For International Women’s Day, we sat down with women in research around the world to hear their stories. Professor Caroline Gatrell is the Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Liverpool Management School.
Q - Tell us a bit about your background – what got you interested in your area of research?
- Before becoming an academic I worked in the UK National Health Service (NHS) as a PR manager. Part of my job was supporting hospital managers seeking to change how maternity services were run. The hospital group was concerned with staffing, costs and safety issues. These concerns led to the closure of local maternity hospitals (run by midwives) with money diverted to support larger, doctor-led maternity units within general hospitals. Some local populations fought hard to protect and keep open the smaller, more intimate maternity units where midwives were in charge. Arguments on both sides were reasoned and well evidenced, but in the end the better resourced hospital group won the day. Observing these different perspectives, the relative power positions of the two groups and the challenges of seeking ‘an answer’ to such complex problems, sparked my interest in research. After completing an MBA, I undertook my PhD at Lancaster University (on the topic of motherhood and career).
Q - What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome in your field due to your gender?
- Probably in the early days not being taken seriously by some colleagues. In keeping with research on mothers and employment (my area of concern!) I found sometimes that others wrongly assumed my work-orientation to be low, because I had a family. Research shows this is less likely to happen to men – though for fathers, it can be difficult in reverse – organizations often cannot understand how men might need, or desire, to work flexibly for family reasons.
Occasionally, when I was an early career academic, I had people shout at me at work for no good reason (is there ever reason to shout at colleagues?) Would this have been as likely to happen to an equivalent man?
Q - Was there anyone who inspired you, or acted as a role model for you, when you were starting out on your career?
- My Mum had always worked and did well in her career, so I couldn’t see what the problem was in combining work and family, or in being ambitious. Both my parents always encouraged me to work and supported me in this. I would also say my early career female peers were very important to me – I was invited to join a couple of different groups of women junior scholars who were collegial and shared problems – we helped one another out and it made a big difference to facing day to day problems.
Q - Is there anything you think the research community could be doing to encourage greater gender diversity in academia?
- The research community could do more to encourage diversity as a whole. I would recommend anyone who allocates resource (hiring; promotion, grants) to read Nirmal Puwar’s (2004) book ‘Space Invaders’ – which shows how certain prestigious spaces can be unwelcoming to women and minority groups.
Q - What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to a young woman hoping to pursue an academic career?
- Don’t wait to be asked. And don’t be afraid of applying for things. The worst that can happen is that you get turned down. The best is that you might gain an enjoyable or interesting role that can help you reach the next level.
Q - How do you think the scientific community benefits from the contributions of women in research?
- As a social scientist researching parenthood, work and family, I am very aware of the important contribution by women in this field, especially in the context of qualitative research. It is often women researchers who have positioned the experiences of mothers and fathers, and personal and working lives, as an important site for investigation. Such focus on work and family not only produces rich and diverse research approaches, but also influences policy, with a view to making things better for employed parents.
Read more stories and learn about our International Women’s Day program here.