Women in Politics panel, hosted by YUSU Women’s network
IGDC academics take part in YUSU's ‘Women in Politics’ panel in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Women in Politics panel, hosted by YUSU Women’s network
Written by Sophie Meehan*
In celebration of International Women’s Day, the University of York Student Union’s Women’s Network organised a week of events. We ran panel discussions, hosted guest speakers and held socials to celebrate women in York and further afield but also to acknowledge the struggles still facing women. These challenges were something that we highlighted throughout the week, most notably at our ‘Women in Politics’ panel, composed of five academics from the Department of Politics and the IGDC, (Professor Jean Grugel, Dr Susan Forde, Dr Ingrid Kvangraven, Dr Nicole Beardsworth and Dr Sara de Jong). The panel was hosted by current Women’s Officer Sophie Meehan and incoming Women’s Officer, Ally Smith (both undergraduate Politics students).
When planning the event, our aim was to gain a diverse range of experiences from women working in higher education and specifically in the field of Politics. We were overwhelmed by the support and help we received from the members of our panel. Prior to the event the panelists were keen to suggest other women who might be interested and provided helpful advice about the questions to be discussed. This was exactly this kind of ‘women helping women’ spirit that we wanted to encapsulate. All five of our panelists were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging speakers, displaying the kind of talent of women at York that should be celebrated.
We began with a presentation delivered by Nicole Beardsworth around the issues of sexism and the gender and ethnicity pay gap in Higher Education, and facing women more broadly. Nicole went on to explain why she prepared a powerpoint ahead of the panel and highlighted that in order to be taken seriously by others in her profession, she finds that she often over-prepares. Her reasoning was something that resonated with us, and after speaking some of the students who attended they also found it extremely relatable. This need to be over-prepared was a theme that was shared by the panelists and the students who attended, suggesting that this might be something that is symptomatic of professional women seeking acceptance and success in their industry.
The discussion then moved on to the challenges our panelists had faced throughout their careers and we found a certain familiarity in the barriers the panelists mentioned. In particular, the speakers highlighted experiencing the burden that often comes with being a victim of wider structural and systemic oppression. One poignant quote from Professor Jean Grugel stood out for me (and was shared on twitter following the discussion):
'The burden of change should not fall on the victims of a system, in this case women, but should fall to institutions'.
As was discussed on the panel, women who are victims of microaggressions, sexism and gender-based discrimination in the workplace often blame themselves and carry this burden; rather than challenging the power structures that allowed these abuses to occur. We discussed some ways that this could be addressed, such as through legislative and policy change (at the national level) assertiveness or empowerment training (at the individual level), collective organising and holding more cross-generational conversations (at an organisational level).
There were several interesting comments made about the confidence issues young women in Politics (and HE more broadly) face: often, young women with substance lack confidence, in contrast to some of their male counterparts whose confidence might exceed their experience. This is a striking irony that brilliantly encapsulates the dynamic that I have so often experienced. For instance, academic confidence is feeling like your ideas and contributions in lectures and seminars are valid, feeling like you’re smart enough to be in the room, and that your ideas are important and have the space to be heard. This issue of academic confidence is something that is often overlooked on courses such as Politics where gender equality appears to have been achieved in the classroom. Yet it is something that women’s network is going to look into in the future, to improve the academic confidence of women at York.
Perhaps the most important takeaway I gained from the panel was the discussion surrounding mentorship. Prior to the panel, I had never heard of horizontal mentorship but I left with the concept resonating greatly with me. The panelists explained that we do not necessarily have to seek out older or more experienced mentors and that the women around us at the same level can be equally good mentors. As a young woman preparing to enter the sometimes daunting world of work, this advice was insightful.
After speaking to many of the students who attended, there was certainly a consensus that the panel had been extremely beneficial to them. Learning about their personal experiences from academics that we only briefly have contact with through our undergraduate degree was very useful. Hearing about the struggles facing women in York was beneficial and certainly food for thought for everyone who attended. We wanted our panel to be an opportunity for students and staff to interact and learn from each other. This panel was wildly successful in achieving this goal, and we can only thank our panelists and those attended for a brilliant event, that will hopefully be replicated again next year.
*Sophie Meehan is a second year Politics and International Relations student and one of the student union’s elected women’s officers. In this role she (and Nadine, the other women’s officer) have advocated for women and non-binary students on campus, organised events and held weekly meetings. Sophie plans to go on to further study after her undergraduate, hopefully to do a masters in Australia (where she is originally from) to study more about Indigenous people’s rights and Post-Colonial legacy, topics she is extremely interested in.