Cygna history

Evolving page documenting CYGNA's past, present, and future

CYGNA's past
Origin & early years
Growth in size & scope
The COVID years
The next stage
CYGNA's present
New lead team
New coordination team
New activities
Same spirit
CYGNA's future
2023-2024 schedule
10-year anniversary
Working parties
Your ideas

CYGNA's past: from SME to multinational?

This is how one of CYGNA's founders and member of the first Lead Team Ling Eleanor Zhang summarised our development. As the summary below will show, I think she is absolutely right. In my write-up on CYGNA's history, I cover CYGNA's origins, its early years (2014-2017), its growth in size and scope (2017-2020), the COVID years (2020-2022), and its next stage (2022-now).

CYGNA's origin and the early years

CYGNA started out small. It was founded as the HROB network in June 2014 by Argyro AvgoustakiLing Eleanor Zhang, and Anne-Wil Harzing, later joined by Shasha Zhao. In the first three years we met up 5 or 6 times a year with up to a dozen women at different London based universities. The group varied in composition, but beyond the CYGNA organising team a core group of 5 or 6 women attended very regularly. 

Meetings were held mainly at ESCP and Middlesex University, who both generously sponsored catering. However, we also had regular meetings at other universities. LSE was a particular favourite with lovely photo opportunities (see slide above). Meeting presenters included both local CYGNA members and international visitors, such as Sachiko Yamao and Helen Hu, my former colleagues at the University of Melbourne.

Our 3-hour meetings were a mix of research presentations, career/skill development topics and time for networking. After the meeting, we usually went for a dinner in a local restaurant. With increasing membership, our disciplinary scope expanded beyond HRM and Organizational Behaviour. Hence, we reduced research presentations and focused on topics that would appeal to a more varied audience. 

In the early years, I didn't yet write up blogposts for each meeting, but here are some links to slide-decks and blogposts that were included in our early meeting topics. 

Name changed to CYGNA

We also decided to change our name. Our new name and logo were chosen through a collaborative process involving all members (see survey results on the above slide), with CYGNA coming out on top. The name CYGNA is a female version of the Greek name for SWAN (= Supporting Women in Academia Network). The connotations and imagery elicited by the word swan were also seen as clear positives:

  • the traditional symbol of beauty and grace in ancient Greece, which, combined with the Greek name, provides us with strong academic roots
  • serene and calm on the outside, but madly paddling under the water, just like most academics these days
  • peaceful, faithful, and almost entirely herbivorous, but assertive when defending things that matter, such as gender equality and our research
  • at home in diverse environments (water, earth, air), reflecting the national and cultural diversity of our network, which counts more than 35 nationalities

CYGNA's growth in size & scope (2017-2020)

After the first couple of years, the network grew rapidly. From September 2017 onwards we had an average of 15-25 women attending our bi-monthly sessions. We also expanded our scope by organising panels and meet-ups at conferences, a very well-attended event organised by CYGNA North in Leeds, as well as a full-day writing bootcamp at Middlesex University to celebrate our 5-year anniversary.

During these three years, we organised meetings on a very wide range of topics that can be roughly classified in three areas: career, skills and coping. Below, I have linked to my blogposts on these meetings. In these posts, you can find all the presentation slides [where available], lots of pictures, as well as many additional resources. They are highly recommended as a one-stop-shop if you are interested in the topics in question.

CYGNA's COVID years (2020-2022)

And then of course COVID-19 hit! So we reluctantly decided to cancel our March 2020 meeting last minute. The UK was about to enter lock-down and we were concerned participants would not be willing to join a face-to-face meeting. But after recovering from the initial shock of being home-bound, we quickly decided to start offering CYGNA meetings online.

The first two - in May and June 2020 - were on topics at the top our minds in those frantic early months of the pandemic: Work-life balance and Dealing with Stress. In the first full pandemic academic year we also increased meeting frequency. We organised monthly online meetings to support our CYGNA members. CYGNA also featured in this 2020 AoM symposium: We need a different kind of superhero: improving gender diversity in academia.

Here is a list of topics that we covered during these years, all linked to blogposts with presentation slides and a host of additional resources.

