Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers

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Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers is a research project led by Professor Susan Durbin (UWE), with Professor Jennifer Tomlinson (Leeds University Business School) and Stella Warren (UWE) for the Human Resources, Work and Employment Research Group in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE, Bristol.

The challenges of greater gender balance at senior management levels and on corporate boards are faced by businesses worldwide. Working hours are critical to career advancement and women rather than men tend to seek a reduction in hours at career defining life course stages. Despite previous research that shows women experience a lack of progression in their career when they reduce their working hours, until now there has been very little research focusing specifically on executive/senior management careers of women and men in relation to reduced hours working.

The most widely utilised form of flexible working in the UK is part-time, however this tends to be mostly in low paid, low skilled occupations and although part-time work has grown in professional occupations, this cannot be said for managerial roles where in fact less than 4% of jobs are on a part-time basis.

This has significant consequences for the utilization of women’s skills, pay and career opportunities across the life course.

As researchers who specialise in women’s careers and in tackling gender inequalities in the workplace and labour market, Sue Durbin and team believe that making reduced hours working available at senior levels would enable more women to step forward into senior roles. We also believe that this opportunity should be open to men. Women’s work, especially when performed on a reduced hours basis, is under-valued and not enough women are making it into senior roles. For most women, and some men, having the opportunity to work the hours that would enable them to have a work/family balance could be key to their future prospects and benefit the wider businesses in which they work.

The support of employers is key to making this happen. This research project enables us to get in touch with senior men and women working on reduced hours basis and to explore why and how they reduced hours and what that means for their senior careers.

The project began in November, 2019 and is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust. Recognising the rise in the use of flexible working arrangements at the organisational level, and a drive for more inclusive workplace cultures, what are the prospects for navigating executive and senior management careers while working reduced/part-time hours? When individuals at senior levels do work reduced hours, what are their experiences of work in terms of job quality and growth potential, and how do the experiences of reduced hours working compare and contrast between male and female executives and senior managers? Furthermore by focusing exclusively upon executives and senior managers, this research explores the experiences of organisational leaders who have reduced hours and the strategies they employ to manage a demanding position requiring leadership and visibility while working less than full time, and the extent to which they feel they can act as role models for others seeking to advance careers on a flexible basis. The project addresses this important research gap to better understand how male and female senior managers navigate flexible careers and how gendered assumptions might impact their careers.

We are working with seven external partners who have offered their support to the project. All have a keen interest and take active roles in the promotion of gender equality in organisations. They know the importance of gender diversity at all levels of organisations and the business benefits this can yield. Crucially, they are able to help us to access and interview the rare and hard to reach executives and senior managers who work on a reduced hours basis, in the UK.

  • Flexology – flexible working specialists in the recruitment of professional part-time and flexible working roles and the design and implementation of flexible working practices
  • Workwell – a HR and people change consultancy, providing support in the areas of HR/people support, flexible working, project management, strategy, stakeholder management and research
  • Teach First – a charity that was set up to address educational disadvantage in the UK and is currently extending the uptake of job share working at senior levels
  • Bristol Women in Business Charter Community Interest Company – supports the operation of a city-wide Charter recognising and supporting progress on gender equality in city businesses.
  • Timewise – an organisation that was founded to tackle the lack of quality part-time jobs and to encourage more organisations to open up to both men and women jobs on a flexible basis, at all levels of organisations
  • Fair Play South West – the women’s equality network for the South West of England, researching and consulting women on their aspirations and barriers to achieving them and campaigning for change
  • Moon Executive Search – undertakes executive recruitment for senior management and board level roles and other highly skilled candidates.

The project is being conducted through virtual interviews with male and female executives and senior managers working reduced hours in organisations across the UK private sector.  Interviews began just before ‘lockdown’ (March, 2020). Importantly, the interviews also explore the impact of the pandemic on interviewees’ careers, including working from home, their views on this new way of working and its potential future ‘normalisation’, organisation readiness for lockdown/working from home and the general impact of covid on the individual and their ability to work from home.

