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I don't know why this bothers me so much...

(28 Posts)
namechangeforissue Mon 17-Mar-14 12:18:22

But it does, and I don't know what, if anything, I should do about it.

I'm an academic and we have a set time for our department research seminar each week. The time was originally a little later but it's currently set to finish half an hour before the workplace nursery (where my DC goes) closes. It was later but it was pointed out quite some time ago (pre-us having DC) that this was difficult for parents (we at the time had at least one colleague with a child in after school club and it was hard for that colleague too).

Since coming back to work, I have had a HUGE disagreement with my head of department over teaching past the hour when the nursery shuts. We had a union rep and HR at a meeting and while the HoD backed down on a couple of other things it's still in writing that I'm expected to teach during a time when lectures are scheduled but the nursery is shut.

The nursery will not stay open later and it is completely opaque who actually governs the nursery, though it's classed as a workplace benefit. I have no idea what students are supposed to do either!

While all this was going on, a dad on staff (whose wife is also on staff, but who was still on maternity leave) asked for the time of the seminar to be changed "to fit with childcare". This, in contrast to my issue, was taken seriously, and it's been discussed, and is due to be discussed again. The seminar already fits with the workplace nursery - they want it moved an hour earlier again, or to a completely different time.

I fixed my nursery days and days of work to enable me to get to this seminar. It's no skin off my nose if it's earlier the same day, but I think what's bothering me is it's OK to tell me I have to magic up childcare for a time when the nursery is shut, but when a Dad asks for something to be moved everyone jumps to it, even when there isn't a clash with most of the available childcare.

I actually can't imagine what childcare they are using that doesn't work with the current time OR what they are planning to do when one of them is asked to teach in the later slot (but of course they are both on site - my DH works over an hour away).

I'm trying to delicately enquire exactly what their problem is, and why they think they are special... I feel really bad for doing this but it just seems to be a double standard.

On my own issue, it's possible that circumstances will mean I won't have to teach those particular lectures next year, and then we have a new head, so the Union rep and I have agreed we'll ignore the pronouncement for the moment.

flowery Mon 17-Mar-14 19:32:29

What makes you think it's the fact that your colleague is a dad rather than a mum that has made the difference?

What makes you think "they think they are special"?

What their "problem" is and what their childcare arrangements are are nothing to do with you. They are parents trying to make things a little easier for themselves, same as you are. Getting angry at your colleague for asking a question is irrational and is not going to help you.

I'm sure you do really know why it bothers you, it's because it feels unfair, even though if I've understood it right, your colleague hasn't actually had his request granted yet. You are assuming it will be and you think that would not be fair.

Without knowing all the ins and outs, I have absolutely no idea whether hypothetically agreeing your colleagues request would be unfair after your (different) request was previously refused. I would be interested to know on what basis you think his request is being considered because he's a he rather than a she though.

namechangeforissue Tue 18-Mar-14 10:52:50

My request was dealt with by my HoD and refused - his request has been taken to staff meeting and everyone else is saying how reasonable it is. Both of them involve rearranging the timetable (his request involves rearranging it permanently, while mine only involves a couple of classes on a temporary basis). I was basically told that I had to find childcare, while he has been told that yes, we will rearrange the timetable, you don't have to find childcare.

I agree that his childcare arrangements are none of my business. But neither are my childcare arrangements my HoD's business, yet he is suggesting that my arrangements are inadequate (despite the fact that my arrangements appear to cover more hours than this dad's).

So yes, I do think this is unfair. This is a pattern that's been repeated in other departments too - a friend who has a school aged child always organises breakfast club when she has a 9am lecture. Her male colleague with a child in the same school has told their mutual department he can never do 9am lectures because he "has a child".

flowery Tue 18-Mar-14 11:54:42

"I agree that his childcare arrangements are none of my business. But neither are my childcare arrangements my HoD's business"

Firstly you are not in the same position in relation to your colleague as your HoD is to you, ie you are not the one considering the request.

Secondly, you are right that what arrangements you opt to use for the hours you are required to work are not your HoD's business, but requiring you to have childcare for times you are contracted to work is fair, and the opening times of the nursery you choose to use aren't his/her problem. If you don't have childcare in place for the times you are scheduled to work then it is a simple fact that your childcare is inadequate.

