Goal-setting for women working in a professional environment

This post was contributed by Mark Panton, TRIGGER Administrator. Here, Mark reports from the TRIGGER (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) First Early Career Seminar, which focused on goal-setting for women working in a professional environment.

Trigger logoThe issue

Too often, women have to put their broader life goals in the shade in order to pursue their career. This is neither necessary, nor is it sustainable. On 15 September, TRIGGER’s First Early Career Seminar addressed some of the underlying tensions that exist which make it harder for women to pursue a clear and balanced set of goals for themselves and their work.

In an engaging and interactive workshop, board mentor Dr Andrew Atter discussed why goal-setting can be so hard together with strategies both women and men can use to formulate a balanced set of goals for themselves; then influence their environment to enable those goals to become a reality.

The relevance of goal-setting and why it is difficult

Goal-setting is particularly important in relation to gender.  Women often have to make more painful trade-offs than men. For women it may be trade-offs in their family and working lives leading to frustrations and limited options. There is some way to go and this can also be true for men where they may have too little time for their family and too much time at work leading to issues of isolation and loneliness. There is also a sense in which many people don’t have goals and are just influenced by the environment.

What makes goal-setting so difficult?

  • Feeling stuck
  • Always out of reach
  • Aspirational (versus planned)
  • Conflicting priorities
  • Life gets in the way

Strategies

Participants discussed goals they had achieved despite these issues and what could be learned from those achievements. Strategies that were debated included the basic step of asking for help; finding the emotional key and the need for resonance. Standard methodologies of goal setting were considered such as the linear, value alignment and realist approaches.

The seminar finished with the use of Triads (new for some of the participants) for a role-playing exercise involving coaches, clients and observers. Even in this short role-play some interesting responses and learnings included.

“I did have more goals and aims than I thought”.

“It was easier to open-up than expected”.

“It can be difficult to talk about goals with a line manager”

The seminar demonstrated there are practical and useful techniques and “life hacks” that can make a big difference. However, much will depend on your own attitudes and behaviour, rather than waiting for the world to become a more perfect place.

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19th Uddevalla Symposium: Rethinking Leadership and Gender

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, held at Birkbeck from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Read James’s first and second blogs on the symposium.

Trigger logoAre female leaders more efficient in family firms? Does corruption have a gendered effect on small firm performance? These are some of the questions posed at the recent Uddevalla symposium, held in the UK for the first time at Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus, between 30 June and 2 July. As part of its stated themes of ‘Geography, Open Innovation, Diversity and Entrepreneurship’ the symposium took time to focus on gender inequality, with TRIGGER (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) holding a dedicated paper session to consider the topic.

The question of gender equality among businesses and innovators is a complex one; gender exists as a category long before we enter the workplace and carries with it a variety of social, psychological and material implications. It’s clear that increased gender diversity can have a positive effect on firm performance and, as McKinsey & Company pointed out recently, will be absolutely crucial to global economic growth in the coming years – possibly to the tune of $12 trillion by 2025. However, for both the global economy and society at large to benefit from these prospective dividends, attention must be paid to gender inequality in its current form and its attendant complexities.

Therefore, a much discussed theme of the symposium appeared not so much as, how can we honour an obligation to gender parity, but crucially, how can we unleash the huge productive potential of an equal and diverse workforce and, what are the implications for innovation and entrepreneurship?

Is leadership a gendered role?

A keynote speech from Professor Colette Henry, Head of Business and Humanities at the Dundalk Institute of Technology and CIMR Visiting Fellow, considered the position of female entrepreneurs and innovators through the prism of veterinary practitioners and researchers. Her lecture, the first keynote lecture of the three-day symposium, discussed many of the counter-intuitive features of the sector – notably that there are more than twice as many male as female sole principals, and more than four times as many male directors or equity partners, in veterinary firms, despite women accounting for over 50% of those working or studying in the sector.

Her work suggests that current innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, despite their propensity to change and evolve, are not sufficiently addressing less visible barriers for women. Professor Henry proposes an ‘integration’ model rather than merely beefing up the curriculum with corrective modules, this, she says, is the way to instil ambitious young females with the confidence and support necessary for them to excel to male dominated positions.

It seems, therefore, that the task of encouraging female innovators and entrepreneurs is one keenly tied to changing perceptions, of decoupling innovation and entrepreneurship from gendered ideas of what makes a good leader or a successful entrepreneur.

Porous Borders

Professor Per-Olof Bjuggren’s paper ‘Are Female Leaders more Efficient in Family Firms?’ also considered how definitions of leadership intersect with wider cultural issues, this time by scrutinising family firms. Professor Bjuggren’s work situates itself at the nexus of two historically gendered leadership roles, head of the family and head of the firm, allowing us to trace the relationship between the two and, ultimately, consider the effects of their intersection.

His work found that, whilst the effect of female CEO’s in non-family firms is ambiguous, female leaders in family firms had a positive impact upon the fortunes of the business. Whilst he proposes further research to unpack this assertion, his findings are crucial to understanding how the question of leadership is not one to be solely directed at businesses, but also society and culture at large. The quest for gender equality and equity cannot be an isolated and compartmentalised pursuit, as indicated by Professor Bjuggren’s work, it must look to consider the porous borders between whom we are at home and who we are at work.

You can see the winners of the 19th Uddevalla Symposium best paper awards on their site. To see the ways in which Birkbeck are tackling gender inequality, please visit TRIGGER’s webpage, as well as viewing the various networking and mentorship programmes such as ASTREA and AURORA.

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Birkbeck’s TRIGGER initiative explores gender inequality in Higher Education

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

Trigger logoOn the 28 June Birkbeck took further strides toward gender equality and equity, as the EU Project TRIGGER (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) invited an audience of professionals, academics and students to consider how best to inspire aspiring female professors and managers.

