Gender equality: Jennifer Chapin

jennifer chapin

Gender equality is where my passion has been, and where I've wanted to focus more and more. To create change: how to navigate it, who to talk to, how to deal with the politics and entrenched structures that have been in existence for a really long time.


Jennifer arrived in the UK from Ottawa almost ten years ago to complete a master’s degree in Education and International Development at UCL Institute of Education, where she focused on gender and education.

Prior to her role at the University, Jennifer worked in international development helping universities and research institutes to improve their gender equality around the world.

You are new to the University; are you new to Oxford?

Not particularly. I have been living here for almost six years. I love living in Oxfordshire; you're always on the cusp of beautiful green countryside. There are lovely places to go walking and I think that's been my saviour during lockdown, especially with a small baby. I spent a lot of time going for walks and it probably kept me sane.

What are your first impressions of the work taking place at the University to ensure our gender equality aims are achieved?

I can see that University has done a lot and I'm impressed with what has been achieved over the last few years – one example being Day One maternity leave, (shared parental/adoption leave) which means that you don’t have to meet the six-month threshold before you qualify. That can make such a difference, especially for researchers, academics and others on fixed-term contracts who move every one to two years and might struggle to plan their family.

There’s still a lot to do, however, especially in addressing the gender imbalance in researcher and professor roles – although progress is being made gradually (for instance, 31% of associate professors are women now, compared to 28% in 2017).

And not only is there an institutional Athena Swan Bronze award, but 40 University departments have also won Athena awards.  I want to strengthen the governance of equality and diversity work to make sure that there's accountability and transparency – and recognition for the people who are doing this work.

What are your key priorities for this year?

I will be preparing the institutional action plan to apply for the Athena Swan silver award in November, which we are currently drafting. Key objectives are supporting the increased representation of women in University decision-making, including targeted support for those aspiring to or taking on such roles for the first time, and actions to increase the proportion of women in senior academic and research roles, through both recruitment and career development.

We will also be looking at intersectional gender equality, ensuring women of all ages and backgrounds are supported at the University and that no particular group feels excluded from University culture.

We will also be continuing to address the gender pay gap and hoping to implement new measures to support women going through the menopause.

Do you have a gender equality role model?

Yes: Professor Yalemtsehay Mekonnen in Ethiopia, whom I worked with via the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences. She is a Professor of Cell and Human Physiology and was the first female professor in Ethiopia. Despite all the demands on her time, she makes time to promote women’s advancement in science and supports many universities across the country with gender equality training and mentoring – which is especially important as only 18% of Ethiopia’s academic staff are women.

How you are finding the work–life juggling act as a new mother?

My son was born in June 2020, so I've dealt with having a baby during COVID and not having all the support networks that you think you need. But I'm lucky that the University offers flexible working arrangements which will benefit me greatly.

The University also offers Shared Parental Leave which, unfortunately, wasn’t available to my partner who works in the private sector. We were lucky that he worked mainly at home those first few months, as that support was so important for me – maybe one of the only upsides to having a baby during a pandemic.  

What are you most looking forward to about working back on site?

I am looking forward to working in groups with people, sorting out a problem face to face, and getting to know colleagues better as we make cups of tea or walk to another building together. It’s so hard to have those moments of social interaction on Teams.

Find out more about:  

The Equality and Diversity Unit

Equality policy at the University

The Athena Swan charter mark framework

The gender pay gap report 2021

100 years of women at Oxford

Shared parental leave

Maternity leave

Adoption leave

Support for staff with caring responsibilities