Money, Money, Money

George Osborne’s July 2015 budget has unveiled the news that university maintenance grants are to be scrapped, as of September 2016.4724397422_343e5d00ab_b

With this news many are concerned that low and middle income students will no longer see university as a realistic option. Megan Dunn (NUS president) suggested that cutting these grants could be hugely detrimental to hundreds of thousands of the poorest students.

So what could this mean for careers and employability?

A large number of graduate recruiters currently operate schemes and support programmes in order to attract and recruit a diverse workforce. With the potential for a less diverse student body within higher education, does this mean employers will start looking elsewhere for candidates? And what about roles that have a degree requirement such as, law, teaching or medicine – these roles could become unattainable for some of the countries most talented students because they do not have the financial resource to attend university.

Encouragingly, The Office of Fair Access to Higher Education has said it will monitor the impact of this change particularly in relation to access to higher education of those from disadvantaged backgrounds – which is currently at record levels.

For further information take a look at this BBC News article.

Picture courtesy of Number 10, taken from 

Sticking up for STEM women

Displaying Studies show that women leave academic research in larger numbers than men, and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Initiatives like Athena SWAN has been set up to address the problem, but if you’re a female researcher there are other sources of support out there for you too. One example is STEM Women.

The site was put together by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, Professor Rajini Rao, and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, three women with PhDs who wanted to generate open debate around how to improve the situation for women in STEM. Here, Buddhini tells us a little more about the site.

How did you first start the website?

Back in 2012, I think it was on International Women’s Day, someone on Facebook shared a list of female scientists whom you may or may not have heard of. Obviously Marie Curie was in it, and there were lots of other black and white photos of women who were mostly already dead. Great that such a list is being shared, but I figured I should put together a list of more current female scientists to whom people could better relate. I used Google +, which was pretty new at that time and had lots of female engineers and scientists who were posting publicly about their work. So I started compiling a list of their names and ‘shared’ them around, making a group of strong female role models who could inspire people. Off the back of that, I teamed up with two other female researchers and launched a website to celebrate females in STEM, and to comment on the current issues they face.

What kind of things does your website cover?

We profile successful female scientists, and host Q&As with them, to help inspire the next generation of female scientists. For example, we featured an amazing woman called Annika O’Brien who runs robotics workshops in disadvantaged areas in LA, and has her own company now. And we also talk to high-profile male scientists to try to get their input in how to improve the STEM environment for women.

And we call out and comment on current issues that are relevant to women in STEM, such as sexism. As an example, last year the journal of Proteomics published a paper on the sequencing of the coconut genome, and the picture that accompanied a link to the article featured a scantily-clad woman holding coconuts in front of her breasts, which was extremely inappropriate. One of my fellow website authors wrote to the journal’s editor to complain, and she received a less-than-satisfactory response from him, telling her it was all normal, and as a physiology Professor she should be familiar with female physiology!

The photo has since been taken down in response to a Twitter storm involving outraged people like us. But I think this perfectly highlights why a site like ours is needed. Firstly, the picture went up when it absolutely shouldn’t have. But secondly, when it was taken down, the apology was far too wishy-washy; they were sorry we’re offended, but they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d done wrong. Which is why things like this keep happening e.g. The Rosetta-landing shirt controversy. Some people think it’s silly to focus on these things, that at least the situation today is better than it used to be. But these are the microaggressions that make women feel less welcome in the male-dominated scientific space. We want to shine a light on sexism within STEM, to help the women facing it know they’re not alone, and to try to move the field forward.

Picture courtesy of STEM women, taken from their Nature blog article.

This post by Sophia Donaldson originally appeared on the Develop Your Career blog.

A Day in the Life

Cherry Blossoms by Jeff KubinaA Day In The Life is a project that documents the experiences of people with mental health difficulties on four days over a year to give a snapshot of what it’s like to be a person with mental health difficulties in England in the 21st Century.

The diaries can be searched by topic and whether the content is positive, negative or neutral. Looking at the “Work” section might provide useful insight into how other people with mental health issues negotiate employment and how work plays a part in improving or exacerbating mental health difficulties. Topics discussed include returning to work after sickness, how open it’s possible to be at work, difficulties in job seeking, and getting support at work. Although these are personal stories rather than advice pieces they hold a lot of value in seeing that other people experience similar issues and also some of the ways people manage their illnesses and difficulties.

Three of the four days in the project have passed but if you would like to share a day in your life as a person with mental health difficulties there is still time to register and contribute and maybe you could inspire someone else.

You can find more resources about mental health on Careers Tagged.

Cherry Blossoms by Flickr user Jeff Kubina used under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Women in Academia

example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN

The Institute of Physics has recently published a report with the Royal Astronomical Society, Gazing at the Future. Kate Murray, Careers Consultant to the Graduate School, King’s College London attended the launch and is sharing what she learnt with us on Reach:

The report looks at the experiences of male and female physics and astronomy researchers during their PhDs and their expectations of whether or not they will enter academia after the PhD.

