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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2020

We've interviewed two of our expert educators to find out what International Women's Day means to them, and their advice for success in male dominated industries.

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The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is #EachforEqual. At FutureLearn, we’re committed to forging a gender-equal world and are proud to host a platform that enables our educators to share their knowledge with learners all over the world. 

We’ve been speaking to women who mentor courses on FutureLearn to find out about their careers and what led them there. We also spoke about drive, passion and inspiration.

A big thank you to Rebecca Gowland and Meg Pickard for sharing their wisdom with us. Rebecca is the lead educator on Durham University’s course Forensic Archeology and Anthropology and Meg leads the Institute of Coding’s online program Creating Digital Content.

Rebecca Gowland

Lead educator on Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology, Durham University

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far

I’m a professor of bioarchaeology at Durham University and I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the Department of Archaeology here since 2006. I’ve always been fascinated by the depth of information that human skeletal remains can reveal about the lives of past peoples and I feel really privileged to be able to research and teach this subject. I also work closely with forensic practitioners and human rights lawyers to apply these skills to the identification of people from modern-day forensic contexts.

Do you feel your gender has influenced any decisions you’ve taken in your career as a bioarchaeologist, or has challenged you in any way? If so, how did you overcome this?

Being a woman and a mother has certainly influenced and enriched both my research and teaching in bioarchaeology, but it’s also been an enormous challenge! Combining motherhood and a demanding job is incredibly difficult and tiring, particularly when my boys were very young. But it has also taught me to be a more resilient, empathetic and effective academic.  Plus, my kids keep me sane and stop me from becoming a complete workaholic!

Do you have any advice for women working in male-dominated industries?

Men tend to be more confident in the workplace because they’re not taught to second guess themselves to the extent that women are. They are also more likely to be listened to. Don’t let this put you off – it does not mean that they are better at their jobs than you! Believe in yourself, prepare well for the tasks that come your way, be confident, calm and positive. The rest will follow!

Do you have any female inspirations?

My female students inspire me. They are full of hope, energy and intellect. It’s really invigorating!

The short course Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology is free to join – sign up here.

Meg Pickard

Course educator on Creating Digital Content, Institute of Coding

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a digital content, community and transformation consultant, facilitator and trainer with 22+ years of industry experience.
Also passionate about neurodiversity and ethical business.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

I was born on one continent and have lived, worked and been educated on three others (and travelled to two more!), so I’ve always felt like a “woman of the world”. But my experience plus background in anthropology and interest in social issues really opened my eyes to the reality of women’s lives around the globe. Women are half the planet, but are still underrepresented, underpaid, undereducated and at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and more. So International Women’s Day is a celebration of all the amazing women of the world, but also a reminder that there’s still more to do.

Do you feel your gender has influenced any decisions you’ve taken in your career or has challenged you in any way? If so, how did you overcome this?

I was lucky to enter the working world at a time when, in the field of “new media” (digital content and community when widespread domestic web access was still very new), nobody was an expert because it was all so new. So we were all slightly making it up as we went along, and everyone was a bit of an imposter. Looking back, I can see how lucky that was, because it levelled the playing field a lot, and meant I didn’t start my career already at a disadvantage because of my gender. 

Unfortunately, over more than twenty years in technology, I have witnessed and been subjected to gender discrimination and everyday sexism. My particular bugbear? Male colleagues who repeat or minutely rephrase what a woman’s just said in a meeting, and everyone around the table applauds HIM for the idea. The best way to tackle that is for others to act as allies and call it out when it happens. Don’t make it a woman’s job to defend her own relevance as well as everything else!

Do you have any advice for women working in male-dominated industries?

My advice for women in male-dominated fields is: don’t allow yourself to be held back by your gender, and for goodness sake, don’t hold yourself back either. 

A research study at Hewlett Packard a few years ago revealed that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications or desired experience, while women apply only if they meet 100% of them. It’s easy to sabotage your own career with doubt, especially when so many male colleagues don’t seem to be troubled by imposter syndrome.

Have confidence in your ability and potential, and learn to communicate with conviction. Resist the urge to dilute your communications with qualifiers like “I was just wondering, maybe we might consider…”. but instead speak with the confidence of your experience and skills; “We should…”. 

At the same time, find female mentors in your industry or a related one, and connect with other women in your workforce to boost, support and learn from each other.

Do you have any female inspirations?

I’ve been lucky to know and work with a number of amazing women over the years, and I draw a lot of inspiration and strength from them. Emily Bell, my former boss at The Guardian (now a Professor at Columbia University and Director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism), Heather Champ (former community manager of Flickr, now community consultant, artist and goat farmer), Rachel Coldicutt (technology expert and ethicist, most recently CEO of responsible tech think-tank doteveryone) and Kass Schmitt (technologist, entrepreneur and aspiring trans-atlantic solo sailor) among many others. I’m proud and privileged to know them. I hope that I can encourage my two daughters to be a little bit like them when they grow up.

Creating Digital Content is a free program created by the Institute of Coding and the University of Leeds. On the program you’ll learn:

Do you have any advice for women in the workplace, or an inspiration you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments.

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