Faculty of Social Sciences

Supporting Women* during Covid and its aftermath

Faculty data reveal that women are under-represented in senior positions, and in applications for promotion. These data, combined with the emerging evidence of the adverse impacts of Covid-19 on women in the workplace and home make the importance of the Sphere Challenge clear.

Women in particular have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. The group's main goal is to try to tackle the already existing inequalities and drawbacks that have been accentuated by the pandemic. This is an inclusive group and its focus is on anyone who identifies as a woman.

Why are we doing this Sphere Challenge?

Research has highlighted the following: 

  1. The negative impacts lasted much longer for women in previous epidemics, such as SARS, swine flu, and bird flu. For example, some women’s lifetime incomes including pensions will never recover unless there are proactive interventions to address gender inequity of the pandemic response.
  2. During the UK’s pandemic lockdown, mothers spent more than twice as much time as fathers on their children’s home schooling and development.
  3. During the pandemic, women are more likely to be furloughed or passed over for promotion due to the restrictions on service jobs and additional caring responsibilities and the situation for women of colour tends to be even more challenging.
  4. Women are experiencing greater anxiety and emotional brunt of the pandemic impact than men; despite this, women are more likely to help others, eg contact someone lonely or vulnerable during the pandemic.
  5. Women face increased risks of violence, abuse or harassment during times of pandemic and of subsequent lockdown.
  6. A marked reduction in the number of articles submitted by female scholars to some academic journals.
  7. Female academics in economics are less likely to be researching the effects of the virus due to commitments in the home and having less time to take on new projects. 
  8. Women with children are taking on far more of the caring domestic chores than their male counterparts. Mothers in two parent households are, on average, only doing a third of uninterrupted paid work compared to fathers. 
  9. The additional hours of domestic labour and caring responsibilities may also have longer term consequences in terms of fatigue and burn out when returning to work on campus.
  10. Incidents of domestic violence are also markedly higher during the Covid-19 pandemic, and research reveals the widespread prevalence of domestic violence and abuse that are perpetrated towards women.
  11. Intersectionality will also play a critical part in this challenge as it will be important to consider the intersection of being a woman with that of other protected characteristics, for example, race, disability and age, characteristics which have been shown to be disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19.

What actions are being taken?

The Faculty EDI Committee approved the continuation of the Sphere Challenge work into 2021-22. A summary of completed and continuing work is below. The group identified and took forward four actions:


Create a statement of intent for the Faculty, which outlines the importance of wellbeing and protected time for wellbeing initiatives each week for all colleagues at all levels.

Access full statement

Status: Completed


Conduct consultations with women in the Faculty with a view to providing guidelines and recommendations to School Leadership Teams on things to be aware of that may particularly affect women during the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath.

During 2020-21, the Sphere Challenge group designed and circulated a survey to all those who identify as women in the faculty, to identify how Covid-19 may have impacted on their work. Actions for 2021-22 will be for the group to focus on analysing the survey data and reporting back on findings.  

Status: Ongoing 2021-22


Offer peer-to-peer support through opportunities for collaborative resource sharing.

During our working group discussions, we identified the importance of being able to listen, share, and reflect on our experiences and challenges, as well as expand our networks. We are pleased to launch ‘Women’s Career Support Groups’, which offers an opportunity for colleagues to support each other by exploring ways to progress, reflect on and develop their careers during these times. The groups are intended to be relaxed, informal and supportive spaces, and are open to any staff member who identifies as a woman.

During 2020-21, the Sphere Challenge group focused on running a pilot of Women’s Career Support Groups within the FoSS. During 2021-22, the group will look to evaluate and further pilot activity around the career groups.

Status: Ongoing 2021-22


Who is the Chair of this Challenge?

Isobel O'Neil

Dr Isobel O'Neil

Dr Isobel O'Neil, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship at the Business School, has taken on the role of chair for 2021-22.

For some years Isobel has been involved in EDI research and impact outside of the university, mainly through supporting local women from Nottingham and beyond as they explore self-employment and entrepreneurship. This work led Isobel to co-found a small social enterprise – The My Way Project CIC.

The CIC draws on its award-winning toolkits as a basis for work and enterprise programmes for lower income women, as funded by The Smallwood Trust charity. The My Way Project has also provided workshops for corporate clients.

Isobel shares:

Since getting involved in this Sphere challenge last year, I have experienced first-hand the value of collaborating with faculty colleagues on EDI issues to make a difference to working lives within our university.

We have had a great opportunity in this sphere challenge to gather important, contextualised insights about FoSS women’s working lives during the pandemic and in 2021-22 we are building up to disseminate our findings and put the knowledge to work so that it can feed into broader effort to drive positive change for all faculty colleagues.

It is an honour to have been asked to take over the chair from Bonnie Erdelyi- Betts and to continue this important work.


Who else is involved?

The group consists of staff across the Faculty who volunteered to be involved:

Membership list for 2021-22

  • Isobel O’Neil
  • Elizabeth Walton
  • Geertj van der Heijden
  • Scott Moser
  • Helen Creswick
  • Joanne Hancock
  • Marianthi Pappa
  • Anne Touboulic
  • Amanda Crompton
  • Katy Ferris
  • Altricia Dawson
  • Scott Moser
  • Louise Kettle

Membership list for 2020-21

  • Alison Brierley
  • Doreen Boyd
  • Helen Creswick
  • Estelle Derclaye
  • Katy Ferris
  • Kay Fuller
  • Andri Georgiadou
  • Joanne Hancock
  • Maria Karafyllia
  • Dave Lewis
  • Simona Mateut
  • Isobel O’neil
  • Jan Sey
  • Lorna Treanor
  • Anne Touboulic
  • Ziyi Wei

How can you get in touch?

If you have any questions or comments, or you would like to find out more about our actions, please email us.


Faculty of Social Sciences

University of Nottingham
University Park

telephone: +44 (0)115 823 2356