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Self-care and managing stress

By Gillian Mackenzie, on 18 November 2019

Chilima Sianyeuka, Student Support and Wellbeing Manager (Mental Health and Wellbeing) was one of our speakers at a recent Astrea Does Desert Island Discs event. During the panel discussion, Chilima talked about self-care and managing stress, and we asked her to write a blog post for Astrea.

While some of us are more resilient than others we all have our limits. We all have a threshold, there is a limit to how much stress we can manage before it starts to affect our mental wellbeing. This threshold and how much we can carry is referred to as the Stress container by Mental Health First Aid England. Stress fills the container and eventually as we experience more and more stress the container overflows.

Some people may have quite a large container due to developing good coping strategies, experience of managing competing priorities etc. Some people may have a slightly smaller container and feel more overwhelmed when stretched. When your container overflows you may find yourself feeling tired, on the brink of tears often, you may have difficulty concentrating or just general feel overwhelmed.

Stress written in red pencil

However, it is not about just being able to cope with large amounts of stress. It’s about identifying ways to manage the often competing priorities in your life. One way this can be done is by identifying stressors or potential stressors and developing healthy coping strategies.

Starting with the stressors, what on this list do you need to do? What is really important? Rate them from 1-10 on a scale of importance/urgency? Chances are if it is a below a 5 it can wait another day or week. You might want to think about your approach to this stressor? Reframing is a technique that can be useful to help you think about the stressor from a different perspective; can you see how the task you thought of as stressful will help you grow or be of service to someone else?

Another reason your stress bucket filling up and overflowing is because you do not have a tap; also known as self-care or coping strategies. A blockage or plug in your stress container. When your life mainly consists of all work and no ‘me time’ it can be difficult to not feel depleted. There are a number of things we can do to energise ourselves and de-stress from what can sometimes feel like a rat race. Whether it’s something physical like dance, watching a binge worthy series or a weekly catch up with friends, it’s worth taking the time to explore what nourishes you.

Talking to a professional can also be a way of emptying your stress container. I often hear people say ‘things have to be really bad for you to talk to a professional’. This is not true and being proactive is the best way to approach this. Talking to someone can be a really helpful way to explore your thoughts and feelings and offload. There are so many options for support these days, most organisations including UCL have an Employee Assistance Programme. There are a number of low fee organisations for counselling and plethora of helplines and online options.

Stress is often a trigger for more serious health problems so it is important it is managed well to minimise the impact it can have on your life and your ability to thrive!

Advance HE Staff Statistical Report 2018: in brief

By Gillian Mackenzie, on 30 November 2018

Advance HE Staff Statistical Report 2018: in brief

Produced by Astrea Policy team, part of the Astrea steering committee, November 2018.

This briefing summarises some of the key findings on gender and ethnicity from Advance HE’s most recent staff statistical report.

i) Headlines

  •  Only one in four professors were women
  • Of these female professors, 91.6% were white, with only 8.4% identifying as BME.
  • 6% of UK professors were black
  • Only 1 in 5 female academics earned over £50,000 (22.5% of female academics, compared to 35.6% of male academics)

A. Ethnicity

 ii) General trends

  • Staff working in higher education have increasingly become more ethnically diverse; an increase in BME staff is most pronounced among academics.

Table 1: Proportion of UK BME staff

2003/04 2016/17
All staff 4.8% 7.6%
Professional and support staff – UK BME 4.8% 8.4%
Academic staff – UK BME 4.8% 6.7%
Professional and support staff – non-UK BME 2.4% 2.9%
Academic staff – non-UK BME 5.6% 8.3%

 iii) Key points

  •  Senior management: there are lower proportions of BME academic staff (0.4% UK BME staff, 0.1% non-UK BME staff) in senior management positions compared to white academic staff (0.8% UK white staff, 0.2% non-UK white staff)
  • Heads of institution: 0.8% of UK heads of institutions were BME – a drop from 1.6% in 2015/16
  • BME professors: 11.2% of white academics and 9.7% of BME academics were professors.
    • 9% of non-UK white academics were professors compared with 3.7% of non-UK BME professors
    • There were notable differences within BME groups: e.g. 15.8% of UK Chinese academics were professors compared with 4.6% of UK black academics
    • 2% of non-UK black academics were professors
  • Ethnicity pay gap: the median and mean ethnicity pay gaps between UK white and UK BME staff stood at 2.0 and 2.4 percentage points, respectively.
    • There are lower proportions of BME staff on higher salary bands.
    • The median and mean ethnicity pay gaps were wider among non-UK staff (8.5 and 12.4 percentage points, respectively).
    • The median and mean ethnicity pay gaps were particularly pronounced between BME and white non-UK professional and support staff (13.7 and 12.6 percentage points, respectively) compared with UK professional and support staff (-1.3 and 3.0 percentage points, respectively)


