Thursday, 6 December 2012

Women-only Spaces

Today I went to my first Women's Forum meeting at the University I work at.  Until Tuesday I hadn't even known there was a Women's Forum but by the power of an Internal Communications e-mail here I was.  I arrived quite nervous not knowing what to expect or even how many people would be there.  Well there were about a dozen women of different ages and different professions, some Academic, others Support/Technical Staff.  We even got lunch (which if you know me is a winner all the way!)

The main topic of conversation was an initiative called Athena Swann designed to help redress the inequality of women in science and technology academia.  I had recently read about a study in science that showed up the gender bias as early on as the application process.  I work in technology too so this was immediately of interest and although it was aimed at academic staff the actions put in place would have some reverberation over the whole University.

I plucked up the courage to inarticulately ask a question.  Whilst stumbling over my point, instead of someone talking over me to say it in a better way (and therefore steal the question and answer as his own) there were supportive noises and words coming from the table to help me finish what I wanted to say.  I have been at the University 12 years and that is the first time this has happened to me in any meeting.  It was reassuring, without being patronising and it was great!  I then noticed that throughout the meeting everyone had let everyone else speak.  There had been no talking over each other, no rewording of anyone's points, no ignoring or silencing.  These women were articulate, professional and knowledgeable and most of all they were respected in the room.

Now that could have partly been because these women are focussed on women's issues and are well aware of the studies that show how much men take over group situations and talk over women and be sensitive to letting other women be heard.  It could also be that they are respectful because they don't know each other that well (although I didn't get that impression.  I think a few of them had worked together a lot). But nevertheless it was a breath of fresh air and I will be attending the forum some more.

So while I was feeling the sisterly love and on a bit of a high we started talking about Reverse Mentoring as a tool within Equality and Diversity.  The idea being that LGBT, women, ethnic minorities would mentor those staff less versed in issues these groups of people face.  I do have an issue with the terminology (in the description in the link too) but I thought it was a great idea and again, apart from terminology so did the women in the room.  My thoughts moved on to ways we could apply this in my department both within the Equality and Diversity remit and perhaps with a student/staff mentor scheme.  And there are plenty of opportunities to apply it.  I then thought about how I could engage the men I work with (as I work almost exclusively with men).

And I crashed down off that high and just felt like putting my head in my hands.

And now I just want to go back into that meeting room with those lovely women and remember how discussions could happen and how ideas could take shape and be implemented.

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