As a part of EHSU’s Women in Leadership campaign, & to celebrate Women’s Week, we asked some senior members of university staff about their experiences of being a woman in their positions.
Next up is Fay Sherrington who is the Director of Student Services.
I feel like I have been very fortunate in my career as I have rarely faced barriers due to my gender. I have been inspired by both male and female leaders that I have worked for and I owe thanks to a number of people who have motivated and encouraged me on my career path. I believe that one of the barriers faced by me and others in terms of leadership is a lack of self-belief or self-confidence. Although this will apply to individual men and women differently, studies have suggested that generally this is a more significant factor for women than for men. Making full use of my mentors, development opportunities, feedback, and support has really helped me to recognise my abilities and take the next step.
When I look back over history I realise how different things would have been for me if I had lived during earlier generations. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that is open minded and without prejudice and at a time when gender inequality had significantly reduced. I was encouraged by my parents to work hard, be what I wanted to be, go to University and aim for the top. I really hope that the further progress that has since been made to reduce inequality across the board means that the generation of young people behind me will face even fewer barriers to success.
My mum has always been the women I most admire. She was from a generation when women were not encouraged to go to University. In fact we lived in York where Rowntrees Chocolate factory were previously a major employer. My mum always told me that her mother hoped she might gain employment at the chocolate factory. However her mother’s aspiration was that if she was good enough, she might be able to work in the offices rather than on the factory floor. That was really the most she expected from her daughter and her highest aspiration for her career. When my sister and I were young my mum decided to study for a degree via the Open University while bringing up 2 kids looking after the household and working full time. I always admire her grit and determination and her success in getting her degree followed by a postgraduate qualification. I can’t help thinking how different it has been for me.
Working in HE is a privilege and I really love my job leading a Student Service department. I am sure that this positive environment has helped me in my leadership path. The various Universities I have worked in and my managers have all supported my leadership development and I have made the most of many opportunities to try new things. I attended the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) Aurora programme for Women in Leadership in 2012 and was inspired and motivated to take the next step in my career. This was the point when I recognised my aspiration to become a Director of Service and the programme gave me the confidence and support to apply for the role I hold today.
2 inspirational female authors hold significance for me. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth were books I read as a teenager that moved me and changed my outlook on the world. Their experiences in their time and culture paint such an emotive picture of the inequality and injustice of the world but also show the power and resilience of the women themselves. I feel indebted to women like Maya and Vera but also all other female leaders who have gone before me for making it possible for me to be who I am today.
We know that women have a hard time smashing the glass ceiling and getting into senior positions or leadership roles. That is why it’s important to talk about the disadvantages that women face, and work on ways to overcome them. Having women in positions of leadership is important, because it’s difficult to be what you cannot see.