graduation from a PhD but doubling by 42 months.

Maternity pay is important; well-paid and flexible provision for maternity leave and child-care can mitigate the “baby penalty”, as Troeger and colleagues showed:

Universities with a very generous occupational maternity pay on average double the number of female professors compared to HEIs with minimal maternity benefits. (…) more generous maternity leave provisions lead to a higher share of female academics with an income in the highest salary bracket. (Troeger, 2020: 9-10)

However, there is large variation across the sector in provision and how generous the maternity schemes are, with staff on fixed-term and short-term contracts often being excluded. From my personal experience, it is indeed stressful to be navigating the job-market, short-term contracts, and the length of leave you can feasibly take once pregnant. It is no wonder that the scheme I am on now (Nottingham Research Fellowship) with a 3-year contract, a promise of a permanent role and a generous childcare package has been very productive in both research outputs and children born to fellows - despite the overall maternity pay at UoN being just above the bare minimum. There are other good examples of supporting academics returning from maternity leave through teaching buy-outs or a research leave upon their return.

Before I went on maternity leave, I talked at a Women’s Network event about what helped my career as a researcher. This slide summarises my thoughts on time and space, networks, and structural elements.

A few references on these topics

  • Advance HE (2020). Equality in higher education: Statistical Report 2020 - Data Tables

  • El-alayli, A., Hansen-Brown, A. A., & Ceynar, M. (2017). Dancing Backwards in High Heels : Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favor Requests , Particularly from Academically Entitled Students. Sex Roles.

  • Baker, S. (19th of January 2018) Data bite: share of female professors now virtually a quarter. Times Higher Education.

  • Bavishi, A., Madera, J. M., & Hebl, M. R. (2010). The effect of professor ethnicity and gender on student evaluations: Judged before met. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

  • Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.

  • Bhopal, K. (2016) The experiences of Black and minority ethnic academics: a comparative study of the unequal academy. London and New York: Routledge

  • Bhopal, K., & Henderson, H. (2021). Competing inequalities: gender versus race in higher education institutions in the UK. Educational Review, 73(2), 153–169.

  • Blair-Loy, M., Rogers, L., Glaser, D., Wong, Y., Abraham, D., & Cosman, P. (2017). Gender in Engineering Departments: Are There Gender Differences in Interruptions of Academic Job Talks? Social Sciences, 6(1), 29.

  • Connolly, S & Long, S. (2008), “Glass ceilings – thicker at the top? Evidence on career progression for scientists from the UK”, Discussion Paper No. 2008-1, The UEA Economics

  • Dany F, Louvel S and Valette A (2011) Academic careers: The limits of the ‘boundaryless approach’ and the power of promotion scripts. Human Relations 64(7): 971–996.

  • Epifanio, M., & Troeger, V. E. (2018). An assessment of maternity leaves across UK universities. University of Warwick; University of Liverpool. Retrieved from

  • Epifanio, M., & Troeger, V. E. (2020). Bargaining over maternity pay: Evidence from UK universities. Journal of Public Policy, 40(3), 349–374.

  • Macfarlane, B. (2007). Defining and rewarding academic citizenship: The implications for university promotions policy. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 29(3), 261–273.

  • Mengel, F., Sauermann, J., & Zölitz, U. (2017). Gender Bias in Teaching Evaluations. Bonn. Retrieved from

  • Pell, A. N. (1996). Fixing the Leaky Pipeline: Women Scientists in Academia. Journal of Animal Science.

  • Olsen, W., Gash, V., Vandecasteele, L., Heuvelman, H., & Walthery, P.(2014-05-15). The Gender Pay Gap in the UK Labour Market. In Gender Inequality in the Labour Market in the UK. : Oxford University Press.

  • Troeger, V. E. (2018). Productivity takes Leave? Maternity benefits and career opportunities of women in academia. Retrieved from

  • UKRI (2020c). Diversity data. Swindon: UKRI. Retrieved April, 2, 2021, from

  • Witteman, H. O., Hendricks, M., Straus, S., Hbsc, F., & Tannenbaum, C. (2017). Female grant applicants are equally successful when peer reviewers assess the science , but not when they assess the scientist.

  • Woodhams, C., Lupton, B., & Cowling, M. (2015). The Presence of Ethnic Minority and Disabled men in Feminised Work: Intersectionality, Vertical Segregation and the Glass Escalator. Sex Roles.

  • Woodhams, C., Lupton, B., Perkins, G., & Cowling, M. (2015). Multiple disadvantage and wage growth: The effect of merit pay on pay gaps. Human Resource Management.