Tag Archives: Trigger

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”.


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

  • 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

TRIGGER Mid-Term Workshop

Transforming Research Institutions, Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality: a Half-Way Reflection

This post was contributed by Mark Panton, Jeanne le Roux and Helen Lawton Smith of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management.

Trigger logoThe TRIGGER consortium mid-term workshop was held at Birkbeck on 14 April 2016 with participants from across Europe and the USA attending the event. Trigger is a five country FP7-funded European project (2014-17). It aims to promote systemic interventions designed to have deep, long lasting and widespread impacts at all the different levels in 5 research organisations. The project, coordinated and co-funded by the Italian Government, assisted by an institute specialised in gender and science, involves as co-funders five universities from different EU countries (Czech Republic, France, Italy, UK, Spain). In Birkbeck, the project involves the School of Science and the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

The workshop was designed to present an occasion for common reflection and dialogue on the factors affecting the implementation of institutional change action plans for gender equality in science.

Opening speeches

Welcoming speeches were given on behalf of Michele Palma, Department of Equal Opportunities, Presidency of Council of Ministers of Italy, TRIGGER project coordinator and by Giovanna Declich, ASDO, technical assistance to and accompanying research on the TRIGGER Action Plans, and Stephen Frosh, a Pro-Vice Master of Birkbeck and Chair of the Birkbeck TRIGGER Board.

Listen to the speech by Stephen Frosh:


Professor Frosh made a number of key points that were reflected in the later discussion groups. He praised the excellent work being done by TRIGGER and gave the rallying call: “If you are meeting resistance then you are doing something right”.

Giovanna Declich, acknowledged the complexity of issues that were being addressed. She discussed some of the obstacles, enablers of change together with a range of emerging issues that include new rules to support work-life balance.

The TRIGGER experience at mid-term

The first morning session, chaired by Professor Rosemary Deem, Vice Principal (Education) & Dean of the Doctoral School at Royal Holloway was devoted to a reflection by each of the TRIGGER teams on their experiences at the mid-term point. The discussion was moderated by Alice Hogan, Independent Higher Education Consultant and inaugural Director of the ADVANCE Program of the National Science Foundation, USA. She highlighted the challenging nature of the work to achieve change, which is often not recognised and stressed that to do so takes exemplary and courageous university leadership. It is important to understand why institutions don’t change, sometimes because they don’t think there is any need to, so it is important to take this into account and not to get discouraged.

Helen Lawton Smith discussed the TRIGGER experience at Birkbeck, where sometimes pre-existing schemes can cause conflicts. One of the positives to emerge is the TRIGGER external board that allows engagement with other academic institutions and, most importantly, engagement with external business groups. In order to institutionalise actions developed within TRIGGER developments, a PhD module will be developed within the college for gendered research and gender and career develop programme both of which will be sustained after the end of the TRIGGER project.

Katerina Grecova of the University of Chemistry and Technology said that in Prague individual agreements such as those relating to home-working and applying for maternity leave during research projects have been institutionalised through a collective agreement. A competition has been established in memory of first female professor in Czechoslovakia and this has been very successful. Also a book of interviews with female researchers in Czechia has been published, which provides role models and can serve as a motivational tool.

Ines Sanchez De Madariaga and Ines Novella from the Technical University of Madrid provided an insight into gaining the attention of leaders. Prior to TRIGGER data was available on gender issues, but it was not internationally comparable and produced in an unsystematic and poorly designed way. Producing an in-depth 100-page report that was well designed and graphically set out the data provided the turning point in a meeting. The Rector of the university had read the whole report, making comments on each of the graphs and then formed an action plan. Previously, the legislation existed, but nothing had been done about it. The university has also worked with the United Nations to set up the UNESCO Chair of Gender, Technology and Sustainability.