The project will culminate in an end of project event (September/October, 2021), involving all research participants and partner organisations, key business leaders, policy makers and groups set up to support gender balance in business. At this event, we will present the key research findings and discuss recommendations for best practice, alongside a panel of business experts and policy makers who are keen to promote the social and business benefits of reduced hours and wider policies on flexible working.

If you would like to know more about the project and/or would like to take part in an interview, please contact sue.durbin@uwe.ac.uk

UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision receive funding to create augmented reality picking aid for farm workers

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UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision team and other members of a consortium has been awarded Innovate UK funding to develop a low cost, augmented reality picking aid that will display information about berry maturity through the use of machine learning and spectral imaging cameras. 

The consortium includes AR developers Opposable Games; environment, food and science research organisation NIAB EMR and leading industry grower-owned co-operative, Berry Gardens Growers Limited, alongside the Centre for Machine Vision which is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

The concept and commercial opportunity was identified by Richard Harnden, Director of Research at Berry Gardens Growers Ltd who has wanted to improve the consistency of the eating quality of the co-operative’s premium berry lines, which includes a sweet eating dessert blackberry, for several years.

“It is very hard for pickers, especially new pickers, to really understand the correct stage of ripeness in the blackberry before picking it”, he said.  “Pick it too early and, although the berry will be black in colour, it won’t have accumulated enough sugars and so it will still taste acidic. Pick it too late, and the berry will be too soft to withstand the supply chain and will leak juice in the punnet.” 

He continued, “There is a small correct window for picking the fruit that delivers an exquisite combination of sweetness and flavour, which can be done by eye but it takes time for pickers to achieve the correct level of perception. The proposed picking aid, using novel technology, will deliver a maturity indicator, which will guide new and experienced pickers alike to quickly make the right decision every time.”      

Bo Li, a machine vision specialist in the Centre for Machine Vision at Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol, who devised the project, said: “By developing a low cost multispectral camera for detecting the real time ripeness of fruit, we can enhance the efficiency of picking, reduce the requirement for pickers to be experienced, and shorten the training time required. This step forward will improve the consistency of fruit quality and customer satisfaction.”

In an industry already experiencing difficulties in accessing experienced staff, the impact of Covid-19 is putting additional strains on farms and farm workers. Restrictions on labour movement, new safety measures, and risk mitigation procedures being required, mean that the horticultural and agricultural industries must look to novel solutions to train new workers and meet existing and future labour requirements. Global demand for high quality and healthy food such as soft fruit is increasing. To meet this demand farms are looking to technological solutions that enable increasing the quality, yields, and productivity whilst reducing environmental impacts. This project will contribute towards the UK government’s Transforming Food Production objectives, part of the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund.

The Innovate UK funded project will commence in September 2020, with the development of a prototype device building on the experience of the consortium, then moving on to field trials.  Members of Berry Garden Growers Ltd will trial the harvesting aid on their farms as the project progresses.

The Centre for Machine Vision is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). We solve real-world practical computer vision problems. Their particular excellence lies in three-dimensional reconstruction and surface inspection. They are recognised as one of only three UK centres with expertise in Photometric Stereo (PS). They have pioneered PS in industry, medicine and defence/security. Their laboratory supports REF (Research Excellence Framework) level research activities and research-led teaching in machine vision. Find out more here.

UWE Bristol signs open letter calling for clarity and transparency on the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund

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UWE Bristol, as part of the University Alliance (UA), has signed an open letter, alongside over 70 organisations from across the UK, calling for clarity and transparency on the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to avoid vital support disappearing when existing programmes end in 2023.

EU Structural Funds have been a key enabler of collaboration between universities and business, used to support and develop communities and regions; whether through programmes that have increased employment and skills, or through initiatives to drive forward research, innovation and enterprise.

Director of Research, Business and Innovation at UWE Bristol Tracey John said:

EU Structural Funds play a vital role in helping us achieve our ambitious goals for helping businesses within the region.

As a university we have won £13m of EU Structural Funds since 2017, allowing us to leverage £14m of company investment in research and innovation. This in turn has enabled us to help countless SMEs within the region, creating hundreds of new jobs, products and services.

