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UCL Connect Women in Leadership event

GuestBlogger20 March 2017

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By Sophie Moore, Office of the Vice-Provost (Development)

On 8 March, UCL Connect celebrated International Women’s Day with a Women in Leadership panel event exploring both the opportunities available to, and challenges faced by, women in the workforce.

Hosted by Professor Becky Francis, Director of the Institute of Education, the panel discussed key issues experienced by women on their paths to leadership roles.

There were contributions from a selection of highly successful UCL alumnae and supporters who shared advice, tips and comments from their diverse professional backgrounds, including former British Ambassador Georgina Butler, Caroline Ellis of Caroline Ellis & Associates and Director of the Precision Medicine Catapult, Professor Joanne Hackett.Women in leadership 1

With studies suggesting that women currently occupy less than 6% of leadership positions in the world’s top 500 corporations and, in the UK, earn on average 20% less than men, the event was a timely opportunity to discuss the factors that contribute to gender disparity in the workplace.

“While women are not a minority, their experience often is” explained UCL Anthropology graduate Caroline Ellis, who has made a career in tackling inequality and marginalisation, including as a former Senior Director of the charity Stonewall. “Women’s progression in the workplace is not simple; it’s a complex interaction of things.”

Indeed, while each of the panellists had experienced their own unique challenges on the road to success, the event shed light on a series of common experiences that had affected them.

The ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling of being fraudulent, or a lack of belief in your own skills and achievements was a familiar topic. “We are affected by different kinds of biases,” explained Ellis. “How we absorb all of these biases has a huge impact on the perceptions that we have of ourselves. We tend not to go for a job unless we fill all of the points on the specification and we tend not to negotiate as well, or take as many risks.”Women in leadership 3

Strategies the panel recommended for overcoming the ‘inner critic’ included recognising the significance in developing your skills, interests and personal relationships outside of work.

“I know that I’m good at lots of different things, which radiates through you when you’ve got people around who support you,” said Professor Hackett, who has spent 15 years working as scientist, strategist and entrepreneur. “If you can get people around you who can push you forward, as much as you’re pulling them with you, then it works.”

As one of only four female fast-streamers in the Foreign Office’s 1968 cohort of 22, UCL Laws graduate Georgina Butler has spent her entire career working in a field traditionally dominated by men. She said, “you’ve got to take control and be confident with who you are. It’s a question of deciding what you want and then fighting for it.”

Professor Francis asked the panel how much the lack of representation of women can be attributed to a lack of confidence amongst women, and how much it has to do with flaws in existing structures.

“For me it’s 50/50,” said Professor Hackett. “It’s our responsibility, but it’s also what people are expecting of us. In my former role at UCL, I managed relationships with 23 NHS trusts and 11 universities. Nine times out of ten, a chief executive would come into a meeting, look at me and say ‘I’d like some milk in my tea’ and I would be thinking ‘well, who is going to make that for them?’ It was partly my responsibility to make them aware that I was not there to make them tea – I was there because I was smart, good at my job and just as important to the room as they were – but, it was also my colleagues’ responsibility to inform them of those very same things.”

Ellis agreed and added that it’s important to get “allies” on board by helping other people to understand why gender parity is beneficial for all of us. “I wish that I had realised that my difference is actually a strength,” she reflected. “What it enables me to bring is a very different perspective to a conversation. It’s not necessarily a better idea or opinion, but diversity is really needed in every workplace.”

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Adding to this the panel discussed the obligation that they felt, as women in leadership roles, to step up and affect change for other women, too.

“You’re always in a leadership position in one way or another, because all of our shadows cast long,” explained Professor Hackett. “You don’t always realise who you affect, or who looks up to you as a way of being a leader.”

Professor Francis was keen to echo this. “It is important to recognise the onus of those of us who do have power and agency in our lives. The more we have women in positions of power who challenge existing cultures, the more other women will feel entitled and able to apply.”

UCL Connect

Education Select Committee Brexit hearing session at UCL

MelissaBradshaw9 February 2017

On 25 January, the Education Select Committee held the second Oral Evidence Session of its inquiry on the effect of Brexit on higher education (HE) at UCL.

The committee heard evidence from UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur, NUS Vice-President (Higher Education) Sorana Vieru and representatives of University and College Union, Erasmus Student Network UK, Universities UK, the British Council and London Economics.