Figure 1: Proportion of BME staff, 2003/04-2016/17


Figure 2: Salary ranges for professional / support staff


Figure 3: Proportion of male and female staff, 2003/04-2016/17


B. Gender

i) General trends

  • In 2016/17, 54.2% of staff working in UK higher education were women (an increase from 52.4% in 2003/04) and 45.8% were men.
  • The proportion of professional and support staff who were women has remained relatively constant from 62.2% in 2003/04 to 62.6% in 2016/17.
  • Women comprise the majority of staff working in UK higher education, but are underrepresented among academic staff and in senior management roles.

ii) Key points

  • Heads of institution: 24.3% of heads of institutions were women
  • Senior management: 54.1% of professional and support staff managers, directors and senior officials were women. For both academic and professional and support staff, women were underrepresented in senior positions and overrepresented in junior positions.
  • Women professors: 24.6% of professors were women compared to 75.4% of men.
  • Gender pay gap: The median and mean gender pay gaps for UK professors were 5.7 and 5.9 percentage points, respectively
    • Among academic staff, 22.5% of women earned over £50,000 compared with 35.6% of men.
    • the gender pay gap was higher among non-professors (an overall median pay gap of 11.1 percentage points and a mean pay gap of 12.2 percentage points).
    • Amongst professional and support staff, where 5.1% of women earned over £50,000 compared with 9.2 % of men.


 C. How does UCL compare?

  • Proportion of BME staff: 12.28% of UCL academic staff are BME; 23.8% of UCL professional services staff are BME[i]
  • Proportion of male and female staff: 52.6% of UCL staff are female (and 47.4% male)[ii]
  • Gender pay gap: Our mean gender pay gap at UCL is 17.5% according to data published today; this has fallen from 19.5% in 2013 and is close to the UK average of 18%.[iii]

Figure 4: Salary ranges for female and male staff

[i] https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018_HE-stats-report-staff.pdf. All data and graphics taken from the report.

[ii] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/sites/human-resources/files/l_staff_numbers_by_ethnicity_staff_group_and_faculty_area_0.pdf

[iii] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/sites/human-resources/files/c_staff_numbers_by_gender_and_faculty_areas_1.pdf

[iv] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/sites/human-resources/files/ucl_gender_and_ethnicity_pay_report_2018.pdf





Astrea Skills: Stop Waffling! Write more concisely at work

By Gillian Mackenzie, on 30 November 2018

Bev Dee tells us about the Astrea Skills: Stop Waffling! Write more concisely at work session she went to in November. 

On 15th November 2018, I attended the Astrea Skills session: ‘Stop Waffling! Write more concisely at work’. Alison Forbes from UCL Access and Widening Participation Office gave an interesting presentation which then led to some useful discussion.

Alison began the session by asking if we thought of ourselves as concise writers, somewhere in

the middle or wafflers!  The show of hands across the three options was well balanced.  Alison then asked us to think about reasons why we might waffle. These included not knowing how to stop a habit, not having enough time to proof read/edit, and a perception (misconception?!) that using jargon or formal language makes someone sound more professional.

You might ask, why should this matter? Some people thought it’s simply annoying, confusing and it can waste time. We also considered if it might be ineffective as our audience might stop reading when there is too much waffle. In addition, it could negatively affect the impression you’re trying to make.

Alison talked us through some tips including:

  • about using short sentences
  • avoiding saying the same things more than once
  • using active, not passive, verbs
  • using bullet point lists!

An interesting discussion ensued when Alison raised a question around why women might use softening and/or apologetic language more than men, and how might this affect women at work. There seemed to be a consensus in the room that we would usually adapt our tone and language depending on the intended audience. However, it’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s not always necessary or useful to soften language or be too apologetic.

We were asked to bring a sample of our own writing to the session. As a final exercise, we worked in pairs to edit the writing while thinking about the points Alison had raised during her presentation.

If you’re interested in learning more about this subject, a really good place to start is The Plain English Campaign website. There are lots of free guides and even a short grammar quiz.

Happy (concise) writing!

Astrea Voices: Unusual Inspirational Career stories

By Gillian Mackenzie, on 4 June 2018

Astrea Communications Officer, Hannah Legg, talks us through the most recent Astrea event.

The latest of our Astrea Voices series featured Fiona Rose-Clarke (UCL School of Pharmacy) and Denise Mapp (UCL Careers) discussing their career stories to date. From local Council, the Armed Forces, the finance industry, further study and navigating restructures and redundancies, they have amassed a wealth of experience and insight between them. Their honesty and warmth created a really positive and at times, emotional event. Thank you Fiona and Denise for sharing your stories with us!

