CYGNA: Women management scholars leading REF impact case studies

Reports on our 40th CYGNA meeting with a focus on the (limited) role of women academics in REF impact case studies

Since founding CYGNA in 2014 we have had 30 physical meetings. When COVID-19 hit, we moved the meetings online and increased their frequency, offering a full year of monthly meetings. We alternate topics related to gender in academia with academic skills development. This month, we combined both emphases by looking at women academics in leading REF impact case studies.

Although we didn't match our record attendance of our March meeting: CYGNA: climbing up the academic career ladder, we had nearly thirty attendees, 26 of which can be seen above. With May being one of the busiest academics of the year, this was an excellent attendance.

As has become common in our online meetings, half were from outside the UK, including from Australia, China, Finland, France, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Turkey. A special welcome to Elena Poliakova and Helena Martins who both attended for the first time.


In a previous session CYGNA: REF and Christmas during a pandemic we talked about the role of publications in the UK Research Excellence Framework national research evaluation. In this session we look at another big component: REF Impact Cases Studies.

Emily Yarrow presented "Women management scholars leading impact cases-an empirical insight" (slides can be downloaded here). The presentation drew on research that Emily and Dr Julie Davies have been conducting in to REF Impact case study leaders' experiences of generating impact for both REF2014 and REF2020, and explores gendered differences in how impact case studies are generated, led and critically also resourced.

The research follows on from their 2020 work which found that women remain under-represented in the scholarly impact agenda (Davies, Syed, and Yarrow, 2020), and how academics experience peer, social, and network production of scholarly impact. In the presentation of her research, Emily also discussed the role of informal networks on women academics (Yarrow, 2020).

In order to counter the gendered experiences of impact case study creation, Emily and Julie suggested a more structured approach to impact at the national and institutional level, in order to encourage a shift away from inequitable divisions of labour, to support more egalitarian production of scholarly impact, as well as fostering more structured, as supposed to accidental pathways to impact. The key findings discussed included women’s happenstance in impact creation (see slide below), and that men are strategic and request time and resources (and get it), as well as that networked, collaborative approaches to impact appear more sustainable (and inclusive).

Emily and Julie recommended the ring-fencing of national-level funding for impact pathways and sustainable impact generation, and that future research should strive to further foster inclusion and diversity in the scholarly impact agenda as an integral part of contemporary (inclusive) scholarship.

Q&A and discussion

We had a very lively Q&A; we could have easily filled another hour. The chat was also overflowing, running to nine pages overall. Key points coming through included the availability of training and development opportunities surrounding the impact agenda, the reforming of institutional support, and the gendered nature of academic networks.

The discussion, in which everyone was really engaged and passionate also touched on information asymmetry, and people reflecting on their own modesty in terms of communicating the work that they have been doing. Queen Bees (Mavin, 2008) were also talked about, which led to a lively discussion about that gender equality, and equality more broadly should be a criterion in University rankings and assessments. I am proud to say the Middlesex University ranked 12th world-wide in the recent THE Impact ranking for SDG 5 Gender Equality.

One of the final points was around asking for impact allowances. This could be dedicated time to work on a REF Impact Case Study. However, it could also more generally be time to spend on generating external impact that ultimately might lead to and ICS. At Middlesex University research allowances are based not just on publications and research funding, but also on external impact.


Previous research on impact case studies and the REF by CYGNA members:

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