The stats in the report make pretty depressing reading: female doctoral students rate the overall experience of their doctorate lower than their male peers; and the proportion of female doctoral students happy with their doctorate is on average 7% lower than for male doctoral students. Only just over 55% of female doctoral students across all years of study agree that they would make good research scientists (70% of male students overall would agree).

Particularly stark was the finding that 48% of female students, in their final year, envisage that they might have a university role in 3-5 years’ time, compared with 65% of male students.

The report suggests reasons behind these stats, including the issue of a lack of role models (thus reinforcing unconscious bias amongst recruiters and setting an unconscious bar on ambition on the part of candidates).

It doesn’t seem to me, though, that physics and astronomy are particularly alone in these findings. While efforts such as Athena SWAN and the Equality Charter Mark, as well as initiatives by individual universities such as the fantastic photos of female professors in the Strand building, all help to promote academia as a welcoming place for women, the conversations I have with female researchers across all subjects point to structural issues around the competition for grants and working culture that are off-putting. In fairness, they are often off-putting to men looking for work/life balance too.

What to do? Find resilience, set examples, seek good advice, take opportunities. Find a mentor, find a ‘supporter’ (someone who actively looks for opportunities for you), and don’t be pigeon-holed. Think about protecting your self-esteem and promoting your self-confidence. And retain a love for research.

Image (example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider) by CERN used under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Leadership programme for disabled students

Common Purpose is a charity that runs leadership development courses and they are currently running a programme in partnership with Santander called Frontrunner for Disabled Students.  It’s a three-day residential course that takes students behind the scenes of a city to visit an incredible range of organisations and their leaders across different sectors (many of whom will be potential employers). Following the course, students will be able to apply to the Santander sponsored internship scheme.

The course takes place 7 – 9 July 2015 in Newcastle and is free to attend including accommodation and transport during the programme (travel to/from Newcastle not covered).

Find out more and apply.

Call for more diversity in Whitehall

During the election campaign, the Conservative party endeavoured to position themselves as the ‘real part of the working people’, when David Cameron unveiled the party’s 2015 manifesto back in April. A month on, and with many people still reeling from the shock election result, will the Torys keep their word?

It would seem there is an attempt to, with Matt Haddock, the new Minister for the Cabinet Office, set to address the lack of diversity in Whitehall in his first speech since his appointment.

“Only 7% of applicants to the civil service fast stream are from working class backgrounds, falling to just 3.5% of those who are given offers. It’s not good enough”, he is expected to say.
In 2014, the Cabinet Office commissioned three separate reports which highlighted the career barriers facing officials from under-represented groups. The then Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, described the findings as ‘uncomfortable’ and stated that ‘there is a feeling there is a sort of monoculture, that you need to be a certain type of person to succeed.” This is certainly true, with many people feeling alienated from politics because there is a feeling that this is no one to represent them and that all politicians and government workers are from privileged backgrounds and don’t understand the needs of the ‘working people’.

If we are to get diversity and a fair representation of people from different backgrounds working in positions of authority in our society, then it only makes sense that this starts with the civil service.. Let’s hope that the work in this field continues!

For more information on this please see:

An interview with Liz Dawes, Trust Officer at City Disabilities

This originally appeared on The Careers Group Law Blog

City Disabilities is a charity set up to provide support and advice for students and professionals with disabilities, as well as employers. We caught up with their Trust Officer Liz Dawes to find out more about the Charity and get her advice for students.

Can you tell us a bit about your own background and career, and City Disabilities?

I studied Law at Oxford, and then went into private practice, where I met and worked with our trustee, Robert Hunter. I then moved in-house and worked for a number of banks and asset managers, ending up as Deputy General Counsel. When I decided to pursue a different career, Robert contacted me and offered me a job with City Disabilities. City Disabilities is a charity set up by Robert, Kayleigh Farmer and Kate Rees-Doherty. We offer a free mentoring service to students with disabilities entering professions in London, and to professionals with disabilities who already work here. We also work with employers to develop best practice in enabling staff with disabilities to do their jobs.

Some students with disabilities are hesitant about declaring this on their applications or at interviews. What advice would you offer these students?

There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Some employers will do all they can to make adjustments in the selection process so they can fairly assess all candidates. They genuinely do want to find the best person for the job, and to enable them to work as any other employee would. If you know you are talking to one of those employers, then disclosure will undoubtedly be helpful. Other employers are not so forward thinking, and disclosing to them may do more harm than good. You also have to consider that some disabilities are easier to hide than others, and some candidates find the strain of hiding them more wearing than others. It’s a personal decision affected by a number of factors. For a more detailed answer you can read my weekly round-up for City Disabilities where we discuss exactly this point in greater detail.

In your experience are the majority of firms committed to increasing the number of students with disabilities they hire, or do some position themselves as disability friendly to appear politically correct or comply with legislation?

In our experience the majority of firms are committed to increasing the number of disabled students with disabilities that they hire. Their motivation for doing so is, however, varied. Some do it because they want to appear disability friendly, but the experience of working for them is very mixed. Some do it because they feel they ought to, and don’t want to get left behind. But in reality their attitudes are slow to change, and unless the drive to be inclusive for the right reasons comes from the top, little will improve. And some do it because they are looking for the best candidates, and are well aware that without being inclusive, they will miss out on valuable talent.

