WAIB Panel: Academic career strategies for women in the UK

Fiona Moore, one of our loyal CYGNA members, organized a panel on acacemic career strategies for women at the Birmingham AIB-UKI conference on behalf of WAIB: Women in the Academy of International Business. Although similar panels have occurred at the "World" AIB conference, as far as we know this was the first time a panel like this featured at the AIB-UKI conference.

Expertly chaired by Fiona, the panel started with brief introductions in which we all told a potted history of our career trajectory. It turned out that none of us had had a particularly smooth career. In the main part of the panel, we each presented on a particular aspect of academic career strategies. Summaries and slides can be found below...

Introduction and overview

Fiona Moore's introductory presentation [click for download] set the scene by outlining the key issues:

  • How did we get where we are?
  • What did we do or not do on the way there?
  • What has changed?
  • What needs to change?
  • Hopes and fears for the future of women studying international business?

Networking for Academic Success

Axèle Giroud's presentation [click for download] was based on a small part of the highly successful presentation she gave at Middlesex University in 2016: Rocket Science? Networking and External Engagement for Academic Success. For a complete version of that presentation, please refer back to that blogpost. In this presentation, Axèle talked about why it is important to network (see slide below) and why it isn't always easy to do (unwanted outcomes, finding a balance, forced/fake networking, and high maintenance costs).

Making the Most of Mentoring

Emmanuela Plakoyiannaki gave us a very interesting presentation about mentoring [click for download], covering the importance of mentoring, characteristics of a good mentor and a productive mentoring relationship (trust, confidentiality, communication and courage) and even detailed suggestions on what to cover in your first meeting. I particularly liked the integrative model (see picture below) drawn from the Qualcomm mentorship program (see here for the full report) on the different aspects of mentoring. Although I had been intuitively covering these aspects in my own mentoring meetings, I found it extremely helpful to have them outlined so clearly.

Time, confidence, resilience and assertiveness

Agnieszka Chidlow and myself didn't have Powerpoint presentations, so our contributions are briefly summarized below. Agnieszka's presentation was structured around five points that all resonated very much with me:

  1. Academia is not a race so things will come in time...

  2. Be confident  and learn to overcome any low expectations as to what women can achieve and contribute to in the organisation

  3. Do not give up when there is a stumble block

  4. Learn the importance of being  resilient  

  5. Speak-up and be a valuable contributor

AIB - Ask, Invest and Believe

As the last contributor I tried to keep my comments a bit more general and structured my comments under the AIB acronym: Ask for advice, Invest in your career, and Believe in yourself.

"A" stands for Ask for Advice

  1. Participate in networks such as WAIB: Women in the Academy of International Business or the London-based CYGNA network. The latter has been running for four years now. We have 4-5 meetings a year, always announced ahead of time and have many academics from other parts of the country and even other countries participating too. The AIB-UKI WAIB panel members all work in Central and Northern England and are planning to set up their own CYGNA branches, so watch this space!
  2. Don’t hesitate to write to senior female academics, but please be courteous and considerate: you are asking them a favour! If you do get help or advice, please remember to send them a thank-you email, however brief. Over the course of my career I must have written hundreds of emails in response to unsollicited requests for help that weren’t even acknowledged by the recipient. Yes I know this sounds incredible, but it still happens to me every week.
  3. If you are uncertain whether some task that you are asked to do can really be expected of you ask around with your colleagues (and read Would you ask a male academic the same question?). Women often just take on extra work without speaking up. Senior managers sense this intuitively. They don’t typically overload you consciously, but in my experience women often end up with more work than men simply because they don’t complain, don’t say no, and often do the job very conscientiously. A lot of their work tends to be in the "Wives of the Organization" category, i.e. essential, but not highly visible.
  4. You can find plenty of advice online in blogs and fora. Have a look at The Professor Is In, The Thesis Whisperer and The Research Whisperer. My own blog now has well over 100 postings in categories such as Academia Behind the Scenes, Academic Etiquette, Positive Academia, and Publish or Perish tips.

"I" stands for take an Investment perspective to your career

  1. Over the course of your career, continue to invest in acquiring new skills, accumulating experience and building up strong relationships. See new tasks as an opportunity to learn, not as a chore. In academia, more than ever we need to keep developing ourselves. We need to plan for Intelligent Careers and it keep our options open.
  2. Take a long-term investment perspective, not everything “pays off” instantly and some things never do. You need to have a balanced portfolio, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Remember that an academic career might span five decades. Don’t get angry and frustrated if you don’t make it to Full Professor in 10 years. If you are successful in your academic career you will probably be an Associate or a Full Professor for the bulk of your career anyway. Enjoy the journey and don’t burn out or lose your motivation before you get there. And once you do get there, reach out and help others. Which brings me to the next point...
  3. Do things for others without necessarily expecting a "return". You might be surprised at how these things sometimes even help your own career. My website, which I have been running for nearly 20 years now, the Journal Quality List, Publish or Perish, my blog on all things Academia; I never did any of these things expecting to gain something from it for my own career. Yet, even though these initiatives take up a large chunk of my time that I could have spent writing papers or applying for funding, they have given me great name recognition and do get my academic work read more than it otherwise would have been.

"B" stands for Be true to yourself or Believe in yourself

  1. By all means be strategic, you need to be strategic to get ahead. This nearly always means striking a compromise: sometimes you have to give in a little to get what you want ultimately. But make sure you don’t compromise yourself and what you stand for.
  2. Understand that everyone has their own career and personal struggles. When you are young and struggling to get an academic foothold, it is only natural to be a little envious when looking at more senior academics in comfortable positions. But remember: you don’t know what they went through, every academic has their own story of struggle! Like many of you, I also started out with fixed term and casual positions and have had several major setbacks in my professional life, including having been rejected for internal promotion to both Associate Professor and Full Professor. What matters is not what obstacles you encounter, but how resilient you are. As Agnieszka said in her summing up: "Plough on..."
  3. Put yourself in your own shoes in 10 years time. What would you like to have achieved and what do you need to do right now to get there? But also, would you like what you will become in 10 years if you do continue to work the way you do now? If you don’t, maybe you should reassess your priorities?

Discussion and wrap-up

We had a highly engaged discussion with the audience after these presentations. In the summing up round, Agnieszka pointed out that the recent coverage of the gender pay gap in Higher Education in the United Kingdom is a sobering reminder to us all of how much work still needs to be undertaken in order to level the playing field for women academics.

While the statistics are very alarming and significant work needs to be certainly undertaken, the good news is that despite the complexity of the issue a gender equality is now on the active institutional and political agenda. This is a positive step to recognise the challenges  all women face when balancing personal and professional lives in an environment that is full of opinions and imbalances.

In this context it is also useful to note that in the 2018 round of Elections to AIB Fellowships, three out the seven new Fellows were women. It is good to see that after the JIBS editorial board [see Gender and geographical diversity in the JIBS editorial board: an update] even the group of AIB Fellows is getting more and more diverse.

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