In all we organised sixteen meetings online before getting back face-to-face for the first time again in May 2022 for a session on Positionality, team roles, and academic activism. The online meetings allowed our international members to attend, leading our meeting attendance to soar to an average of 30-50 participants per meeting.

In this stage, we also grew the network from around 100, mainly UK-based, members to an international community of 350+ members with a dedicated mailing list, an extensive web presence, and a LinkedIn group. CYGNA became an integral part of the academic life of many female scholars. But exhaustion was setting in for the Lead Team and a big question was arising… how can we sustain CYGNA as a volunteer organisation?

CYGNA's next stage (2022-now)

In our ninth year of CYGNA we continued to organise bi-monthly meetings. Although the majority of our meetings remained online, we had two face-to-face meetings, one organised by CYGNA North in Manchester (see middle picture above), dealing with the changing nature of academia, and one at ESCP, one of our regular haunts, on Thriving in Research & Coping with Uncertainties (see bottom picture above).

We also organised meetings on Gender & MigrationManaging individual research performance and Kind and inclusive networking. Our regular Christmas meeting doubled up as meeting #50: CYGNA @50 and Christmas celebration 2022. For this meeting Ciara created a Padlet, leading to a beautiful word-cloud of “What CYGNA means to you” (see top picture above).

However, the question of sustainability kept raising its head. In the 9 years since CYGNA started Argyro, Ling, and Shasha - forming the first Lead team with me - had to juggle CYGNA responsibilities with increasingly busy academic lives. Together, we had either organised or facilitated the organisation of no less than 53 meetings. When we started the CYGNA network, they were all junior academics just out of their PhDs, now they are Associate or full Professors with many other duties, both in their own institutions and in the wider academic world. 

Hence, we felt it was time for other CYGNA members to take over some of the heavy lifting of leading the network. Argyro, Ling, and Shasha will remain very involved in the network, but in a consulting role. They are now our first consulting board members, who will act as a store of experience and wisdom for our new CYGNA organising team.

As a token of appreciation, we presented each of them a Certificate of Appreciation designed by Christa (see above). Obviously the certificates were signed, but I forgot to take a picture after I signed them :-). A video of the meeting in which I presented them with their certificates is linked below.

CYGNA's present: new team & activities, same spirit

To prepare CYGNA for its next decade and expand our women power, we reached out and expanded the CYGNA team to:

  • acknowledge those who had already been contributing heavily over the years through organising and/or presenting at meetings and who would like to continue this.
  • give a chance to those who volunteered to be a bigger part of our story by contributing to the network.

This will:

  • provide us with more women power to expand the CYGNA network, both in terms of regions and in terms of activities; we already have dozens of ideas!
  • allow us share the heavy load of organising the big 2.5 day 10-year anniversary event in June 2024.

New lead team

As a result, we now have a new lead team composed of (left to right in the above picture) Clarice, Ciara, Christa, and Anne-Wil. The three new members have been very involved in the network in the past year. They also see their work with CYGNA as a core part of their own career development, allowing the kind of synergies to arise that are so important in sustaining this type of volunteering work. 

Christa and Clarice are very involved in EDI activities at their home universities and Ciara is keen to make her mark in developing the concept of inclusive networking. Although all three have considerable experience of working in industry, they are at the start of their academic careers and keen to be part of the future of CYGNA.

Ciara and Clarice will provide frontline leadership, coordinating and liaising with the wider CYGNA team and providing coherence for CYGNA activities. They will also lead on improving membership engagement. Anne-Wil and Christa will ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the network by taking care of the membership, JICS list,website, events calendar, social media, design, and data crunching. 

New coordination team

In addition to a new Lead Team, we also have three new coordinating teams focusing on different geographical areas. Our established CYGNA North team - Annie, Axèle, and Martyna - ensures that geographical distance from London doesn't prevent our members from attending a face-to-face CYGNA meeting. They have been organising a very successful full-day CYGNA North event for several years now.

We also have two new teams. Right from the early years of our network we have had a substantial membership in the Asia-Pacific area. Shea, Heejin, and Ting will be taking the lead in helping us address the needs of this region. As they all originate from one country in the Asia Pacific, but work another, they have a wealth of experience we can draw on. 

