University celebrates inspirational academics on International Women’s Day

Wed 08 March, 2023
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Today (8th March) marks International Women’s Day (IWD) and across the University of Bedfordshire, staff and students are joining in the global annual celebration to recognise the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world.

The theme of 2023’s celebrations is #EmbraceEquity – aiming to get the world talking about why equal opportunities aren't enough and why true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.

The University of Bedfordshire is proud to have many inspirational female role models within its academic community. Click on each name below to find out what International Women’s Day and #EmbraceEquity means to them…

Traditionally, in the Health and Social Sciences and associated caring professions, women outnumber men and much of what we teach and research has stereotypically been seen as female orientated. However, despite this men tend to dominate senior leadership positions in the NHS and Social Work. There is clear disadvantage for women and a glass ceiling in some professions.

In our Faculty of Health & Social Sciences, International Women's Day is particularly significant as it sheds light on issues such as gender-based violence, women's health, and women's access to healthcare – all things we teach and research about. In our Faculty, the majority of our students are women and many have faced challenges and intersectional disadvantage and it is important that we give them the confidence and self-belief to be the best they can be, and to continue to tackle all forms of disadvantage including that experienced by women.

Throughout my career, some amazing women have supported and coached me. When imposter syndrome has struck (which it still does) or I have doubted myself, they have lifted me up and helped me to realise my potential. It is incumbent on me therefore to do the same for others. Embracing equity is about recognising that we all have strengths and that a focus on bringing out the talents of others is a daily responsibility and benefits the organisation and the individual.

If I see blocks or inequalities faced by women I do my utmost to ‘call them out’ and support people to be successful. Advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace can be challenging and you won’t get it right all of the time but it is important to educate yourself. There is still lots to do but IWD sets us a challenge to embrace equity and do all we can to help all to succeed regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, religion, and/or disability.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and reflect on our progress towards a gender equal world. In my Faculty, we discuss the value of education for all, and the importance of positive role models for women in sport. We teach a lot of international students on our English courses and have several transnational education (TNE) partners, so celebrating this as an international day is important to us.

I am fortunate that I have had amazing role models, who have supported me to achieve and be confident in what I can do. I think having someone that you can talk to, to explain how you are feeling and what you are thinking, is incredibly valuable and can help people feel empowered. I am delighted therefore to be an aurora mentor to two colleagues in my Faculty. I actively promote mentoring and coaching as a positive approach.  

In my Faculty and across the University we have Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Leads. Our EDI Leads work with colleagues to promote a more inclusive education environment, for both students and staff. EDI Leads in my Faculty will be running our next Faculty Development Day, ensuring that we all work together to create a more inclusive environment.  

I’ve been working for the University of Bedfordshire since 2009, and I am based in CRELLA – the Centre for Research in English Language Learning & Assessment. I’m Japanese and a mum – I was the first woman who went on maternity leave in my institute.

The significance of gender equality, as celebrated by International Women’s Day, is increasingly gaining prominence in our research community and our research practice. Gender equality is a central aspect of our project, and we are specifically exploring how different gender groups contribute to classroom discourse, especially in online classes.

I strongly believe that being vocal and persistent is crucial, even though it may not come naturally to everyone, including myself. However, I feel that most women, including me, have the strength and power to speak up and protect the rights of their colleagues or students who are mistreated. I believe the power of individuals is greater when we come together and support each other!

International Women’s Day is a gentle reminder of how much still needs to be done to improve the position of women in STEM. These subjects – Engineering in particular – has a very small percentage of females and the absence of female leadership in these subjects is affecting the progress and growth of our country.

There is lot to be done to cultivate mind sets to embrace this completely. My approach relies on three E’s – Encourage, Educate, Empower. In my career, the challenges have and will still be there but female resilience allows us to overcome them. Support from other female fellow colleagues has been a lifeline throughout. Support from my family – mother, father and sisters – has been monumental at all times.

The main concern in male dominated subjects like Engineering is that we are outnumbered and our opinion gets easily drowned. We need more women in leadership positions who will also be role models for younger girls making career choices.

I spent my first ever International Women’s Day in 1983 at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp as I was an active student campaigner. I had the most incredible experience and gained an understanding of what ‘sisterhood’ really meant and how I could be a useful feminist! There has not been a subsequent IWD that I have not celebrated.

