Inclusive conferences…

My daughter aged 5 months visiting the labs at Oxford Science Park.

Today is my daughter’s 4th birthday… You might wonder why that is something of significance given that I usually blog about Chem ed. Since my daughter was born I have actually managed to grow my career indeed in some ways she has been a catalyst for this. To grow a career in teaching and learning there is a need to network, to attend and present at conferences and to write about your work. This is challenging enough for single people, even more challenging for parents and a little more challenging for me… You see I’m a single parent. I can’t leave my daughter at home with another parent while I head to conferences. I’m lucky to have significant support from my mum but I also prefer not to leave her overnight.

So there is the background… The point of this is really to raise the question, how inclusive are your conferences? Who could be excluded from your conference without you realising? There has rightly been significant progress made in terms of inclusiveness for people with disabilities and thankfully blatant sexism is a bit less common than it used to be. Parents are perhaps the last group who have significant barriers to their participation in conferences. I am luckily confident enough to stamp my feet and ask for adjustments to be made when I hope to attend a conference. Others who are just starting out may not be quite as bolshy or simply think they can’t be accommodated and so never even try. I tend to travel with my daughter and my mum. We are pretty flexible, we’ll all bunk down in the same room and they will happily go off exploring new cities whilst I attend the conference and the associated events. We’ll even pay extra for additional breakfasts etc. My daughter has a map on her wall of all the places she has visited and many of these have been cities I have been presenting in. Her first ever trip away was to Keble College, Oxford. There has however been more than one occasion on which we have not been allowed to stay on campus, because the accommodation doesn’t accept under 18s. Often the conference organiser is unaware of this potential problem.

I’m not on a one woman crusade to make all conferences run crèches and bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of what may be very few people. It’s not a feminist thing, or even a woman thing (since there may be men too who aren’t keen on leaving their child behind while they go to conferences). Perhaps this blog will cross paths with someone who wants to attend conferences but has similar problems or maybe it will jog the minds of those who arrange conference accommodation….

Special mention goes to all those places that have accommodated me when I have asked. Keble College, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Durham University, University of York, University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow.



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