I am a member of the Astrea committee, the UCL network for women in professional services and recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Women’s Higher Education Network (WHEN) conference at 1-19 Torrington Place.
WHEN is multi-institutional, and is for women working in academia and professional services. The title and theme of 2019 conference was ‘Who am I supposed to be?’, and many of the discussions and workshops looked at labels that we give ourselves or are given to us by others, and the impact these can have.
Members of Astrea at the WHEN conference
The joint keynote speech was delivered by Professor Kalwant Bhopal from the University of Birmingham, followed by Yasmine Bouidaf, who works at UCL and is also the founder and CEO of the company Serious Datum. Professor Bhopal gave a powerful, thoroughly researched account on the experiences of women of colour working in higher education, which included alarming statistics on the low numbers of black and minority ethnic (BME) staff working at higher levels across UK institutions. This included the fact that only 8.4% of professors across the UK are BME, with a total of 85 who are black, and only 26 of which are women. She suggested a number of ways forward, including drawing on existing networks of support and creating new ones; ensuring an inclusive sisterhood, where differences were recognised but similarities were also identified; and highlighting that failure to acknowledge racism and white privilege result in a failure to act.
Yasmine Bouidaf talked about her research, looking into some of the micro-aggressions women experience in the workplace, including seemingly ‘small’ behaviours which they do not necessarily report, such as being talked over or ignored in meetings. She looked to address unconscious biases, beginning by collecting data from women through interviews and surveys, and analysing the results. She then used the findings to develop a virtual reality game as an intervention which allowed users to experience gender discrimination in the workplace in order to understand what problematic micro behaviours feel like.
The day also included Pecha Kucha talks on the theme – who am I supposed to be – and a panel discussion, where subjects covered included being your authentic self, situational judgement and being labelled by ourselves and others. In summary, the panel were asked to give a few words of advice for conference attendees to take away to improve the world we work in, which were as follows:
- Call it out
- Don’t second guess yourself
- Adopt a tone which doesn’t isolate yourself
- Unpick your stories and find your power
- Use your difference as a super power
- Insist on yourself, never imitate and do it with power
WHEN conference panel
Over lunchtime, I also made use of the career surgeries being offered by Perrett Laver, where we could access short-but-sweet, personal recruitment advice, and in the afternoon, I attended two workshops – Overcoming imposter syndrome with Dr Terri Simpkin, and Embracing your identity with Alice Chilver. In the first workshop, I learned about the ways imposter phenomenon can affect me at times, and the session also highlighted how this could impact others I work with at UCL, particularly in my role as a line manager.
WHEN imposter phenomenon session with Dr Terri Simpkin
Embracing your identity was an extremely ambitious, illuminating workshop, which invited us to think about the high and low points of our careers, and map a timeline as a means to identify patterns which helped to reveal more about our personal priorities, interests and strengths.
The WHEN conference was an inspiring, motivating day, full of interesting discussions, advice and practical sessions, and gave me the opportunity to learn from others and network with colleagues across UCL and other HE institutions. You can find out more about WHEN here, and if you want to know about UCL Astrea events and news across UCL, you can sign up for the Astrea mailing list. We’d love to see you at an event soon!