The symbolism and functionality of networks for/on women in academia and research, in peripherial regions!

pippi

Be a rebel. Be a role model.

It was a short, cozy and massively inspirational HVL organized, women’s network meeting today.

The Challenge: the leaking pipeline (i.e. fewer women are to be found especially in the higher echelons of academia and research). (The reasons for this are as multiple as they are complex – for another blog post).

The Goal: to mobilize, inform, inspire and challenge female academics and researchers in the region through shared experiences. So, today, 4 fantastically accomplished academics in the region spoke to a room full of us. The message was simple, functional but also symbolic. Here is a summary of what i got from it.

No strategy can be a good strategy!

A female professor shared her experiences of becoming a professor:

  • Success is not a straight-forward journey. Get ready for huddles and resistance, some of which, like in her case, can be quite humiliating and embarrasing.
  • Its okey to not have a strategy – this Professor didn’t. BUT, persistant incremental academic output is vital to gain that success.
  • Trust yourself, help each other, get strength from the negative experiences and do not forget to have fun while at it. Follow these and ‘everyone can be a professor’, she concludes 🙂

Build your Professional identity

Another acomplished academic from the Fakultet for lærarutdanning, kultur og idrett (FLKI) had another perspective. The focus was on the experiences of/from her PhD:

  • There is often the notion that the PhD is merely a beginning in once’s research career arguing that the real work starts after the Phd. While this may be true, the PhD process in itself cannot be under-estimated, according to her. She had spent 8 years pursuing her doctorate while, with small children.
  • Under her PhD, she gained  both a Professional Identity and Academic Identity. This Professional Identity bread the necessary self-confidence within her speciality while an Academic (Institutional Identity) obtained during her PhD revolved around obtaining a good understanding of Scientific knowledge aquisition, production and disemination.
  • The Phd strengthen ones foundation (and the ability to cope with uncertainty). It offers the bedrock for future work – without which can be limiting.

‘Local networks’ in Applied Research

Another faculty expert within the Fakultet for helse- og sosialvitskap (FHS) highlighted among other things the importance of local anchorage and local network-building as a resource for ones work. This is something i believe is vital especially within peripheral or rural regions such as SFj  in which Applied research and Collaboration with public or private Communities of Practice or ‘End-users’ are existential fundaments for research careers.

  • Her protracted experiences within the health sector show how persistance, building local networks (such as local municipalities as end-users of her work) can be decisive in ones career development. It takes courage to take on  uncharted routes that can open one for success.

‘Role models’ among women and across generations

Another acomplished academic (Fakultet for økonomi og samfunnsvitskap (FØS) inspired and challenged us (me) regarding the concept of ‘role models’. She shared insights on the significance of role models especially in disciplines and work arenas that are dominanted by men. Hers are/were twofold:

  • ‘Acomplished’ role models earlier on in her career. These were ‘brave, strong, secure, lovely and stylish women’ who paid attention to her at the time she was starting out in her career and over time. They have remained friends.
  • ‘Younger’ role models in her daughter who often engages her in discussion and reflection on career related texts, work and experiences. In this role, she is a mentor to a young woman – and is able to tap into the resourses aquired over her career BUT at the same time the experience of mentoring strengthens her agency. NOTE: role models among women but also between generations. #rolemodels #giveandrecieve #playitforward.

SUM: Networks as symbolic and functional 

For me, this network meeting thus highlighted several things, but specifically the functional role as the ‘Outer-circle’ in support of women’s careers but also the symbolic Message a well intended, inclusive and coordinated network gives to women and Girls, to colleagues, faculty and society:

  • Networks can act as change and coping strategy – improving persistent gender imbalance in academia and research
  • Networks as support structures for young and old, informal and sometimes formal, acomplished and amatuer women , intersectional and multidisciplinary structures of support.
  • Networks help against isolation especially in peripheral regions (scattered campuses) and especially in fields where women are a minority. Intersectional perspectives to marginalization and exclusion come to mind.
  • Role models – Some of these women talked about role models in THEIR lives, but l SAW role models in them. Im sure several others did too. Young women need role models.
  • Symbolic significance, by investing (i.e. time and resources) in such networks, universities, R&I institutions especially in the ‘peripheri’ highlight their commitment to the importance of having a diverse faculty and work place. #inclusiveR&I, #genderequality #likestillingogpraxis.

 

Interesting reads

Austin, A. E., & McDaniels, M. (2006). Preparing the professoriate of the future: Graduate student socialization for faculty roles. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 21 (pp. 397-456). Netherlands: Springer.
Ås, Berit (1979). “De fem hersketeknikker – om ufarliggjøring av undertrykkerens våpen”. Årbog for kvinderet, København: Kvinderetlig Skriftserie.

Fox, M. F. (1991). Gender, environmental, milieu, and productivity in science. In H. Zuckerman, J. Cole, and J. Bruer (Eds.), The outer circle: Women in the scientific community (pp. 188-204). New York: W.W. Norton.
Fox, M. F. (2001). Women, science, and academia: Graduate education and careers. Gender and Society, 15, 654- 666.
Fox, M.F. (2008). Institutional transformation and the advancement of women faculty: The case of academic science and engineering. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education:
Sturm, S. (2006). The architecture of inclusion: Advancing workplace equity in higher education. Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, 29, 247-334.

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