Thoughts

Why a Resolutions Retreat for Women in Academia?

This week Times Higher Education published an interesting article covering The University of Glasgow’s welcome decision to make ‘collegiality’ an explicit requirement in its internal professorial promotions criteria. Examples given include recommending a colleague for an award, or crediting them as Co-Investigator on a major research project.

The image THE chose to accompany this positive news – an image of men helping other men over a wall – is somewhat ironic if you’re a woman in the academic world. For, one could be forgiven for reading statistics on the overrepresentation of men in senior academic and managerial positions as evidence of the fact that academia is already working efficiently in supporting men’s collegiality with one another.

I was motivated to offer my first Women in Academia Resolutions Retreat, coming up in January 2020, to support women to take some time out to focus on themselves. It’s important to continue to challenge the imperfect structures of academia, while at the same time to work on how we can support ourselves within those imperfect structures. Anecdotes, academic research and personal experience demonstrate that women can be notoriously bad at prioritising ourselves. Some men experience this, too, of course, and they are the ones doing the ‘housework’ of the department alongside the women.

Housework might take the form of being the (implicitly-) understood ‘go to’ person for students for support, being the person always assigned programme leadership, teaching introductory core modules or given administrative tasks etc. It’s a real skill – and indeed a compliment – being the ‘safe pair of hands’ who can hold that ticking grenade safely. But holding that grenade comes at a cost – you are likely holding it for someone else whilst they are getting on with the things they want to do.

While you’re holding the grenade for someone else, it’s very easy to lose sight of what you want to achieve. After all, if you lose focus, you will drop the grenade and it will, you feel, be catastrophic for everyone!

boom-2028563_1280.png

So, how exactly do you focus on you instead? It’s key to take some time out to reflect on where YOU want to go.

First – put down the grenade (psst – it’s not actually a grenade and it’ll be OK!!)

Now you’re more relaxed, consider what you would like to achieve and what steps you need to take logically in order to get there. It could be that you already know what you want to achieve – great!  But it could be that you need to sit back and think about what is important to you. What’s important to you aligns with your values. If you set goals in line with your values, you are going to be more motivated and likely to achieve those goals.

To use myself as an example, once I realised I was working to an agenda that was not my own in a previous situation, I had a proverbial light-bulb moment: “it’s not my goal- I’m not motivated by it”. Without realising it, I hadn’t been realistically working toward that goal; instead, I’d been procrastinating and finding distractions. It was because I was not only not bothered about achieving it but actually felt it would be pretty worthless, judged by my own value system. It was a tough lesson as I had spent many years not realising this! But I re-set things and took steps toward what I actually wanted to achieve.

We all have contexts in which we work and things we need to do that we might prefer not to (for me now I’m self-employed, that’s my accounts!). But there are ways to work within our realities.

My goal for the Resolutions Retreat is that participants leave with a clearer idea of their goals, how to achieve them and with the resolve to take action.

 

 

An outstretched hand with a text label which says Coaching
Events

(How) is gender relevant to coaching?

I’m delighted to be offering a workshop for the Assocation for Coaching’s Edinburgh Coaching Exchange on 26th February. I’ll be asking participants to explore gender assumptions and stereotypes, unconscious bias and how to counter these in their coaching practice. To book, click here. If you’re intested in this topic or in hosting a similar event for your coaching/HR professionals, get in touch!

Events

Coaching Taster workshop

 

IMG_0590
Institute of Fundraising conference, September 2018

At the Institute of Fundraising conference, 2018, I delivered a ‘Coaching Taster’ workshop, based on a ‘skills share’ approach.

I introduced participants to some basic coaching principles and models and then asked them to pair up to be coach and coachees with one another to test out their new skills!

The participants were fantastic and the room was ‘buzzy’ as they supported one another through some work-related issues. One participant stated she may even have found new career through the process!

It was a pleasure working with charity fundraisers who devote so much of their time to working for their charities and to allow them to spend little time on themselves.

 

photo of a notebook with a small icon of cat's face with the word 'think' printed underneath
Events

Gender and Coaching October 2017

In October 2017, I was thrilled to bring together two of my passions – gender and coaching – in one place. I created and delivered a bespoke session for coaches and HR professionals attending the Coaching Exchange, Newcastle.

The Coaching Exchange is a welcome and relatively new initiative organised by Kate Shahid of Kate Shahid Coaching and Consulting. Kate is the North East regional co-ordinator for the Association for Coaching and the Exchange offers continuing professional development for coaches and Human Resources professionals. It is a place for learning and reflection on various aspects of practice.

