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Focusing on extraordinary women at Durham

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During International Women’s Day on 8 March, we took the opportunity to highlight some of the extraordinary achievements of women from across the University.

IWD highlights a number of objectives to help forge a gender equal world, with the theme this year to #EmbraceEquity.

A Q&A event with a panel of female archaeologists
A Q&A event with a panel of female archaeologists

To mark the day we featured the work of women from across Durham, sharing their stories and recognising their achievements:

Vicki Hinds is Facilities & Housekeeping Manager at St Chad’s College. She said: “I manage housekeeping, reception and maintenance at St Chad’s which is a very interesting role with different challenges every day.

Some people say it’s a ‘man’s job’ but I would disagree. I’d say firstly, it’s all about confidence and I am always up for a challenge, which helps in my role.

“I started as a hairdresser many moons ago, then joined a hotel chain but worked my way up to being exec housekeeper for Marriott Hotels based in few different hotels across the North East. After a few years, I decided to join the University as a Housekeeper and then worked my way up to Facilities Manager at St Chad’s College.

“I am not sure if I can change the world, but I would like to think I’m a compassionate, caring person who’s happy to take on change. I hope this makes a small difference to the community around me.”

As an Associate Professor in Early Modern History, Dr Natalie Mears is working on a project which she describes as 'Queen Elizabeth I meets #MeToo and #BLM'.

Natalie said: “Though a lot has changed and improved, women still face an uphill battle, including those who are single or don't have children.

“Indeed, single and childless women often seem to be ignored, forgotten or seen as fair game for extra duties. It is worse for first generation university women like myself who have little sense of how graduate employment works, let alone academia, and few contacts to provide guidance.

When I started out, I was often the only woman being interviewed. I was surrounded by men and some of the women I met were just not very friendly! More recently, I've seen how women, especially senior women, go out of their way to support fellow female academics. Be part of that!”

Undergraduate student Alexandra Hart started a project to offer free English language tuition to Ukrainian children who may end up living in the UK.

“We aim to give the children confidence as well as skills and it’s a social induction as well as a linguistic one. To be able to offer that support during such a huge upheaval has been really valued.

“I was amazed by how many people wanted to join the lessons, but it comes down to what you consider essential in a crisis situation and communication is key, especially when you’re trying to move countries.

With projects like this, you have to be certain it’s something you can commit to as you need to feel passionate about it. But, on balance, don’t spend too much time worrying about whether it’s going to work – simply try it.

“Be passionate, but also just take the plunge!”

Marking the day

To help highlight International Women’s Day, we held a wide range of events to encourage everyone from the across the University community to get involved.

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah gave the Sir Gareth Roberts Lecture on A Life in Science, Engineering and Politics, and the Music department organised a live-streamed concert. The MAMS Network held an afternoon tea event, and there was also a Q&A event with a panel of female archaeologists.

Health and wellbeing sessions aimed at women were held throughout March, ranging from rowing and Zumba to life drawing and meditation.

Two exciting new initiatives were launched. Tea with the VC offers students the opportunity to spend time with Vice-Chancellor Karen O’Brien, to talk about her experiences in Higher Education, her role and the students’ career aspirations. A shadowing scheme is giving the women at Durham the chance to find out what a day in the life of our senior leaders is like.

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