One of the beneficiaries of our funding is 299 Lighting. Talking at an event for companies who have been awarded grants from UWE Bristol, they explained “the funding allowed us to expand our business to the next level… setting up our own manufacturing in Bristol and grow our team and own the product range”. Talking at the same event, The Real Olive Company explained that funding “brought everything into focus and helped us push forward with projects and ideas.”

Without a timely replacement of the funds, we are putting at risk many of the projects and schemes that we run for businesses in the region, which will have a direct impact on the region’s economy, particularly during such times of economic uncertainty.”

University Alliance Chief Executive Vanessa Wilson said:

“EU structural funds have been a vital mechanism for universities to support businesses and communities – especially throughout the pandemic. Details of their replacement, the UKSPF, have been promised but not delivered, and time is running out as we approach the end of the Brexit transition period.

“University and business leaders want to work constructively and proactively with the Government now to address the current economic challenges and reduce inequalities between regions. Given the uncertainty ahead, it has never been more important to deliver the UKSPF, which will be a vehicle for the much-needed long-term planning and investment needed to level-up the nation.”

UWE Bristol is committed to supporting economic development in the region and full supports the need for clarity around these funds.

Follow this link to read the open letter from UA.

Follow this link to find out more about our funds.

A History of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships at UWE Bristol

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At UWE Bristol we have been running Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) for nearly 40 years.

The KTP scheme is a UK-wide programme helping businesses to improve competitiveness and productivity.

The above graphics show some statistics from our years delivering KTPs including total live project value across our faculties and project by sector.

Chris Simons, Senior Lecturer Computer Science and Creative Technologies at UWE Bristol, comments on his experience as a KTP Academic S

Find out more about a KTP with UWE Bristol here.

Top Tips for Bid Writing for Innovation Funds

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Thanh Quan-Nicholls, our Digital Innovation Lead says that there has been a meteoric rise in the availability of grants for business innovation but they can be difficult to navigate.  She has spoken to many companies this year because we provided 121 support for companies looking to apply for grants to schemes such as the Digital Innovation Fund.  There are common themes that come up so, here are her top tips:

     1. Make sure you have an innovative idea

For lean disruptive start-ups, embedding innovation is natural, but for others, it requires a change in mindset or culture. Make sure you explore future technologies, new business models and innovative design.  With customer needs changing fast, it’s a great time to be looking at new ways to apply existing technologies, creating new services or products, and developing disruptive business ideas.  Innovation funding provided by the public sector is intended to widen knowledge, further capabilities and bring economic growth. 

     2. Explain your innovation

If you are close to your project, it can be hard to explain why your idea is novel. Get help to apply a critical eye to your application. To be credible, you should become an expert in your field. The bid will be reviewed by industry experts, so there is no shortcut to doing your research: identify competitors and similar products, know your market or sector, understand your technology and why you are breaking new ground. 

     3. Be positive

Remember that this is an exercise in persuasive writing to convince your audience of your great idea.  You want to excite them and get them to support your project.  For grant funding, this is not just about the end user or customer, the funder wants to know that you are delivering wider impacts. There is no room for doubt – be bold, be optimistic and describe your innovation idea in a way that excites your reader. 

     4. Demonstrate your capabilities

To demonstrate that you can deliver, get your financial information ready, have a team with the right skills, and show that you understand your route to market. Gaps here will seriously jeopardise your chances of being funded. Increase your chances of success by assessing your capabilities objectively and mitigate any weaknesses.

     5. Read the guidance & answer the questions

Some people fail to answer the specifics of the questions being asked.  Avoid this pitfall by reading the guidance closely.  Your application will be read and scored by reviewers who are working to an assessment criteria. Targeting your answer will ensure that you will maximise your score.

     6. Give yourself enough time

Quality applications benefit from time and effort. Remember to give yourself enough time to fine tune your bid. Get team members with differing strengths involved at different stages.  

If you don’t understand the jargon or processes, most funders will be happy to talk to you.  It might not be obvious, but funders want to give away their money!  They are keen to get applications that are innovative, exciting, impactful and deliverable.  

     7. Find the right fund for your project

There are many funds out there – nationally and locally.  