Indeed, gender inequality persists in higher education despite the many positive steps that have been made by the sector in recent years. The implementation and acceleration of Athena SWAN, as well as vocal support from leading academics and professionals, has raised the profile of gender inequality substantially. Yet a report published by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) in 2015 and looking at statistical data gleaned from the sector elucidates the enduring prevalence of gender inequality. In 2015, 77.6% of all Professors were male, whilst in SET (Science, Economics and Technology) subjects the figure was even higher at 81.8% (ECU).

How barriers can be overcome

The event ‘Aspiring female Professors/Managers – What can aspiring female professors/managers learn from those already in these positions?’ exists within this milieu and looked to develop dialogue, networking and solidarity to consider how such barriers can be overcome. As one speaker, Simona Iammarino, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, remarked during the panel discussion:

“We need more than just small cogs; we need a holistic culture that lends and prides itself on both gender equality and equity.”

So, how to eradicate an inequality that is both historic and persistent? To those at the event the answer seemed to become clearer as experiences were shared among the audience and the panel. Many panel speakers discussed the necessity of having role models, with young and ambitious students, academics and professionals all attesting to the benefits of inspirational figures in the guise of mentors, line managers and colleagues.

As Birkbeck’s Professor of Entrepreneurship Helen Lawton Smith stated, “we need to understand that we’re all in this together and it is up to each of us create the support necessary for women to succeed in academia and professional roles”.

TRIGGER image

The TRIGGER event on 28 June 2016

Fostering organisational change

Birkbeck’s four year TRIGGER initiative was set up in January 2014 as an applied research project aiming to foster organisational change through promoting the role of women in research and academia. It complements several other initiatives introduced by Birkbeck to reduce gender inequality in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Mathematics) subjects and managerial roles, such as ASTREA (Networking for women in professional and support roles), AURORA (Developing leadership skills for women) and Athena SWAN.

It is through such exchanges that commitments are made, not only to fighting disparity among gender pay and seniority, but also to fully comprehend the myriad dimensions of the struggle at hand. Indeed, until the persisting mechanisms of gender inequality are fully understood, they are doomed to perpetuate themselves. Discussions at the event ranged from the issue of age and its gendered role in the life of academics and professionals (see Fields Medal), to the challenges of younger women eager to assert themselves in male dominated professions.

The event itself embodied this sense of solidarity and commitment to gender equality, with networks forming around shared aspirations, experiences and struggles. If indeed institutions are to instigate a culture equipped to overcome inequality, it will be through a sharing of information, a proliferation of networks and through the support of key decision makers.

You can see a video taken of the event online, for those wishing to read more you can catch a summary of the panel responses posted to LinkedIn. You can read more about TriggeR  and upcoming events on their website. Students interested in mentoring programmes run by the college can check out Mentoring Pathways.

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Advice for aspiring professors and managers

This post was contributed  by Bryony Merritt from Birkbeck’s Department of External Relations.

For those looking to take the next step in their careers, learning about the experiences of those already in the roles we aspire to can be both encouraging and enlightening.

TRIGGER‘s latest event enabled staff from across Birkbeck and other Bloomsbury colleges to hear first-hand from four women (Sarah Winmill, Director of IT for Professional Services, UCL; Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics, Birbkeck; Simona Immarino, Professor of Economic Geography and Head of Department, LSE; Eleanor Mongey, Head of Student Servcies, Birkbeck) who have achieved professional succes as academics, professional services staff and academic managers.

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Assistant Dean for Equalities in Birkbeck’s School of Science, chaired the panel and began by asking the four women about their idea of what success looks like, mentors they’d had, and what advice they would give to their younger selves.

Being true to their values, bringing the best out of people and being seen as a role model were all cited as markers of success for the panel. Eleanor Mongey reflected that earlier in her career path she had measured success by promotions or securing a permanent contract, but feels now that her focus at that time was too narrow and she failed to recognise other types of achievement.

All of the women could identify individuals who had contributed to their professional journeys, whether as supportive managers or through mentoring. Professor Hart (who was one of only five female mathematics professors under 40 in the UK when she was made a professor two years ago) said that nearly all her promotions had come as a result of a manager suggesting she apply for the post. Now, as managers, the panelists recognised that they have a responsibility to identify talent within their teams and to encourage and reward it.

Failure was also a theme in the discussion, but in a surprisingly positive way. Learning to accept failure was seen as important, as was creating an environment where is is safe to fail, so that staff feel empowered to be creative and push their own boundaries.

An audience member asked the panel to identify one policy that would have helped them earlier in their careers. Professor Immarino was emphatic: we need culture change. The other panelists’ examples certainly fitted in with with this assertion. Sarah Winmill said that it is beholden on all of us to work our hours and only our hours, and not to put meetings in the first/last hour of the day so that those with caring responsibilities can attend. Professor Immarino said that academic promotions should rely less on metrics as women are substantially penalised on citations and impact metrics. Professor Hart said that workload modelling was an important tool to demonstrate where women are spending their time and ensure that they had time for research and weren’t carrying a disproportionate percentage of teaching and administrative work. The fact that the need for culture change extends beyond the workplace was also clear, with discussions on the fact that women often carry a significant ‘mental burden‘ related to domestic duties.

The event was encouraging in that these women have been able to achieve success despite the barriers that they identified and because it is clear that there is a body of women at senior levels within universities who are acting as role models and providing practical and moral support for the women who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

Further information

  • TRIGGER
  • Birkbeck Astrea – network for women in professional services roles
  • Athena SWAN at Birkbeck
  • WHEN – speeding up equality in the workplaceProfessor Sarah Hart was recently filmed speaking about her career path and why she chose a career in STEM
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