There was a strong consensus on the potentially damaging effects of Brexit on HE, and an urgent call for the government to do more to address them.

Professor Michael Arthur

Professor Michael Arthur

The hearing took place just over a week after Theresa May’s historic speech on the UK’s strategy for exiting the European Union, and evidence was heard in two panels.

The Chair of the Education Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, began each session by asking the panellists for their reaction to the Prime Minister’s speech.

Every one of the panellists welcomed the tone of the speech and its emphasis on a “global Britain”, but called for immediate action and more specific detail – particularly in regard to the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK.

Referring to the Prime Minister’s expressed wish to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, Professor Arthur said: “I’d like to challenge the Prime Minister to go one step further and take the initiative to make the guarantee and challenge the rest of the EU to follow”, arguing that this would give Britain the moral high-ground and provide the negotiations a foundation of good will.

The committee heard evidence of the significant contribution of the higher education sector to the British economy, including the contributions EU staff and students make to the wider economy when they are residing here.

Dr Gavan Conlon (London Economics) also argued that, with education the UK’s fifth largest services export, the HE sector can generate revenue that could contribute to the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The panellists spoke of the positive contributions that EU staff and students make in terms of diversity and ‘soft power’, contributing to Britain’s prestigious academic profile and giving their British peers invaluable experience in international engagement, leadership and collective problem solving. “For a global Britain we need global graduates”, said Rosie Birchard (Erasmus Student Network UK).

The committee also heard evidence that currently UK HE “punches well above its weight” globally – thanks, in part, to our membership of the EU. Jo Beall (British Council) pointed to statistics showing that the UK leads the world in research quality (by field-weighted citation impact) and 1 in 10 world leaders were educated here.

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UCL Global Citizenship Lecture 2015: Shami Chakrabarti on Liberty

KilianThayaparan26 February 2015

Shami Chakrabarti speaking at the UCL Global Citizenship Lecture 2015

Shami Chakrabarti speaking at the UCL Global
Citizenship Lecture 2015 (Credit: Kirsten Holst)

Shami Chakrabarti’s now infamous description in The Sun as “the most dangerous woman in Britain” was referenced several times during this year’s UCL Global Citizenship Lecture, first by Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost (International), who described it as “quite an accolade”, and then by Chakrabarti herself, calling it “the gift that keeps on giving”.

Such an extreme epithet set the scene for an intriguing hour of discussion about civil liberties and how global citizenship can make a positive difference to the world.

The lecture comes at an important time in UCL’s Global Citizenship activities with the recent opening of registrations for the UCL Global Citizenship Programme – a two-week programme available to all undergraduates.

It allows students to engage with the world as ‘global citizens’, becoming not only experts in their fields, but also people who are understanding of, responsible for and engaged with the global community.

As Director of Liberty, a non-governmental organisation that campaigns for civil liberties and human rights in the UK, Shami Chakrabarti is, as Dame Nicola Brewer described, “a brilliant advocate for getting involved and making a positive difference to the world” – and, therefore, an ideal figure to inspire others to think about global citizenship.

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Astrea conference 2014 – Culture Shift 50:50

IrrumAli8 December 2014

Attendees of the Astrea conference 2014

Attendees of the Astrea conference 2014

UCL Astrea held its inaugural conference on Tuesday 2 December – a day of celebration and support for professional services women in the higher education sector and beyond.

‘Culture Shift 50:50’ was a lively and engaging day packed with talks, activities and networking hosted at the prestigious British Library Conference Centre with more than 200 women from UCL, and other institutions, in attendance.

The Astrea network was founded only a year or so ago by Alice Chilver and Emma Todd, two colleagues in The Bartlett, UCL’s faculty of the built environment. Noticing that there was a gap in the ready availability of support and networking for UCL professional services women, Astrea has been established to:

“…empower women.  And by doing so, to get women to realise their potential. We plan to do this by building a network where women can learn from each other; where our members can find mentors and role models; where they can talk about issues of common concern and where we can discuss what needs to change to reach 50/50 leadership. (‘Our aims’, Astrea website).

The conference follows on from a year of successful events, many of which focused on key topics that Astrea has identified – career development, resilience, networking techniques – and for which there clearly is an appetite to explore further.

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