Not sure how your friend's situation is relevant - you don't indicate whether she asked not to have to do 9am lectures. If she did ask, and was told to find childcare, and her male colleague made the exact same request, and was accommodated, then she might have an argument, but presumably there is a different HoD involved anyway?

I have no idea whether it is just as easy and involves just as little disruption to others to rearrange the teaching timetable for you as it does to move the department research seminar slightly earlier in the day for your colleague. Although it might feel unfair that your request was denied and your colleague's request might be accommodated, it would certainly be much easier to make the argument that it was unfair if the requests had been the same. It will be easy for your employer to point out that agreeing one request doesn't mean different requests for similar reasons need to automatically be agreed, and they would be right.

If you are of the view that agreeing your request would have been just as easy, and have reason to believe that it is your colleague's gender which has made the difference, rather than the different nature of the request/timing/other non gender-related issue, then you could consider making a formal complaint, and/or considering this to be discriminatory.

BranchingOut Tue 18-Mar-14 12:08:46

It seems to me to be a good thing that your colleague has made this request and it is being taken seriously, as it means that childcare issues (which affect everyone who is a parent) are no longer falling solely within the gendered discourse of 'employers needing to accommodate working mothers'.

In my opinion, I do feel that occasional working outside normal office hours is part of the nature of a professional job. Many professional jobs take this to extreme, but I think that it is not wholly unexpected in an academic role - just as you would need to make arrangements to attend conferences or carry out research, if the need to do so took you outside normal working hours.

namechangeforissue Tue 18-Mar-14 12:35:34

requiring you to have childcare for times you are contracted to work is fair

There's no real set time that we are contracted to work so either
a) we are allowed (as colleagues are in other departments, it seems) to decide when our hours are or
b) all of us should have childcare for times we are nominally contracted to work (in other words, times when events may possibly happen, if nobody rearranges them), including me and this colleague.

Agreeing my request to change the timetable would have been easier (as it would have been temporary, not permanent) than his request. If I'm asked to teach those hours again next year, then there will be a formal complaint, believe you me. And this timetable change will be brought up.

The friend in another department never even dreamed that it would be reasonable to refuse to teach at 9am since a breakfast club is available. So it never occurred to her to ask not to do this.

So so far we have
2 female members of staff with childcare issues. One solves them, and teaches at a difficult time. One is told she must solve them, and teach at a difficult time.

2 male members of staff with childcare issues. Both ask not to work at a difficult time. Both requests are granted. Neither is told to solve their childcare issues.

If the timetable change happens (it's been agreed in principle but the dates it applies to haven't come around yet) then I do agree it will be a good thing to bring to a complaint hearing.

The issue of "choosing childcare" though a side issue is also I feel important. The workplace nursery should provide childcare that works for the people that work in the workplace, I feel. It doesn't.

flowery Tue 18-Mar-14 13:56:13

No you really can't use the fact that your female colleague didn't ask not to work at 9am as an example of unfairness. If she had done so, and had been refused, then that would be an example, but her decision not to ask in the first place doesn't make her colleague's request being agreed unfair.

BranchingOut Tue 18-Mar-14 14:36:28

Or is this an example of men being more assertive in the workplace?

namechangeforissue Tue 18-Mar-14 15:44:02

The other department may be an example of men being more assertive. I got the impression from my friend that people had been muttering about her "taking the P" because she occasionally has to go early/take time off with sick children etc., so she didn't dare ask, and thought it was really cheeky of him. I'll find out if she actually asked, or if she was told not to ask, or she just didn't think of it.

My department is an example of two people asking for the same thing (a timetable change) and me being told I couldn't have it and the man being told that he should be able to get it, we just need to wait for next year.

flowery Tue 18-Mar-14 18:39:41

In my experience discrimination with regard to accommodation being made for childcare reasons is more common the other way around, with employers thinking it's less acceptable for men to want to arrange things around family than for women to do it, or employers assuming men don't have childcare responsibilities even if they have children.

Discrimination against women in this area more often manifests itself as employers refusing to be flexible at all, and that disproportionately impacting women.

Kemmo Wed 19-Mar-14 09:53:29

In my dept these two issues would be treated very differently.

1) research seminars
These are generally flexible in terms of scheduling and will be moved around to find a time that is convenient for most staff. Because attendance is not compulsory it is in the dept's interests to make the timing work well for most staff. There are generally no outside constraints on these so a HoD can be pretty flexible. I would see it as a positive step that these have been moved.

