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HEi-think: Celebrating and supporting women in HE

bolina / 123RF

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Professor Yvonne Barnett, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Nottingham Trent University and Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor of University of Nottingham, look at what universities need to do to support female academics and how the two institutions are working together to do just that. In another blog, Dr Kate Williams, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Leicester, outlines a portrait programme celebrating three "firsts" for women at her institution.

 

Professor Yvonne Barnett – Nottingham Trent University

As universities, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic females who make up our organisations. That includes the academics inspiring students and peers in their areas of expertise every day.

We are proud that, at Nottingham Trent University, our female academics appear frequently in the media, both regionally, nationally and internationally, commenting on everything from science to fashion and writing articles and blogs on topics as varied as mortgages, addiction and agriculture. Why is this important? University student figures show that more young women are now applying to university than men, so it seems only right that they see the voices of female academics valued in the media as much as those of men. Equally, it is important that future students and the wider public are able to take inspiration and information from female as well as male perspectives.

Despite rising numbers of women in the workforce and in media, sources of news are still predominantly men – which can result in a news output shaped by a male viewpoint. Many media are making great strides to offer a balance of voices in their reporting and therefore, as universities, we need to support our academics to make the most of the opportunities this may present.

It is for these reasons we are launching, in collaboration with University of Nottingham, the Nottingham Women Experts Network. This begins with the production of a media guide to help news desks and production teams across the country to access one of the more than 300 female experts we have available to talk to them on a range of topics. But it is much more than this. It is also about bringing these and other women at both universities together to find out how they can raise their professional profiles, collaborate with each other and be heard.

Our academics can offer insight, counterargument, context and credibility to a media requiring exactly these attributes in this era of ‘fake news’. They can do so regardless of gender. For those journalists looking to balance the voices in their reporting, we invite you to consult our Nottingham Women Experts guide and for those female experts wanting to share their knowledge with the media, we look forward to supporting you to do so.

 

Professor Shearer West – University of Nottingham 

It gives me great pleasure to be involved in events marking International Women’s Day 2018, for the first time in my new role as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham.

This day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women past and present and to reflect on advances in equality, diversity and inclusion, while recognising the need to keep these values in the spotlight. We are not there yet of course. I feel disappointed when I see my daughter is experiencing some of the same stereotyping at work that I did 30 years ago, and that news headlines are dominated by gender pay gaps and sexual harassment allegations.

However, we have also come a long way in the last decades. In universities, the pursuit of Athena Swan awards, routine unconscious bias training for interview panels and a growing number of women in senior leadership roles attest to changes in the higher education sector—albeit more gradual than I would like. 

At the University of Nottingham we have introduced a number of initiatives to ensure that we have a culture that is equitable, inclusive and diverse. These include our staff networks, such as the Gender Equality Network; a review of recruitment processes from an ED&I perspective; our Anne McLaren Fellowships which are targeted at talented early career women; and a Diversity by Design project in Engineering. There is however much work still to do to ensure that we have embedded a culture that is gender blind when it comes to talent, contribution and workload.

But International Women’s Day is, above all, a day of celebration of women’s achievements, and to mark this day, the University of Nottingham is launching two initiatives to raise the profile of our brilliant women. First, we are unveiling a display of photographic portraits of women who have contributed to the success of the University.  These portraits are replacing more traditional male portraits, some which have hung in our Council room since the Trent Building was founded. Second, we are working with Nottingham Trent University to announce Nottingham’s Women Experts – a guide to the expertise of our female staff, with underpinning support for their interactions with the media.

These activities are set against others taking place across our campuses in the UK and China and Malaysia.

I hope you enjoy International Women’s Day, and I look forward to engaging with participants in the many events that mark the day.

 

Dr Kate Williams - University of Leicester  

Universities are built on the contribution of thousands of remarkable women and men, staff, students, alumni and contributors. Such contribution is recognised in myriad ways through pay and reward, the conferring of honours, the naming of buildings and through the portraits that we hang on our walls.

Our Universities reflect our past and much of that past is embodied by men, but it often ignores (or is slow to remember) the contribution made by women who have been so influential in our past and are central to our successful future. We know that role models matter, seeing images of relatable individuals breaks down gender stereotypes and empowers and inspires people, especially women, students and staff.

Today, over half of undergraduate students are women, we are seeing a step-change in the recognition and promotion of women in higher education, albeit at a snail slow pace, but we are sadly stuck in the past when we look at our walls and see only men celebrated in our portraiture.

At the University of Leicester, that is about to change. We have begun a programme of work to diversify our visual landscape, starting with a project that celebrates three ‘firsts’ for women at Leicester. They are, our first female graduate, our first female professor and our first female student union president. We have been working on a year-long project to commission female artists to paint these portraits. We received over 50 applications for these commissions and identified three exceptionally talented artists to paint these historic portraits. 

Recognising these women for International Women’s Day 2018 allows us to take the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of three women who have, through their work and lives, helped to create our University and are an important part of its history.

In recent years, many women (and men) whether staff, student or visitor have identified the need to recognise the contribution of women here at Leicester and many have rightly been forthright in their views. This is part of our journey to remember our past with clarity and look forward to a more diverse and inclusive future. The journey towards gender equality is long and we have much to achieve, but this is a small step in our bid to #pressforprogress.

 

 

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