Last, but by no means least, Tatiana, Satkeen, Sylwia, and Joanna are providing crucial additional womanpower in the UK/Europe. In addition to contributing to the organisation of our 10-year anniversary, they will take the lead in a new mentoring and coaching initiative, as well as in increasing diversity of the network.

As you can see on the above slide, most of our new team members have created short 1.5 minute videos to introduce themselves and tell us why they are passionate about CYGNA. Of course everyone hates seeing and hearing themselves on video. Our CYGNA team are no exception! But I think you will agree that they all did a stellar job. You can find all the videos on this page: Cygna videos: expanding the team, but also on this YouTube playlist.

New activities

In the past 9 years, we have mainly been a meeting-oriented network. This has worked well, and we will definitely continue to organise bi-monthly meetings. However, with the increase of external webinars and workshops we need to ensure that we are more than that if CYGNA is to survive and thrive.

Hence, we would like to strengthen the out-of-meeting connections between network members. New members will always be welcome, but rather than focusing on the growth in membership, we want to ensure that the network grows in terms of internal strength and connections. 

We will therefore organise regular face-to-face meetings in addition to our online meetings. However, as many swans are unable to attend the face-to-face meetings, we will also increase our efforts to strengthen connections outside the meetings. 

Same spirit

At our 50th meeting we asked members to share a few words about what CYGNA meant to them on a Padlet. The word-cloud on the above slide is a perfect summary of what CYGNA aims to be: a friendly, kind, inclusive, and supportive community, providing a safe space/place to exchange ideas, share experiences, provide advice, inspire, and learn. We think that's pretty amazing :-). This succinct, but wonderfully evocative, comment by the equally wonderful Luisa Pinto says it all.

Belonging, learning, camaraderie, friendship and sharing. My academic family: I'm an only child who suddenly has a community of sisters. Thanks!

However, CYGNA is what we make of it, individually and collectively. Each and every one of us in CYGNA can make a difference for the network as a whole. We do not all have to organise meetings or present at them. Everyone can contribute by participating actively in meetings, sharing useful materials on the mailing list, and reaching out to other swans for collaboration.

Ciara came up with a brilliant aphorism. [In academia and society], we tend to focus on small problems and only celebrate the big successes. What if we reversed this? What would happen if instead we focused on the small successes that each and every one of us can contribute to. Maybe then collectively we can address the big problems?

CYGNA's future: co-creating an exciting future

As we said above, CYGNA's future will be co-created. CYGNA can only ever be what we make of it, both individually and collectively. So please: do feel free to come up with suggestions for meetings or any other activities that CYGNA might engage in.

Of course we love it when you then volunteer to take the lead on those suggestions. Even though we now have an expanded team, this is still a volunteering activity that each of the organising team is taking on on top of our busy day jobs. We all have limited time and energy. But even if you can't take the lead, we would love to hear your ideas.

You can contact the CYGNA organisation team member that you think will be most appropriate for your idea or initiative or simply contact the member that you know best. For an overview of the team, see Cygna videos: a repository of introduction videos of our CYGNA organising team. 

2023-2024 schedule

Quite a few things are already in the planning for the upcoming year. First of all we have an exciting provisional schedule for 2023-2024 meetings (see below). You can always find the most up-to-date organising teams and meeting information at the CYGNA Meetings page. We will also continue to organise regular new members' meetings. 

10-year anniversary

Likewise, we have a provisional plan for our 10-year anniversary, which will hopefully take you on a transformative professional journey in the beautiful surroundings of Windsor Park. 

Working parties

The meeting calendar and 10-year anniversary will probably keep our new team very busy in the first year. However, we have definite plans for activities outside the meetings too. Feel free to get in touch with any of the team members if you are interested in joining in on one of these initatives.

Your ideas

During the CYGNA: Past, present, and future meeting in October 2023, we canvassed additional ideas for the future of network in break-out rooms. Below are some pictures of the break-out rooms in action. Some of the ideas and reflections they came up with were:

If we can come up with that many ideas in 20-30 minutes, it is clear that the CYGNA network has a great future ahead of it!


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