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Key results from the ASSET 2016 report

Published: 31/10/2017

Countdown to #ECU2017

ECU is now counting down to our 2017 annual conference, which is taking place in Birmingham on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 November 2017.

As part of our countdown we will be publishing blog posts written by speakers, at our conference, between now and the conference itself.

The fifth post in this series is from Dr Amanda Aldercotte (Equality Challenge Unit) who will be presenting ‘Key results from the ASSET 2016 report: experiences of gender equality in STEMM academia and their intersections with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age’ on day one. For more information about this workshop visit our online conference programme.

The Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology (ASSET)

In 2003, the first ASSET survey revealed that talented women working in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) can become invisible.

Initiatives such as ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter have been running in institutions for over a decade, and there is considerable evidence for how these initiatives have improved career satisfaction, opportunities for training and development and fairness in workload allocation (ECU, 2014).


However, a report on the most recent ASSET survey  published by ECU in April 2017 revealed that there is still a lot of room for improvement: from recruitment to promotion, female STEMM academics were still more likely to perceive, experience or be exposed to some form of disadvantage compared with their male colleagues.

Talented women in STEMM face multiple disadvantages from recruitment to promotion

The results of the ASSET 2016 survey, which was completed by 4871 STEMM academics (2821 female) from 43 institutions, centred around three key themes. First, across the overall sample, women were more likely to have greater teaching responsibilities and administrative duties and report that the effects of these additional demands spilled over into other areas of their work, such as how much time they were able to devote to their own research.

‘Allocation of teaching activities is disproportionately towards women carrying the burden, but this is [an] advantage for men.’

Female, planetary and space science

Second, the results of the ASSET 2016 survey highlighted that in addition to spending more time on teaching, female academics tended to feel less supported and valued by their departments. For example, more women experienced an unsupportive or obstructive line manager in the last 12 months.

‘I was in fact actively discouraged from applying by my head of school both times I’ve asked.’

Female, biosciences

Finally, of those respondents that had taken any form of parental leave (ie maternity, paternity, additional paternity, adoption, shared parental or unpaid parental leave), women were more likely than men to feel the adverse effects of caring responsibilities both upon their return to the workplace and throughout their career.

Disadvantage is compounded for those belonging to more than one underrepresented group

ASSET 2016 included a novel discussion of how gender differences intersect with other characteristics, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age. This investigation revealed an intriguing pattern for each intersection.


  • Black and minority ethnic (BME) women experienced a distinct series of disadvantages across the six aspects of working life. Notably, they were the most likely to report having an unsupportive line manager, reduced access to senior staff, and appraisals that were not valuable.
  • Many of the benefits or advantages associated with being a man were limited to men who identified as heterosexual. In particular, LGB men felt less involved in the social life of their department and were less likely to have a formally assigned mentor.
  • Disability was uniformly associated with disadvantage, regardless of gender. Respondents who disclosed a disability earned a lower salary on average, spent more time on teaching and reported significantly more barriers to training in the last 12 months.
  • Gender gaps widened with age and many of the gender differences in working life, such as discrepancies in the type of contracts held by men and women, were not present among respondents under the age of 30.

Dr Amanda Aldercotte
Researcher, ECU

Further resources