2) teaching
In my dept academic staff have pretty much no control over how this is scheduled and as long as it is 9-5 there is nothing we can do if it is scheduled at an inconvenient time.
If your teaching is scheduled for after 5 then I think you have a case for refusing to teach at this time. I personally would not agree to this unless it was a one off with strong reasons why it could not be scheduled at another time
If your teaching is before 5 then you should be directing your effort at getting the nursery to extend their hours IMO.

Also, FWIW if I have scheduling difficulties I've found it much more effective to take the pragmatic approach of talking to the admin staff who actually do the scheduling rather than to my HoD

namechangeforissue Wed 19-Mar-14 10:38:01

My teaching is scheduled for after 5. The (workplace, can I remind you!) nursery shuts at 5.30.

The saga of getting the nursery to extend their hours has gone on for years and years. All parents on staff would be delighted if they'd extend their hours. My HoD says "oh, I have no power". Uni central timetabling say "oh, we have no power" (but they'd also be delighted). Nobody has any clue who has any power over the nursery.

Unfortunately the central timetabling admin people are very sympathetic but our HoD has taken it upon himself to micromanage the timetable, in addition (and I'm in STEM and we have labs that are under our own control, and he micromanages the timetable for those, especially).

namechangeforissue Wed 19-Mar-14 10:39:22

(And I do agree about making sure lots of staff go to the seminars - but this also involves a teaching timetable change - and it's funny how it's suddenly possible when one member of staff needs this, when it was completely impossible when I needed it).

Kemmo Wed 19-Mar-14 11:02:40

ok. What you describe would be unacceptable in my department.

but it sounds like a fight you are not going to win on your own. Why don't you ask to meet with the male staff member who got the seminars changes? Maybe he has collectively for a change? Presumably all staff could potentially be asked to cover teaching after 5pm and so this could affect him in the future. Maybe get this on the agenda for the next staff meeting?

IME it is much easier to change stuff like this if you have other senior staff on board. And sad to say IME it does help to have male staff on board so it isn't dismissed as 'women being difficult'.

Is your uni involved in the Athena Swan scheme?

Kemmo Wed 19-Mar-14 11:03:44

sorry for the unintelligible part of that post. the middle bit should be "Maybe he has ideas about how you could lobby collectively for a change?"

namechangeforissue Wed 19-Mar-14 13:20:59

Good idea - I have talked to a different senior male colleague who is on my side but unwilling to stick his neck out, but maybe if we all got together.

The other colleague and I got together to make a new timetable and I presented it to HoD but he told me it was "putting the cart before the horse" to change the timetable and then called this meeting with HR.

Kemmo Wed 19-Mar-14 15:06:40

So the basic problem here is that we have no fixed 'in-work' hours. While this can be good in terms of flexibility it had the downside that it can be perceived as unreasonable to refuse to be at work at times that are not convenient.

I had similar issues when working PT as senior staff thought it entirely reasonable to schedule my teaching on whichever day they liked because it was not ever specified when my working days were. They failed to understand that when childcare is involved you have to specify quite tightly what your 'in-work' hours are.

I asked about Athena Swan above - this has definitely improved issues like this in my institution.

namechangeforissue Wed 19-Mar-14 18:16:13

We have Bronze as a university and we are supposed to be going for Bronze as a department. I've asked to be on the committee for the department (the only female prof heads it up) but it hasn't actually met yet so I have little idea about the parameters.

The dad who originally requested the timetable change quoted something about seminar timings from Athena Swan, are these type of thing published openly do you know?

namechangeforissue Wed 19-Mar-14 21:30:20

Sorry I think I meant the uni is going for a bronze - not entirely sure how this works.

Lomaamina Thu 20-Mar-14 15:01:36

Hello OP I'm an academic and I sympathise with your position. One of the few real benefits to academic life is a degree of autonomy over how you spend your time. This clearly isn't the case here.

i also agree with the advice to not make this a formal matter of complaint. I don't think the grounds are strong enough and in my experience such disputes are better sorted out informally. The idea of going in as a group to push for change sounds the best approach.

