Thank you to Professor Helen Scott, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning, Teaching and Student Success), Sheffield Hallam University for taking the time to reflect upon experiences as a female leader, both positive and negative, for International Women’s Day, a day we champion 365 days a year.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect upon one’s own experiences as a female leader, both positive and negative, in the context of a world where unfortunately many inequalities still prevail, not only for women, but for all kinds of people in challenging and complex circumstances not of their making. It is also a chance to recognise and foreground the inspiring achievements of female role models, usually lesser known than their male counterparts, in many different fields and in the name of diverse, significant causes with huge impact.
It is important to keep raising the profile of women in leadership specifically, because women are still significantly under-represented in senior leadership positions in higher education; this is the case in almost all the universities I have held senior roles. Also, I have never met a woman in leadership who does not have an experience to recount (or, unfortunately multiple experiences) of being patronised, ignored, or overlooked by a male colleague. Sadly, these examples feel like scenes from a 1970’s sitcom. I know many women leaders in the 21st Century, working in senior roles, in higher education who have experienced the situation in which they have presented an idea or solution which was rejected, or dismissed, only to watch in amazement when a male colleague puts forward the same one, and it is lauded, and adopted. A further common example is when it is assumed a woman in a room full of men holds a lower-level role than their male colleagues, merely by being female.
To take a more upbeat view of women’s experiences in leadership, many women have positively shaped my own work as a leader-as excellent role models, supportive colleagues, and friends who in turn, taught me how to enable others to make the most of opportunities that come along. I have recently joined a women’s PVC/DVC network, a highly capable, experienced group who are incredibly supportive of each other and above all generous with their advice: a seriously impressive bunch. My parents and grandparents have also taught me many things which influence my approach to leadership: for example, do the right thing, not the easy thing, be kind (and kindest to those who you feel don’t deserve it), always work hard, don’t show off or be complacent, do seek challenge, and recognise there are many kinds of cleverness in the world (not just yours). Resilience gained from personal and professional experiences has also helped me to learn from challenges and overcome barriers. My resilience, combined with a keen appreciation of the truly transformative power of education, has strongly informed my focus to create the right conditions for all students to succeed, whatever their starting point.
Specifically, my intentions at Sheffield Hallam are to:
- Significantly reduce the degree awarding gap between different student groups
- Ensure all students feel they can make the most of the extensive and high-quality support Sheffield Hallam provides.
- Improve the consistency of students’ experience.
- Get our approach to digital pedagogy right for students and staff, aligning with the ambitious plans for our campus.
I will realise these and other intentions only through collaboration with others, harnessing the power of the many instances of excellent practice already taking place at Sheffield Hallam and remembering daily all the things I have learned from others.
Professor Helen Scott has responsibility for student experience in all aspects of learning, teaching and assessment at Sheffield Hallam. She has a background in teacher education and fine art holding a number of senior academic roles in higher education.
The first in her family to attend university, Helen has always been acutely aware of education’s “superpower”- to provide a path to fulfilling, varied experiences and career opportunities and this awareness is what drives her commitment and determination to enable students to have these same opportunities, whatever their background, interests, subject, motivations and starting point.