The chances of succeeding can vary depending on how many applications are submitted and how high the standards are across the board.  As a rule, there is more competition for national or larger funds than smaller, local funds.  Assess your chances wisely. There is no single list because these funds are short-lived and change constantly. You need to sign up to bulletins and newsletters, and be ready to take advantage of the next opportunity.  

And finally, it’s important to recognise that receiving funding takes time and energy.  In most cases, companies are signing up to a reporting back process beyond the life of their project. But the recipe for success is about matching the right project with the right fund, taking time to prepare a strong application and avoid the common pitfalls.

Win or lose, there are intangible benefits of bid writing – businesses say that going through an application process helps them to clarify their own proposition.  And often companies who get funding once, go on to receive more. Many will use the same skills to attract further investment.

So, if you are thinking about delivering innovative projects, don’t miss out. Have a look at what support you can get – there is plenty out there!

Thanh Quan-Nicholls is lead for UWE Bristol’s Digital Innovation Fund. Round 2 is now open,  closing to applications on 18 November 2020.  For more information and to register for an application pack visit:  www.digitalinnovationfund.co.uk.

UWE Research into the impact of driverless vehicles – Capri Project

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For the past three years researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), have been involved in the Capri project, looking into the impact of autonomous vehicles. Dr Ian Shergold has given a summary of their recent findings in the post below:

Capri was a practical, evidence-led research project that has broadened the UK’s knowledge of the short, medium and long term impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) and helped inform the future direction of CAV development and implementation.

Capri was an industry-led consortium comprising 17 partners, including UWE, partly funded by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).  Funding was awarded though a competition to sponsor projects that would deliver technical solutions for CAV that provide real-world benefits to users as well as identifying commercial benefits. It has paved the way for the use of CAV to move people around locations such as airports, hospitals, business parks, shopping and tourist centres.

Capri ran from 2017-2020, and built on successful earlier research studies and live trials of autonomous vehicles involving UWE and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), namely the Venturer and Flourish projects.

The UWE team working on Capri was led by Graham Parkhurst, Professor of Sustainable Mobility and Director of the research Centre for Transport & Society (CTS) at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Over the last three years he has been joined by colleagues in CTS, in particular Dr Daniela Paddeu and Dr Ian Shergold to carry out a range of social and behavioural research on CAV.

Over the three years of the study four different kinds of research have been undertaken.

  • The project began for CTS with focus groups to find out what members of the public think about the possible benefits and difficulties presented by autonomous shuttle pods, leading up to a one-day ‘codesign workshop’.  This event brought together over sixty members of the public, alongside technical experts and academics, to explore how systems based on pods might look, how they would operate and where they might be deployed.
  • The CTS team also undertook surveys of public willingness to use automated shuttles amongst users of two of the types of facility in which the vehicles could be deployed; a university campus and an airport.
  • The centrepiece of the project were the live demonstration trials in Bristol and London, where pods were safely run in fully autonomous mode. In Bristol the team undertook two experiments which were amongst the first of their kind, exploring how passenger perceptions of trust and comfort were influenced by where they sat in the vehicle, how fast it went, and whether there was a safety steward on board or not.
  • In London the team undertook observations and surveys with members of the public, not only those experiencing the vehicle, but also people who were interacting with it as pedestrians and cyclists in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Most people, throughout the research, showed good levels of trust in the technology, would be willing to use it, thought it could be useful to others as well, and depending on the circumstances, would be willing to pay to use it. We found people willing to share if services would remain convenient and safe.

There was also a wide range of social, environmental and practical concerns that need to be taken seriously, and to which the team do not yet have all the solutions.

However, the experiments showed that people became more favourable following an experience of actually riding in one of the shuttles. And this was particularly true for car drivers, who started off the most cautious of our participants, but became the most positive.

As to direction of face in the vehicle and how fast it went they found that trust in the system was slightly lower at a higher speed and when facing backwards to the direction of travel, so users are sensitive to the design of vehicle and the driving characteristics.

Interestingly though, people who travelled in a shuttle without a steward on board were just as trusting as those who travelled with one. This is an important finding as the whole point of an autonomous vehicle is that it doesn’t need onboard staff.