Our School of Applied Social Sciences (SASS) students are change makers, committed to challenging inequality and promoting social justice wherever they go. Gender equality is key to our teaching, learning and student experience activities. We must build bridges and work together avoiding a hierarchy of oppression at all costs. The recent increased awareness on violence against girls and women (VAGW) has been central to much of our teaching and research in SASS.

I make sure I have a range of social activities with my female friends arranged around the week of IWD. This normally involves remembering previous IWD’s we have spent together with lots of laughter, and then a reflection on how we still have so much more work to do!

As a team we reflect real world challenges in our teaching and encourage all students to understand their place in the world, their community, and how they can use their agency to make a real difference, challenge inequality and promote social justice. It is an honour to work in such a diverse academic community and from others I am constantly learning new and creative ways to challenge unfairness and inequity.

Based on my experience, I have had a very positive career in this sector and I always try to encourage other women researchers to join us. However, I can understand that some young women are not very confident, especially for women of ethnic minorities – they have to overcome extra barriers. For example, for me, when I started my career I had to overcome both a language barrier and a cultural barrier.

I feel very fortunate to have had a very rewarding career but there are many challenges and one I experienced at the beginning of my career was to overcome the confidence issue. You have to really be confident and I think it takes time but also with a lot of support, you will be more experienced and successful.

I feel very fortunate to be able to make a positive impact to people, society and business through research with our Business & Management Research Institute (BMRI), so my career has been a very rewarding experience.

To me, International Women’s Day means that women are putting their stamp on the world and we are a force to be reckoned with. I think it’s important to show that women are as much of a huge driving force within workplaces, research and academia just as much as anyone else. For me, it’s about educating people – students, co-workers, friends – about treating everyone with equity and providing support where it’s needed.

In the Psychology department, we are very lucky that we are women-powered. We have a lot of women on our teaching team and I think having that female presence, leadership, role models and mentors is really sufficient in giving that gender equality.

My advice to anyone struggling to break into male-dominated fields is to just keep going – put your voice out there and just keep fighting for what you are arguing for.

For me, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and that women from all backgrounds have been succeeding in the field of academia for the past few decades. We know that more women are moving into higher education and getting degrees, however, more needs to be done – for example, making sure all women regardless of their background and social economic status are given the opportunity to pursue academic challenges, such as leadership roles.

There needs to be more engagement and support offered to attract women who want to expand their careers in academia, and – once they are in – there needs to be professional mentorship to support them depending on what their career aspirations are.

Talking about my experience of being a woman in health research, fortunately, I work in an area (Maternal & Child Health) that is close to my heart. In terms of research and teaching, it inspires me every day to make a difference in people’s lives. Hearing students succeed makes me really proud and I take pride that I have made an impact in all my students’ successes.

Sport is one of those arenas that is still male dominated in terms of who holds the power and therefore the assumptions about what an athlete looks like, and what fans are interested in are heavily male-based. This is a fight for women’s recognition that has been going on for as long as there have been sports! From media coverage, to pay equality, to accessing appropriate spaces for physical activity, International Women’s Day is one chance to shout about where inequalities and stereotypes exist – but the fight continues all year round.

In my experience, I think I am really quite privileged, but as a mum I have had to deal with assumptions about my working hours and availability, and assumptions that I would not be interested in certain research opportunities. I try to remind myself that I have some power to choose who to collaborate with and who to avoid! And to build my own connections and collaborations where I can lift up others around me.

Promoting inclusion and social justice is a lifelong journey – I try to educate myself about people different to me and reflect on where I am, assuming my experience is the ‘norm’. This applies to reflecting on how I talk to and support students, the times of day I host meetings, the accessibility of my teaching materials and the language I use to write and explain things. It’s not just about offering opportunities to everyone but also a willingness to learn where I make a mistake, and to recognise how everyone has different needs.

Our University’s Women’s Network is hosting a day-long event this International Women’s Day which will celebrate research by women at Bedfordshire, support women’s professional development and examine inequalities. I am running a session during the event, alongside some of my School of Sport Science & Physical Activity (SSPA) PhD students, which I hope will engage women in talking about what they find meaningful in physical activity – the times they have felt most alive when being active and how they can keep doing more of the physical activity that supports those feelings.


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