Dismantling the barriers: Five things Policy Makers can do

25 October 2022 | Blogs, Dr Andy Clempson blog

In the last of this series of blogs, I discuss how policy makers could implement changes to public policy that have direct influences on the research ecosystem. Oh what timing given our recent political changes!

Before I lose you… politics and policy… – particularly at a high-level systems level? Is that really relevant to returners? Well…yes, it certainly is. Although it might seem far away from the practical realities returners face on a day-to-day basis, broad policy initiates have perhaps have more power than any of the other parts of the research landscape put together. One small policy change can radically alter entire structures, working practices and employment conditions. Consider the introduction of the national living wage (1998) or a ban on smoking in public places (2007) as examples that demonstrate how policy can change things on a scale not often achievable through other means. Very recent political history has shown us how policy decisions can massively affect our economy and our standard of living.

So how does this relate to returners? Having supportive policies can make a big difference to experiences ‘on the ground’. In this blog, I set out how some relatively modest policy changes could really benefit returners. We already know that highly trained researchers that do not return to careers are a substantial loss to the economy, representing a significant part of the research ‘leaky pipeline’. For every researcher that doesn’t return to a research career after a break, years of knowledge and specialist training is lost in an instant. Addressing the career break penalty for women could boost the UK economy by £1.7bn. Policy makers have an opportunity to make positive action here.


1. Legislate to promote flexible working.

As recommended by the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group. This should be developed with employees in mind and not compromise the level and quality of job that a flexible arrangement might involve.


2. Specifically support for those who are less likely to be in employment.

This includes women from minoritized backgrounds, women with more children and single parents (particularly single mothers). It’s also about rethinking the unpaid care work they do and how this work is valued.


3. Clarify the expectations around family leave including its length, level of pay, eligibility and flexibility.

Also, introduce a system of monitoring and reporting for employers to ensure uptake is fair and equitable. Carer’s leave – including for those with tertiary care responsibilities – should be made more visible to employees with clearer routes of how to take such leave, when it applies and the length of leave allowed.


4. Improve publicly provided or subsidised early childhood education and care.

Parents could be compensated through more generous voucher schemes to increase the affordability.


5. Close the gender and ethnicity pay (salary and bonuses) and pensions gap.

Government should continue to publish data on gender pay gap reporting, but also extend this to ethnicity pay gaps. The fact that women and minority ethnic groups are in some cases paid less than white men has no place in a modern workforce.


Concluding remarks

Improving the backdrop under which researchers that are trying to re-start their careers is vital. Work has already started, but there is a huge amount left to accomplish. Individuals and organisations are on a journey in this respect – and many are at different stages.

The Daphne Jackson Trust will continue to keep all of these suggestions under review. As before, if you have comments that you would like to share on these blogs, please contact me (Andy Clempson) via a.clempson@surrey.ac.uk. This is not a static piece of work – we will add new recommendations and change existing ones as more evidence comes to light.

We need everyone to take up the challenge to create meaningful change. Please work with us to make this happen.

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