International Women’s Day Conference 2015

International Women's Day Conference 2015Having a strong interest in gender equality and diversity issues, Marinella Johnston and Claire Carolan, who both work at the Medical Library, attended this year’s International Women’s Day Conference.

The conference was hosted by the University of Aberdeen, and the conference theme was ‘Inspiring women: challenges and overcoming barriers’.

The speakers included Dame Jocely Bell Burnell; Zainab Hawa Bangura; Danielle Brown, MBE; Dr Ellen Kooijman and Brigadier Jean Dowson.

Here is their account of the conference, which took place on Friday 6th March 2015, just before International Women’s Day.

We are delighted that we were able to attend this conference, full of inspirational resilience speeches. Throughout the conference, we were constantly reminded of how far we have come and how much further there is yet to go in terms of gender equality. It is hard to sum up a conference in the space of a blog post, so we have included here some of the highlights of the speaker’s speeches.

Professor Neva Haites chaired the conference and welcomed the delegates. The Twitter Hashtag for the conference was #iwduoa.

First up was University of Aberdeen Principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, who gave a speech pointing out how much further on we were from 20 years ago, in terms of equality, and reminding us that the University was founded to have an impact, and it was his wish to carry this forward – one good example being the Diversity Training which is now mandatory for all University staff to undertake.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, was the next speaker. She gave us a reflective overview of her career path and tips on how to sell the skills one acquires during a career break. Her main advice was: “the key is to know what you want to do – and be persistent, don’t give up on it. Take risks, surprise yourself! One failure doesn’t make a disaster. Aim as high as you can. Keep your options open.” Her final quote was ‘well behaved women don’t make history’ (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich).

Zainab Hawa Bangura, presented a global view of inequalities. Her wise advice included “Women in politics can change the political discourse of a nation. Given equal economic opportunities, women do just as well or even better than men. We as women must be outraged, and challenge or protest against every instance of male domination. If we all work together, we cannot be ignored. Don’t shut up! Tell young women that if they don’t stand up and fight for themselves, men certainly won’t do it for them. Don’t wait to be invited, tell people you have the expertise and knowledge, and that you are there.”

Danielle Brown, MBE spoke about equality in Sport, and encouraged women to remember that they can create the opportunities to make their choices and goals happen.

Dr. Ellen Kooijman gave a very inspiring talk, during which libraries received a lovely mention in their role to help a young future geoscientist develop an interest in Astronomy. She spoke about her career, which began in 2006 with a MSC in Earth Sciences to the present day, which sees her as a Senior Researcher and the Head of Vegacenter, at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. There she continues to promote women in STEM and has devised the ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’, to engage young female students. She told the audience how her career in geophysics and her love of Lego sets, inspired her to create a set that challenged gender stereotypes. Alatariel’s Atelier, a Female Minifigure set, became available in August 2014 and sold out worldwide. A second production run in December 2014 sold out again and the set is no longer available. As a result Lego has now changed direction and almost always include a female character in their kits (not just the ‘girly ones’).

Brigadier Jean Dowson gave the final speech of the day. She pointed out that we have no choice about being a woman, but it’s all about what we do about it. She had lots of practical advice, adding that Policies and Laws don’t change attitudes, we still had a long way to go in terms of diversity. Her advice was that women should be prepared, be patient, be personable, be purposeful and be determined. She commented that while 57% 1st Degree graduates are women, only 16% of women hold top jobs. She added: ‘when successful, don’t pull up the drawbridge; remove barriers not just for yourself, but for others too’. In answer to a question, she said that, while there is now parity of pay in the Army, Edwardian attitudes still remained. There should be an increased awareness of what women can and can’t do. She concluded with the words of Amelia Earhart: ‘The most effective way to do it, is to do it’.

The day was concluded by a panel discussion and tweets continued beyond the conference.

Authors: Marinella Johnston and Claire Carolan

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