Fiona Rose-Clarke speaking about her career at Astrea event

First up was Fiona who started her career with British Army (yes, she can operate a machine gun!). The army experience breaks people down and builds them back up again and this resilience training proved useful for Fiona’s surprising next move into the world of financial services. Telling herself “yes I can”, she secured her first of many sales. Redundancy then followed which worked to her advantage and enabled her to turn a passion into a job through the creation of her own holistic therapies business. Fiona’s next move was to UCL and after a couple of role changes, she is now at the School of Pharmacy in the role of Study Abroad and Placements Coordinator.

Denise Mapp speaking about her career at Astrea event

Denise began her career fresh out of college when she applied for a paid internship at Newham Council. This led to 6 years working in events and communications teams. From organising conferences to leading on campaigns, Denise amassed a wealth of interesting experiences. During this time she also began studying for an English degree at Birkbeck. A restructure nudged her to apply for a new job and she started work at UCL, which enabled her to continue her degree in the evenings. Missing working in events and finding the industry difficult to get back into, Denise took an events qualification while volunteering on the side. This certainly paid off when she was asked to manage the book launches for Head of Ted Chris Andreson and Ted Talker Simon Sinek –a real career highlight! Denise now has her dream role in events – she now works in UCL Careers as an Employer Engagement and Events Officer for PhD researchers, where she is currently organising the annual Professional Careers Beyond Academia conference on June 11.

Key advice from the women were to say yes to opportunities, know your worth, be kind, don’t be defined by your job/grade, enjoy the journey, visualise where you want to be, don’t lose you, learn what you can where you currently are as you try to get where you want to be, you are never to old (or too young!) to go for it!

This event is part of the Astrea Voices series that focuses on the unusual, non-linear career paths taken by colleagues here at UCL. Be sure to sign up to our mailing list to be notified of our upcoming events.

Women of the World Festival

By Gillian Mackenzie, on 24 April 2018

Astrea’s Policy Management representative, Louisa Ball, attended the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre and shared her impressions of the event. This post also contains links to the Southbank Centre’s WOW 2018 website, where you can watch and listen to the content Louisa reviews for us here.

So on the 9th, 10th and 11 March I attended the Women of the World Festival, also known as WOW, at the Southbank Centre in London, and wow really is the best word to describe it!

The feeling of attending an event that includes so many huge names in activism of all kinds, and the sense of sisterhood and solidarity the festival gives you really can’t be overstated.

The festival has grown many legs since its birth in 2010 and now takes place in over 50 countries worldwide over 5 continents.  The visionary and heroic yet humble driving force behind it is Jude Kelly CBE, artistic director at the Southbank Centre, who told us that WOW came to life after she thought “someone should really do something like this, oh it’s me!”

After waiting over a year to be able to get hold of tickets for the London festival I was definitely not disappointed, and with 2018 being the centenary of some women getting the vote in England, it was definitely a year not to miss!

Throughout the weekend I listened to talks and panel debates on homelessness, systemic racism, refusing to be silenced in conflict zones and breaking the silence around sexual harassment, and of course many others. It was full on, with talks starting at 9am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday (it ran from 7th – 11th March but I had a weekend ticket), you can take in as many as 7 or 8 talks per day, until 6pm and if you buy tickets to an evening WOW event, you can expect to be on-site until at least 9pm (as I did on Friday and Saturday). There are plenty of rest breaks in between sessions though and since it’s nestled in the iconic South Bank there is plenty of food and drink to be sourced in the nearby area.

The one downside to WOW, and it’s definitely a good one to have, is that there are so many talks happening simultaneously, that having to choose between them was at times absolutely heartbreaking. Throughout the weekend, Jude Kelly encouraged everyone to “attend something they wouldn’t normally” and “talk to someone you don’t know”.

There was much more besides talks as well, including the WOW marketplace, with bookstalls, handmade trinket stalls and stalls where you could speak to the volunteers and staff running charities and initiatives, such as Bloody Good Period. We were treated to performances from Louise Marshall, one of Scotland’s finest bagpipers, interpretative dances, choir performances and were taught how to say words like feminism, vagina and period in British Sign Language, by one of the BSL interpreters.

The organisers of WOW really make it their business to make the event accessible, with workshops and sessions for children taking place throughout the festival, an on-site crèche, BSL interpreters present for many of the talks, on screen live text and babies and buggies welcome in the talks themselves.

Every talk and panel I attended taught me something new and moved me. Some moved me to get angry, to feel inspired, to cry, to laugh, to change a certain outlook on life or to go away and actually do something.

