University of the Highlands and Islands celebrates International Women’s Day

Staff members from around the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership and the wider UK further and higher education sector came together online to mark International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March.

This is the fifth year that staff from the university have organised a special free event to celebrate International Women’s Day and support gender balance and equality in education and research. In a full day of speakers, workshops and Pecha Kucha presentations, attendees explored the many ways in which women’s equality in education and research are being approached or promoted, through this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias.  

The programme featured a diverse range of staff and guest speakers, with the opening talk given by Dr Jen Vanderhoven, Vice-Principal Engagement at the university. Dr Vanderhoven commented:  

“It was fantastic to be able to open such an inspiring event, with a wonderful group of colleagues in attendance, talking about the importance of breaking the bias. The science behind how brains are shaped to gender bias over our lifetimes is fascinating, and it was great to share this on the day. There is still a long way to go to break the gender bias, but by coming together as a united force, at events such as this one, we can make an impact.” 

Keynote speaker Dr Suzan Koseoglu, an academic developer at Goldsmiths, University of London, presented on the topic of ‘Feminist critical digital pedagogy: why our personal stories matter’.  Dr Koseoglu used her own stories and some of the stories from the Open ‘Feminist Critical Digital Pedagogy’ book that she co-edited with Dr George Veletsianos, a professor at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada, as a lens to discuss a number of themes in relation to #BreakTheBias.   

These included: the importance of male allyship; that digital approaches to education have widened access but have not necessarily considered gender inequality as a structural and societal problem; that inequality is intersectional, and knowledge and education should consider the whole person and that person’s lived experiences, and this should drive the pedagogy, not the technology or checkboxes;  that institutional technologies used in learning and teaching don’t always offer freedom and agency. 

Dr Karen E. McAulay spoke about the representation of music by women composers, and scholarly literature in the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland library. Dr Mary Kitchener from Oxford Brookes University discussed her ‘Handbook for Creating a Gender-sensitive Curriculum’, a new publication which has examples to ensure our teaching environments are free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination; are diverse, equitable and inclusive; and are where difference is valued and celebrated. 

Pecha Kucha presentations covered many topics, including the delivery of English and maths to further education students during Covid-19 and approaches to programme provision to promote more equitable, accessible and inclusive university experiences for mature women students. Other subjects included a focus on a pilot Corporate Partner Mentor Pilot Program for students at the Alliance Manchester Business School, and a talk on challenging homophily and male bias in academic research and publishing. 

Workshops were also held throughout the day on topics including diversity and digital leadership, the Advance HE’s Aurora Leadership Development Programme, developmental mentoring and coaching approaches to address ‘imposter syndrome’, and a discussion of moments when participants noticed exclusion or inclusion in an academic space. 

Final speaker of the day was Rebekka Findlay, a lecturer in sport and fitness at Perth College UHI, who referred to her research on the experiences of elite female rugby players to discuss the effect of the menstrual cycle and menstruation on female sporting performance.   

Alex Walker from the university’s Learning and Teaching Academy organised the event. She said: “This is our fifth university-wide International Women’s Day event. Each year we theme our programme around the international theme, this year being #BreakTheBias. Last year, due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, we moved the event fully online and welcomed colleagues from across the sector to attend.  This year for the first time we also opened the programme to colleagues in the wider sector to present at the event, leading to a rich programme through which #BreakTheBias was explored.   

“As with previous years, we believe it is important to continue the conversation beyond 8 March, with the theme for International Women’s Day being for the year and not just to mark one day.  Last year we published a free to download book ‘Gender equality and representation within and beyond the University of the Highlands and Islands’,  with the presenters from the 2021 event authoring a chapter each.

"This year we are working with the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (JPAAP) on a special issue titled ‘Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice’, to be published this autumn.  The special issue will include papers by the presenters of this year’s programme and contributions from across the sector, through an open call for proposals.” 

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