Given the competition among firms to attract and retain the best talent, do you think proactively recruiting more students with disabilities can help firms meet their hiring targets and stay ahead of the competition?

Yes it can help. We know that employees with disabilities, who are treated properly, are more loyal, and just as productive, as other staff. They have faced additional challenges to compete for these jobs, showing exactly the tenacity, determination and commitment that many firms say they are looking for. And we also know that innovation and progress – in any profession – rarely come from a room full of people who are all the same.

What examples of “best practice” have you come across, in terms of firms offering support to applicants and staff with disabilities?

Firms have started to hire palantypists for deaf lawyers, which is a good step forwards. The use of other support staff to help, for example, a lawyer with dyslexia to organise their workload, can also be very helpful in reducing stress. Newer buildings tend to be far more accessible to wheelchair users, and offers of alternative transport to work, such as taxis, has improved the working lives of employees with mobility issues. Flexible working can also be very useful for a variety of conditions, and the use of technology such as Skype means that those who struggle to commute need not do so as often as previously required. A great deal can be done with fairly simple technology and support, much of which already exists. The real difference, however, is made in training all staff to understand different disabilities, and to think about how they treat colleagues, as well as how they can enable them to do their jobs. Employers whose inclusivity policy has real teeth, and who have given authority and influence to the staff who are employed to enforce it, are the ones who are making a real difference.

Where would you direct students with disabilities who are looking for support or advice during the application and interview process?

Try to find a way to speak to employees with disabilities who work for the firms you are applying to. Speak to alumni, friends, family, charities and disability awareness groups – anyone you can find who might know a professional with a disability who works for your chosen employer. Only by talking to people who work on the shop floor can you get a feel for what it will really be like to work there. You could start with the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division. Also, get in touch with City Disabilities. We have lots of mentors with disabilities who are lawyers in the City and who can give you an idea of what firms might suit you best.

Paid Arts & Media Internships

woman at window - public domainWe’ve recently added a large number of paid internships in the arts and media sectors aimed at different groups who face barriers to employment.

Extend is a BBC-wide placement scheme which offers appropriately experienced and/or qualified disabled people a great opportunity to gain six months paid work within the BBC.

You can find all the current vacancies on JobOnline and can learn more about the scheme on the BBC website. The deadlines for these roles are this Sunday, 10 May so check them out now.

The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme has paid internships for recent graduates not in a financial position to do unpaid arts internships. These include positions at festivals, galleries, with other roles available in communications, events and digital.

We have a number of these vacancies currently listed on JobOnline and you can find role details and deadlines for them on the Reach Calendar. More information on the programme, including eligibility, can be found on the Jerwood Charitable Foundation website.


Finding disability-friendly employers

Researching employers is a great way to help find out which company would be a good fit for you to work in. Finding supportive environments through targeted research can provide a good demonstrator of employers’ attitude to their employees in general and their corporate social responsibility aims.

Employer directories and reviews

There are a few employer rating sites around that can help inform you about the company culture.

TARGETjobs’ Inside Buzz  covers a limited number of employers but each has a rating based on answers to “How would you describe your firm’s commitment to diversity?”

Glassdoor  and The JobCrowd  are other such sites. These don’t have a specific rating for diversity information but sometimes equal opportunities issues are discussed in the reviews themselves.

Disability-specific resources

Our sponsor EmployAbility has worked with many leading blue-chip as well as public sector organisations, and match talented students and graduates to these prestigious disability-inclusive employers.

Great with disability has detailed information on how its listed employers approach disability along with case studies from disabled employees

Business Disability Forum’s list of disability-smart organisations can be downloaded from their website

Even Break advertises vacancies from employers who value diversity and are serious about looking beyond candidates’ impairments to identify what skills they have to offer.

The Employers’ own content

A clear way to see if an employer is disability friendly is if they use the “two ticks” symbol on their website and other materials to show they’re “positive about disabled people”. To get permission to use the symbol the employer needs to fulfill five commitments including guaranteeing an interview for any disabled applicant who meets the minimum criteria for the job.

Employers who are positive about mental health may also participate in the Mindful Employer charter. This isn’t accredited like the “two ticks” symbol so employers may claim more than they can prove but it is a pledge showing commitment to being positive about mental health so is useful in showing commitment to working towards best practice for their disabled employees.

Websites, recruitment publications and annual reports can also tell you a lot about employer attitudes. When doing your research, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they have specific information on diversity / disabilities in their recruitment information online?
  • Do they include any disabled staff in their employee profiles?
  • What do they say about diversity and inclusion?
  • Do they have a named contact in their HR Department for queries around disabilities / disclosure?
  • Are there networking groups for disabled staff?
  • What kind of language do they use when writing about disability?

Sometimes the messages can be subtle but it all adds up to creating an image of the employer. Being able to speak to individuals you find through employee profiles or named HR contacts will give you an even clearer picture.

Further Reading

The “Disability and Mental Health: Diversity Matters” section of the TARGETjobs website provides further useful tips on this topic…