Sophie L Henry and Rachida Lemmaghti from the University of Paris Diderot, France set out how their university has long tradition of gender equality work, being one of the first to institutionalise gender research. In the 1970s the university provided very strong support for research in this area and in 1985 got assistant professor on gender. In 2010 the university created a department devoted to gender equality. With TRIGGER, Sophie and Rachida learned to negotiate with teachers on gender, since it was important to support what was already there. Training is now in place for all first year university students. In Italy, Rita Biancheri and Silvia Cervia from the University of Pisa said that thanks to previous experience women’s salaries, careers and work-life balance have been promoted.

Negotiating institutional change

The second session, moderated by Jeanne Le Roux, founder of JLR People Solutions was on Negotiating institutional change with leadership in research institutions: setting the scene

Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Assistant Dean for Gender Equalities in the School of Science, Birkbeck discussed some of the issues in attempting to gain Athena SWAN accreditation at Birkbeck. In the course of three months, Belinda has put in place of actions designed to improve the environment for gender equality in the college. There have been a number of small, but incremental gains. These include a series of talks with senior people coming in to discuss their approaches to gender and diversity and made a number of changes such as some of the language like ending the use of “non-academic staff”.   It is now clear where the holes were in the previous application.

Henry Etzkowitz, visiting Birkbeck Professor, from Stanford University put forward his view that gender equality in science was possible through self-organised work, protest, and legal action. Professor Etzkowitz went on to give a number of examples of how this has worked, such as gender-based conferences at Berkeley, the Ellen Pao legal case in the USA, and protests in Europe.   Henry also challenged Birkbeck to take the initiative to build the Rosalind Franklin Institute for Gender and Science.

The teams were then invited to discuss what has worked in the TRIGGER project in their institutions and what did not.

The Top 5 issues for the TRIGGER project at mid term:

  • Awareness: people in the universities are not always aware of the project
  • Priority: not being on the top leadership agenda
  • Structure of leadership: change or very wide leadership structure
  • Resistance: people are resistant to the gender issues
  • Sustainability: lacks of resource to make actions sustainable

To deal with university leadership the main messages are:

  • Use the targeted audience’s language
  • Ensure the team is recognised and has the adequate sponsor
  • Use data to make the case

The afternoon followed on from the morning and was devoted an interactive group session on how to find solutions to some of the problems of negotiating institutional change with leadership in research institutions. Groups were asked to brainstorm on the solutions for one specific key issue so that could produce quick wins and initiate actions that could be part of a longer-term action plan.


The solutions were to:

  • Create a network of champions whose purpose is to raise the project awareness and enable the project to be on the priority list.
  • Use open language, not a confrontational style.
  • Link project to the institution strategy, core mission and agenda.
  • Involve the administration e.g. HR, External relations… to overcome resistance and make the project sustainable
  • Use data to showcase the project and impact of it.


Progress has been made but in every university, there is much more to do. Negotiating change is about addressing pre-existing power relations and finding ways around them to provide better solutions to gender inequality.

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List of speakers and discussion Chairs

  • Stephen Frosh, Pro-Vice Master, Birkbeck, University of London, Chair of TRIGGER Board, UK.
  • Michele Palma, Director General of the Department for Equal Opportunities – Presidency of the Council of Ministers, TRIGGER Project coordinator, Italy.
  • Chair: Rosemary Deem, Vice Principal (Education) & Dean of the Doctoral School, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.
  • Giovanna Delich, ASDO, responsible for technical assistance to and accompanying research on the TRIGGER Action Plans, Italy.
  • Alison Hogan, Independent Higher Education Consultant, Inaugural Director of the ADVANCE Program of the National Science Foundation, USA.
  • Helen Lawton Smith, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK.
  • Katerina Grecova, University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Ines Sanchez De Madariaga and Ines Novella, Technical University of Madrid, Spain.
  • Sophie L Henry and Rachida Lemmaghti, University of Paris Diderot, France.
  • Rita Biancheri and Silvia Cervia, University of Pisa, Italy.
  • Jeanne Le Roux, Founder, JLR people coaching to JLR people solutions, London, UK
  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Athena SWAN, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK.
  • Henry Etzkowitz, visiting Professor, Birkbeck, University of London, Quandam Faculty Fellow, Clayman Institute of Gender Research, Stanford University, USA