Creating a Respectful Workplace Culture

Written by Catharine Ramshaw, Athena SWAN Project Manager, Institute of Pharmaceutical Science and Analytical & Environmental Sciences

Bullying and harassment, which takes many forms, can have a lasting effect on our work and home lives and our ability to do our jobs, which is why it’s important that all staff are aware of what is unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour and where they can go for help.

Here in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science we recently submitted an application for an Athena SWAN award. Our application evidences what the division is doing to embed principles and practices of equality, support and development for all staff and students, with a focus on women as throughout the UK they continue to be under-represented in senior academic positions within STEMM.

In the course of writing our application and producing our action plan, we took the opportunity to really delve into the culture of the division and look at what we could be doing to ensure that attitudes and behaviours were conducive to a cohesive and supportive working environment. We wanted to ensure that line managers were aware of what they needed to be providing in terms of support for staff and PhD students, that expectations on people’s time and capacities were reasonable and that communication was clear and respectful at all times. Similarly, we wanted to make sure that staff and students knew where to go for support or recourse if they felt that these expectations weren’t being met, or if they had concerns that they couldn’t share with their line manager or supervisor.

So we have organised a series of trainings throughout March for all staff to attend which will workshop some of the issues that staff and students might experience in their roles, and reinforce the principles of what is appropriate, respectful and  supportive behaviour. Through looking at some of the different scenarios which people may face in their place of work and study such as inflexibility around workload and life balance, over-demanding expectations and poor communication, the sessions will help staff work through what behaviours are appropriate and what courses of actions and styles of communication are most helpful.

We also wanted to make sure that if staff were encountering issues, and felt that they couldn’t speak to their line manager or supervisor, that they were aware of what avenues were open to them and where they could find support and advice. So a small team of volunteers within the division in professional services, academic and research roles have been trained by Acas (the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) to act as confidential, impartial advisors. They have a dedicated email address where they can be contacted confidentially and we will be advertising their presence widely throughout the division.

It’s our aim that with this two pronged approach of awareness and support we will ensure a culture of respect and support, and that all staff and students will feel confident in discussing issues affecting them and seeking support when needed. We will be doing a follow up survey later in the year to ask staff and students how they feel about the actions we have put in place and will continue to learn from feedback about what further actions people would like to see and what support they would like to receive.