Although Capri has now finished, CTS and UWE research on autonomous vehicles continues through a project called MultiCAV, which is developing automated public transport vehicles for use on public roads. CTS are also part of a project called ‘Driverless Futures’ which is currently considering how the highway code would work if some road vehicles are driven by computer.

Over the course of the CAPRI project, over 650 members of the public contributed to the research. The team are grateful to them for their time and for sharing their views.

For anyone interested in finding out more about Capri and our work, please visit the online Capri ‘Virtual Museum‘ which has much more on the project and its results.

New book by Robin Hambleton on Cities and Communities Beyond COVID-19

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Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments in FET, has written an international book on Cities and communities beyond COVID-19. How local leadership can change our future for the better. 

Published by Bristol University Press on 16 October 2020 this forward-looking analysis, which builds on his previous book, Leading the Inclusive City, includes a detailed discussion of the Bristol One City ApproachMarvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, contributes a Foreword to the book.

Robin at the Learning City Exhibition at Hamilton House

Robin argues that modern urban strategies need to address four major challenges at once: the COVID-19 health emergency, a very sharp economic downturn arising from the pandemic, the climate emergency, and deep-seated social, economic and racial inequality. 

Robin comments: ‘Thanks to remarkable fast-tracking by Bristol University Press this book has been published in less than three months from submission of the manuscript.  I hope readers find that it is up to date and highly relevant to the pressing issues the country now faces’.

More information can be found here.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Future Space trials Robot Tours

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Future Space, in partnership with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), recently trialled an innovative new approach to providing tours of its facility, enabling people to view its workshop, laboratory and networking spaces from the comfort of their own homes and offices.

Using their personal IT devices to remotely control the movements of a self-driving, two-wheeled videoconferencing robot, potential new Future Space members were given the freedom to explore the unique, state-of-the-art space, while also being able to communicate with staff through a live video link.

Developed by Double Robotics Inc, this exciting technology helps people to feel more connected to colleagues, friends or patients, by having a physical presence, even if they are unable to attend an event or meeting in person. The robot is involved in several UWE Bristol research projects currently underway at BRL.

“We start by co-designing and trialling the technology in our purpose-built Assisted Living Studio,” says Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, BRL’s Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies lead. “We develop, test and implement various assistive robots and heterogeneous sensor systems in this realistic environment before taking them into real-world settings. The next stage, as we are doing with the Double telepresence robot, is evaluating its use in health and social care settings. We are particularly interested in how it can allow nurses, social workers and doctors to remotely interact with patients and are exploring this as part of our partnership with North Bristol Trust.”

Read the full story.

Research from UWE Bristol featured in new Netflix Docuseries

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A research project undertaken by Professor Melvyn Smith and Dr Mark Hansen titled “Investigating automatic detection of emotion in biometrically identified pig faces using machine learning” has been featured in the Netflix docuseries “Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything”, where science journalist Latif Nasser investigates ways in which we are connected to each other and the universe.

Melvyn Smith is Professor of Machine Vision and Director of the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol. His research is a BBSRC funded project led by UWE Bristol in collaboration with Dr Emma Baxter at the Scottish Rural University College (SRUC).

The project is based on prior work that was undertaken by the centre with SRUC which explored the possibility of using computer vision and deep learning, specifically a special kind of artificial neural network known as a convolutional neural network (CNN), to recognise individual pig faces. The project was able to biometrically identify pigs using their faces with around 97% accuracy.

In the current project, rather than recognising individuals, the team are instead exploring whether facial expression can be recognised and used to detect whether a pig is stressed, unstressed and perhaps ultimately if the animal is happy.

The findings of the project could have important implications not only in farming in terms of improved productivity and reduced costs, via early identification of animals needing attention and where happy animals tend to be more productive (like humans), but also in realising better animal welfare.

Mel and the team’s research features in episode 1 of the Connected docuseries. The episode focuses on Surveillance in the world but specifically how we watch people and animals.

Mel Smith commented: “This work is very exciting for me because there has been a great deal of interest in detecting expressions related to emotions in humans, largely based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman and the so called six prototypical expressions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise). The idea that we could do anything like this in animals, to know how an animal is feeling, would be quite ground-breaking and could have huge beneficial implications.”

Connected is now available to watch through Netflix.