The interviews

The interviews were based around the following questions:

  • • How do funders see their role?
  • • Is the threat of withdrawal of funding a good incentive in achieving gender equality?
  • • Is the overall approach characterised as carrot, stick or both?
  • • What levers do funders have to make change happen?
  • • What happens if gender targets are not met?
  • • What are the likely challenges and resistances to implementing the funding approach?

All interviews were carried out face-to-face and were recorded and transcribed. The responses are outlined in the following sections.

How funders see their role

Interviewees were asked how they perceived their role in relation to funding and gender. All stated that they had a leadership and strategic role and outlined the importance of buying into and owning the problem and the solutions relating to gender. As one said:

‘I think it's important to be seen as taking ownership of the issue but the question I would ask is the sector taking ownership, does the sector accept that it is a really significant issue [gender equality] that needs to be addressed, or is it a question of what is being done to them, being imposed? ’

Another recognised that their organisation 'needed to take a leadership role in thisThe issue of leaders taking control themselves was a recurring theme:

A key role for my organisation is an oversight role, an enabling role, but not doing the ‘in the trenches 'stuff that you are doing in the institutions

One leader pointed out that his organisation did not have a specific brief around funding individual institutions, stating that their focus was on the overall extent of sex and gender research content in applications for funding. He did state, however. that he was very conscious of his role as an influencer of gender equality.

All interviewees believed their role to be developers of policy and to ensure that initiatives were in place as part of their policy in relation to gender. All believed that they had a role in influencing the culture and that changing the organisational culture lay at the heart of ongoing strategic and structural transformation.

One leader said he recognised that these cultural differences might be granular, down to departmental level, as well as at institutional level:

‘I think there are issues like different cultures within disciplines and departments in institutions where women have been in a minority. There are certain practices that have become part of the culture and disadvantaged women such as meetings in the evenings or early morning'.

One participant believed that changing the culture might take a long time, saying that:

‘A lot of the structures, but above all the culture that is in place, is the product of a long time and is not going to be undone with a five year plan

Another also highlighted the role of culture:

‘We need to ask the question about the culture of higher education and whether male dominated roles are perpetrating what you hope are legacy’ bad practices, concerned that the culture of higher education isn t what it should be on account of male dominated practice and a nationwide lack ofgender balance

The belief that changing culture and attitudes lies at the heart of ongoing strategic and structural transformation was evident in all responses. All four interviewees spoke about their role as influencers, but expressed a view that until institutional leaders identified and rewarded good practice, no real change would be effective. All interviewees reiterated that their organisations had a monitoring and review responsibility to ensure that the recommendations and required actions, identified in key policy documents, were implemented.

A carrot or stick approach?

Leaders of the HEA and the DoES acknowledged that ultimately they had the power to impose funding sanctions for the higher education institutions that do not make progress in gender equality. These two interviewees, who identified their potential to utilise the withholding of funding as a sanction, were asked what specific incentives (carrots) or sanctions (sticks) they had at their disposal. The DoES and HEA identified specific monetary sanctions and the imposition of additional formal monitoring for those HEIs deemed not to be performing well. They also referred to progress on Gender Action Plans by HEIs.

All the interviewees were supportive of the Athena SWAN accreditation requirement and the withholding of funding, with one saying that:

‘Ultimately it is about outcomes but if you want to play evaluation in a system you have to be able to tell that system that this is how the outcome will be judged. That is why we ended up having an evaluation mechanism like Athena SWAN’.

Another pointed out:

‘In terms of realism, it’s hard to see how gender could be addressed in the timeframes set but if no timeframes are set no progress will be made so Athena Swan accreditation is an important first step'.

All of the interviewees believed that there is also a need for positive measures, funding rewards as well as imposing sanctions. One stated that if the whole of academia had to be 'dragged kicking and screaming' to realise gender objectives, on account of the risk that they might lose funding, then real change and commitment might be limited. He did accept, however, that there had to be consequences for those not making progress and that one clear sanction was monetary loss. He went on to say that he recognised that this approach came with challenges. When pressed on whether the approach of the four institutions was mainly carrot or stick, all interviewees identified the need for a mixture of both approaches. The overall response was that they preferred the carrot approach alongside institutional ownership of the gender equality issue at a local level. However, they all stated that they would use the stick approach as necessary.

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