Women and Leadership talk

So, today I attended a talk in Cambridge called New Perspectives: Women and Leadership – Taking the Leap, which was run by the Equality and Diversity, and Women’s Staff Network folk at the University of Cambridge, where I work.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t too sure. I have become a bit tired of late with all of the language used in courses for women. Leaping, springboards, general terms indicating that we all need a helping boost to heft ourselves up-and-over that lovely glass ceiling. Or is it a wall? I’m never quite sure. So, I was basically expecting a lot of this:



Which made me feel a bit like this:


I am happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong about it all. Now, my point about language and training for women remains and anyone who follows me on Twitter and/or Facebook would have seen my gripes about this. In fairness, I also dislike the language used for training aimed at men too as it often doesn’t do them any favours either. What is with segregated training anyway? Seems all a bit odd to me.

Anyway, back to the talk today. The brilliant Professor Dame Athene Donald (University Gender Equality Champion, and accomplished physicist) started things off with an excellent introduction. The main message that I took from her intro was: identify where you want to be! She mentioned how many people within the University wait for their career paths to happen, rather than get proactive about things which I thought was a valid concern that many probably hadn’t even realised.

Following on from the intro, we listened to a few lovely ladies talk about their careers and lives as women in leadership positions. They were: Flick Osborn (2013/14 CUSU President), Dr Hannah Critchlow (Neuroscience engagement and Naked Scientist) and Marie Butcher (Assistant Registrary at Faculty of Economics)

All three women came from very different backgrounds. Flick is a student representative, Hannah is an academic engaged in outreach and Marie is an administrator. However, they had much in common and we learnt a lot from their experiences. Apart from anything else, it was nice to hear from peope who did not have a dead-set career plan, who had maybe not got the best results at school, but who made it work for them.

The main points from their presentations and the subsequent Q&A session can be summarised as follows:

Enjoy what you do!

If you believe in what you’re doing, keep persisting and keep that understanding of why you want to do a certain thing for your career.

If you don’t know what you want to do, just go for every opportunity you can and you’ll figure it out.

Write things down, and regularly assess your strengths and weaknesses

Turn negatives into positives. If you don’t get something the first time, go on to try and get the next thing instead!

Also, be aware of your own strengths/weaknesses as well as those of people in your surrounding environment. That way, you can work together for the overall betterment of the team.


Networking is very important! Participants said that it is something women can sometimes be bad at and we need to be proactive in our careers.

Put your name forward for things. What is the real cost of not getting involved? What is the worst that can happen?

Is being a woman a burden? How do you separate your gender from your job?

This question was fascinating which is why I’m unpacking it a bit further. Most participants did say that being a woman can be a burden but some had different additional answers.

Flick highlighted the importance of empowering herself and others. She also feels that she sometimes has to be more forceful due to her age, rather than gender. Hannah mentioned that while she found it trickier to be taken seriously in her 20s, she has found it a lot different now she is in her 30s. She finds being a woman is now a huge advantage and she is better at talking to people, sometimes more so than her male counterparts.

Marie mentioned that while many of her peers are women, she is more working to change the perceptions that administrators are there to make life difficult for people, rather than them actually being there to help! Athene mentioned that she is certainly more memorable as the only senior woman in the room!

I found this question to be even more interesting given the context of what I do for a profession. Aside from a perceived dominance of men in higher management positions within academic libraries (of course this is different depending on where you are), librarianship is rather dominated by women. So, how do you stand out as a woman in a female dominated world? Also, what about men? How do they fare, especially at lower levels? It is all well and good talking about breaking in to a male dominated research area, like Athene has done in physics, but it struck me how librarianship is a different kettle of fish altogether!

Quite frankly, I enjoy working in a mixed gender workplace. I think having a mix of approaches, thoughts and attitudes makes for a far better work environment, and this applies to all professions. Why is it that librarianship is seen as a female profession and is this even correct as a perception? Lots of interesting things to think about and this will probably turn into a post all of its own.

However, the talk itself was really good. It was nice to hear from a range of female professionals who were doing different things at different stages of their lives. It was nice to hear about things not always going to plan and how they dealt with that. The main conclusion that I took from today is:

Do what you want!

Don’t be held back by others. Push to do what you want in your career. Be proactive, take every chance and opportunity and really push and pester and fight. Just try new stuff out, whenever you can.

2 thoughts on “Women and Leadership talk

  1. Thanks for the write-up of the thing I could (obviously) not attend. I agree with you about the weirdness of gender-segregated training, but I suppose it makes sense if it’s covering specifically women’s issues (although I think it would be useful for men to learn about those too). Is librarianship that female-dominated or is that just the stereotype/perception?

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