IMG_2390.jpg
Gender and Coaching workshop, for The Coaching Exchange, Newcastle

In the session on Gender and Coaching, I encouraged participants to consider various ways in which the social construction of gender may impact upon coaching practice. We discussed how we might allow and account for gender in our coaching strategies and techniques. Among the things we touched on were differences between equality and equity, on imposter syndrome and unconscious bias, the impact of language and media in influencing our perceptions and on gender in organisational cultures.

The event was attended by over 30 coaches and HR professionals from the North East region and I was energised by their contributions. I look forward to the next Coaching Exchange!

flock of birds flying from a disused pier over water in low sunlight
Thoughts

Free

Free

This was my diary entry for my first day as a non-academic. It was in my diary from the moment I heard my request for voluntary redundancy from my employer of twelve years had been accepted.

The simple graphic makes me smile. I love the way the arrows indicate I will be ‘free’ for the rest of my life (!) precisely from 1st June 2017, that I have literally drawn a line to mark the end/beginning and that the freedom glows from the page!

The word ‘free’ had come to take on significant resonance for me following an earlier  coaching conversation. I was receiving coaching as part of thinking through a career change, and without much of an idea what I wanted to do. The coach asked me this incisive question: ‘What would it feel like if you weren’t working as an academic?’ After a short reflection, my response was: ‘I would be free’.

My use of that word for the first time hit me powerfully, the implication being that at that moment I felt the opposite – trapped? – held back? – in chains?!! It all sounds rather dramatic!

Yet, the realisation I was ‘doing the wrong thing’ career-wise had hit me like a bolt one random evening a few months previously. It literally formed as a sentence that I said out loud to myself: ‘I am doing the wrong thing’. The suddenness of it came as a surprise and was somewhat overwhelming, yet the steady erosion of my sense of satisfaction with my choice of career had been working away for many years.

Thinking through a career change can be a huge, daunting task. Then at the age of 46, I felt I was young enough to make a shift but old enough to get cracking on with it! If I had wobbles about leaving academia, and of course I did, I would say to myself – ‘Julie, another 20 years’. The thought of another 20 years doing the same job felt unbearable; I knew that whatever I ended up doing, it would be better for my mental, physical and emotional health than staying put.

Careers are bound up intimately with our identities and status. On social occasions, when people meet for the first time, one of the initial questions is ‘What do you do?’ I had a relatively high status job which was reasonably secure and with a good salary. I also had some absolutely brilliant colleagues with whom I loved working. Academia had offered me so many privileges and opportunities, to research and to teach what I enjoyed.

However, I decided to leave, a move which was either bold or bonkers, or quite possibly both! The strength of needing to do something more in line with my values was what propelled me. I was keen to work where I could have more of a direct impact on social justice. I also needed to be ‘freer’ than the restrictions of working in a huge organisation such as a university permitted. I realised I could pursue my interests beyond the confines of academia more than within it.

So, I took small steps to open myself up to new experiences and to looking at things differently. I became (and still am) a trustee and volunteer with two amazing charities that support and develop women and girls:West End Women and Girls Centre, Newcastle, and Team Kenya CIO. I knew that I would need support thinking through the process of a career change so I had some coaching and also signed up for an online course in changing careers. I took a coaching qualification to broaden my skills. It was hard fitting all this in while still in a busy full-time job; however, I made time because it was so important to me. It was the difference between freedom and constraint after all!

IMG_1643

Now that I am starting up as self-employed, I feel excited and scared at the same time. But mostly I feel thrilled that I can create my own job and do what I really want to do – make a difference, I hope, with regard to gender and LGBT equality and help people realise their own potential through coaching.

In a ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ moment, the final seminar I taught at university was on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (on a core literature module not designed purposefully by me!). The play is an experimental drama, part of a movement known as Theatre of the Absurd. As the name suggests, Endgame offers a reflection on endings.  It is a dark comedy dealing with, amongst other things, themes of entrapment and circularity. Its opening words are spoken by the character Clov:

‘Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished. [Pause]. Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap. [Pause]. I can’t be punished any more.’

While students in the group wondered if finishing the module on this text was a ‘lecturer’s joke’, I had to wonder what kind of joke it was on me! To finish a career teaching in various English Literature Departments on such a literalised symbolic moment was ‘absurd’ in itself.

What I know now, writing this piece several months after leaving, is that I have grown enormously. I still have my academic colleagues and friends and we are finding ways of working together while I have the added bonus of meeting and working with colleagues in new fields. I am so enjoying the learning and challenge of setting myself up as self-employed. I have done things over the last couple of years I would not have thought possible and I am absolutely looking forward to doing more that I don’t even know about yet!

And yes, I feel free!

 

Check out an update I wrote one year on in January 2019 on life beyond academia for Sheffield University’s v i s t a blog series here.

If the path before you is clear, you're probably on someone else's. 
Carl Jung