Women’s Higher Education Network runs IWD symposium to share women's experiences
Women’s Higher Education Network (WHEN) is a UK-based national network for women working in the higher education sector with a goal of speeding up equality.
The group was determined that International Women's Day was not going to be a tick-box exercise, so they sought to organise a meaningful and unique event that shone an important spotlight on women.
WHEN believes in the importance of connecting and uniting women from diverse backgrounds who can share unique experiences, exchange ideas and learn from one another. WHEN knows that together people are stronger, which is why WHEN decided to hold a half-day symposium for women in higher education to mark IWD.
Finding balance in diversity, cultures, work and life
For WHEN, IWD is a day to celebrate successes and progress and a unique opportunity to develop the organisation's own call-to-action to accelerate global gender balance. A brainstorming session with WHEN's diverse team of gender equality champions resulted in three #BalanceforBetter campaign themes that were personal to each team member: Finding balance in diversity; Forging balance in cultures; Striking a healthy work/life balance.
Hearing from female leaders in higher education
At the symposium, WHEN's three #BalanceforBetter themes were addressed by informative talks from female leaders in higher education: Professor Sarah Childs from Birkbeck University, Dr. Olajumoke Okoya from the University of East London, and WHEN's own Operations and Development Manager Madiha Sajid. The speakers focused on a range of discussion points, such as how to make sure everyone's voice is heard, how to achieve gender-balanced leadership, and how to find balance in a diverse workplace while maintaining your identity.
The opportunity to hear different perspectives about finding balance in three completely different, yet equally interesting, areas was inspiring.
Providing a safe space for women sharing experiences
In line with the organisation's core values of respect, inclusion and equality, WHEN provided a safe, informal and non-judgemental space for women to share their experiences of sensitive topics such as sexual harassment and mental health. The event was also accessible to all: it was centrally located, free to attend, and there was no hierarchy of seniority in the room.
WHEN also allocated considerable time for a Q&A session, audience feedback, comments and discussion to encourage women to share their own experiences.
Empowering women to voice ideas on gender equality
WHEN also hosted an activity during the event to empower its audience to voice their ideas where participants were tasked to consider how they will build a more gender balanced world. The room was buzzing with conversation as colleagues discussed important and personal ideas: raising awareness, challenging stereotypes, celebrating achievements, launching initiatives, fundraising for the cause and lobbying for opportunities for women.
The top three pledges were: Follow your dreams and be a role model for others; Celebrate success for myself and for other women; Challenge lack of diversity at all levels.
Taking a #BalanceforBetter selfie
After the activity, it was time for WHEN's favourite part of the day - the #BalanceforBetter selfie! The day ended with a group photograph to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, followed by a networking lunch where participants could continue discussions and build connections.
WHEN's IWD event received encouraging feedback. "It was all excellent. Very motivational event, keep them coming. We could do with more," said one participant, while another added "Having the time to meet other women and share experiences was valuable."
"IWD 2019 was a unique opportunity for us as we celebrated first time as a national network," said Madiha Sajid. "We brought together women from up and down the UK and provided them with a safe space to discuss their opinions."
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