Not being able to write about every talk I attended throughout the weekend, I’ve chosen my highlights:

No More; Friday evening; Jude Kelly CBE, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Laura Bates. 

What a start to my weekend this was! The atmosphere in the room was such a buzz. Having as I did a seat at the very front row, I felt the palpable excitement in the room being launched forward toward the speakers, and the anticipation we were all feeling was well placed, because what followed was an invigorating, moving and passionate panel. The panel convened “women on the front lines of global movements who are transforming the future by demanding ‘no more’”. The panel was preceded by Megan Beech, performance poet, performing her poem “The present is female”. Throughout the panel each of these movement leaders talked passionately about their global movements before fielding questions from the eager audience. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism movement described how her platform for women who experience sexism in their everyday lives to share these experiences “collected testimonies of inequalities” and gave women a “collective voice”. The hundreds of thousands of testimonies from women the world over shows that “we can’t be told to ignore the small things anymore”. Laura takes these stories and “puts them in front of the people who have the power to change things”. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, co-founder of the Women’s March London and the Women in Leadership Publication, reminded us all that “each one of us is a leader” and that too often we “wait for someone to call you a leader to step up”. She spoke to her personal journey into leadership, called for more women of colour at the front and implored us to drive the change we want to see – “you become an activist because you choose to be”. Patrisse Khan-Cullors read aloud a hard hitting passage from her book – When They Call you a Terrorist, and described her journey into activism and then founding the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). She described BLM as a call to action, an intervention, and as part of a legacy of black people who’ve been fighting for years. She spoke about entering into activism because “our lives depend on it” and that the skills to steer such a movement come later. She urged us all to remember that “wherever black people are, racism exists” and that we shouldn’t believe those who say that [racism in the UK] is “not that bad”. The panel finished up with a standing ovation, which sums up the elation in the room at having heard these giants of global activism speak so eloquently about their experiences.

Ruby Wax – How to be Human: The Manual; with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

If nothing else, we were always going to come away from Ruby’s talk having laughed out loud, but there was much more to take away besides. Ruby was her usual witty and razor-tongued self and enjoyed good chemistry with her good friend Helena. Ruby talked us through her book – How to be Human: The Manual and interweaved personal anecdotes through her narrative of carrying out the research for the book. She implored everyone in the room to remember that they were built for a time before the internet, that we all have intrusive thoughts and that listening to them is what causes us to have anxiety; that we all get old and natural physical changes go along with that which affect each and every one of us. Along Ruby’s research travels she discovered that negative thoughts once helped humans survive, but that they can be crippling if you let them take hold. She advised that we treat them like a “radio in the other room” and to remember that “you are much bigger than your thoughts”. She was full a hilarious nuggets of advice, such as “never marry someone when you’re ovulating” “don’t pass your garbage onto your children” and “you can’t get oxytocin from a screen”. Perhaps the session can be summed up nicely though by my favourite quote: “things went wrong when we stopped being fish”!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Reni Eddo-Lodge in conversation

I was absolutely ecstatic to get tickets to this talk and it didn’t matter a jot to me that I was 6 rows back up in the balcony – in fact watching these two speakers spellbind the whole room was an upside to being so far back.

Reni wrote the groundbreaking book – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, following a blogpost of the same name some years previously, and has brought the issue of systemic racism in frank and no uncertain terms firmly into consciousness for many, not least myself. Chimamanda is an internationally renowned novelist and writer, famous for her novels including – Half of a Yellow Sun and her non-fiction books – We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele.

The room was practically pulsing and the anticipation almost tangible, with every single seat of the Southbank Centre auditorium filled – the event was a sell-out. Reni and Chimamanda were amazing. I hung off their every word. The two of them, in conversation for the first time on stage, seemed to have instant chemistry.

They talked about the pressure they feel to take responsibility for the emotional responses of their readers to their content and teased apart white privilege, including how they themselves enjoy certain privileges. A particularly fascinating part of the conversation was Chimamanda recounting conversations she has had with readers who challenge the conclusion given to a white, non-central character in one of her novels and how she positions those responses within the wider issue that is white people feeling affronted by discussions around racism. They discussed deliberate omission of black culture in the west, becoming a feminist, being “suddenly black” when coming to America, how identity can be forced upon us, receiving abuse on social media, the colonization of Nigeria, preferring to read stories to theories and marriage. Despite covering all that content it was a relaxed and naturally flowing conversation and there were really wonderfully funny moments shared between them. I for one could have listened to them both for hours more.

I’d love to write about all the talks and panels I attended, but I would probably have to write a book! All of that said, what’s wonderful about WOW is that everyone else who attended would probably write a completely different summary. Because there is so much to do, see, hear, buy and take in that the experience really is what you make it and I for one will be going back each and every year I am able!