Here by the way is the relevant Athena Swan guidance on best practice:, which states:

"Hold all key meetings in family-friendly core hours. (University of Nottingham)

Undertake timetabling centrally, with a requirement that the head of school signs off periods of unavailability for teaching by individual academics, to make timetabling fairer. (University of Reading)

namechangeforissue Thu 20-Mar-14 17:20:03

Thanks, that is interesting but that wording has been rather misrepresented by this particular colleague! He quoted it as if it has specific guidelines (it's an example of good practice, not a guideline) and as if it gave specific hours. Hmm...

Anyway interestingly though the HoD had said the timetable change would be totally possible the feeling of the old codgers rather conservative body of staff was that we are not changing the seminar time now. It wasn't helped by many other people putting forward a completely random set of suggestions for changes, at the same time, so I think the old dears lovely senior colleagues all came over a bit confused.

I will see if this issue rears its head over the summer when teaching is being planned, and if so, I'll get together with all the other parents on staff and say "look, I'm really on your side, but this needs to be done as a group, and as a matter of principle, not just for you, and we also need to be seen not to be taking the P".

If I am told, again, that there will be disciplinary action taken if I refuse to teach at this hour, I would have to talk to the union again though.

MagratGarlik Sat 22-Mar-14 06:21:34

I'd just like to add that what universities write in their Athena Swan applications is often simply made up.

My previous department got a silver award and used me as a kind of 'poster girl' to demonstrate how their 'family friendly' practices had helped promote the career of female academics. They failed to either check with me whether this was OK, or check accuracy of information they were distributing. (Most of the information was wrong, but by the time I found out what they had distributed, the information had already been sent out to other universities and was published on the internet. I asked them to contact Athena Swan and have the information removed, but this request was ignored).

As an example of their so called "best practice", when I returned to work after ds2 and was still breastfeeding, I needed somewhere to express, so they told me to ask the (male) colleague they had put in my office in my absence to leave the office when I needed to express rather than finding a dedicated room where I could do this. Further, because the office had windows out into the corridor, I was supposed to cover these only for the time I was expressing and uncover when I was finished (may as well put a sign up outside the office saying "do not disturb, Magrat is milking"). I was also told my lab classes could not be altered, so I'd just have to "time my breastfeeding to minimise levels of lipophilic solvents in my body". There were many, many other examples where practice was discriminatory, but the Athena Swan application was put together with a view of writing the "correct" thing, rather than doing it. I left that institution now, but their Athena Swan application still makes me angry.

namechangeforissue Sun 23-Mar-14 15:23:25

This is the kind of thing that I am afraid of with our application.

I already noticed some really bizarre things as "boasts" on the Athena Swan pdf linked to. For example, one university "allows part-time staff to supervise PhD students". In what world would it be right to refuse permission for part-time staff to supervise a PhD student? I came back from maternity with an existing PhD student - would the other institution have moved him from me on the grounds that I was a part-timer, before this policy was introduced? Would I be banned from applying for PhD funding or advertising to PhD students?

Lomaamina Sun 23-Mar-14 20:28:31

I agree. The Athena Swan thing seems like a PR exercise. If it were up to me it would be dependent on a) an anonymous survey of all female staff within a department and b) an audit of committee membership, excluding equalities committees, to see how much parity of male/female staff there is and c) rates of female professors and readers.

NK5BM3 Sun 23-Mar-14 20:52:00

Sympathies. I would engage with HR though and see if there's any family friendly policies in the make especially with the run up to you guys getting Athena swan.

Somehow we had HR involved and now core meetings are held between 10-4. This of course means we squeeze a lot more meetings in and people can't turn up for everything and of course this doesn't include those who are teaching at all times. But the logic follows that we have to stop at 4 and if people have to run off they can.

We also have an allocated research day so teaching is scheduled on only 4 of your days. My research day is Friday. I have a male colleague who I know has always stated that he's only available from 10-4. The youngest is 6. I'm available 9-5 on every day except Friday.

Having said that a lot of the flexibility and interpretation boils down what the HoD says. I know one dept whose head is very flexible and whose staff are a mix of academics and professionals (who travel in a lot of the time from London). So those who need to travel tend to be allowed later start times like say 11. Those who are on school runs can come at 9 and leave at 3.

My dept didn't allow that. But it does depend on your activity and how many students you teach etc. that dept above was one that ran lots of workshops so not traditional lecture/seminar style.

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