‘Have cake days!’: The pragmatism, wisdom and humour of women

In January I was asked to speak at the University of the Highlands and Islands at a special event for their Women’s Network during the Digital Education week. As the nature of the institution is distributed geographically, the workshop participants were both face-to-face and online. You can view my presentation via the link at the end of this page. My approach was inspired by my involvement with the #femedtech network and the work of Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell, specifically a paper they presented at the Association for Learning Technology’s conference in September 2018 called ‘A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology‘. They encouraged women in education technology to share their personal stories and I contributed my experiences in this blog post. They invited contributions to a Google Doc with links to their blogs and answers to a lovely ‘think-pair-share’ activity. My presentation at UHI was a development of my blog post, and hopefully of relevance to women working in higher education generally.

We followed my presentation with a discussion, framed around the following four questions.

  • What are the top 3 things that have influenced your career?
  • What are the 3 values you bring to your work?
  • What things can we do to take care of ourselves?
  • What could we do to help others?

I used Mentimeter to gather the answers anonymously from both face-to-face and online participants. I think their thoughts are too good not to share in their entirety here. There’s pragmatism, wisdom and humour. And cake.

What are the top 3 things that have influenced your career?
Aiming to add value in what I do
Seeking interesting work
Expanding my knowledge
Finding the right place for my family
support from colleagues who believe in me, curiosity, moments of bravery (which overcome persistent fear!)
Passion for learning
Being a mother
Family location and commitment
Life experiences, happenstance, supportive managers focused on enhancing development
Job availability, luck, interest
Motherhood
Creative education
Networks
Having my son, having a supportive husband (and the privilege/pressure of me being the “main” earner, the affordability (or not) of educational goals
Financial responsibilities, identifying with the organisation, curiosity about everything
A talk that inspire me just after finishing my degree
Family, location, personal interest.
Enthusiasm for what I do and can do
Being encouraged by what others have done to progress their career
Drive
Encouraging teacher, volunteering, supportive manager
Opportunity
Hard work
Luck
Luck. Personal drive. Big picture vision of my own future
Family, learning opportunities, accidental events
Life purpose
My mother
Passion about equality
The people who support me
Relationships, having children, chance
Hard Work, Great employer who encourages CPD, Taking opportunities.
Nature and being outdoors
2nd answer- On reflection have fitted round my partner and his career A LOT
Integrity, respect and tenacity
Commitment and belief in myself
Parents, schools career advice or lack of it, work placement
Luck, encouragement, self belief
Desire to make a difference,then a bigger difference to people’s lives
Interest in people and what motivates them
can do and muck in, commitment, humour
Inspiring others
A TV programme I watched when I was 11 years old

What are the 3 values you bring to your work?
Supporting others, Adding value, Being true to myself
honesty, curiosity, patience
Passion and commitment for what I do
Positive work ethic
Integrity, work ethic, honesty
Integrity, openness, flexibility
Commitment, integrity, respect
Passion, criticality, accountability
Knowledge and experience, tenacity, attention to detail
Integrity, drive for social justice, empathy
Integrity, honesty and respect
Using what I have learned to guide me, being ethical, doing my best
Respect, equality and integrity
integrity. professionalism. respect
Honesty, fairness, openness
Honesty,humanity and kindness
Respect, Passion, Positivity
Kindness, Creativity and Commitment
Honesty, Curiosity, Enthusiasm

What things can we do to take care of ourselves?
Take time out; Self-Awareness; Nurture ourselves and our friendships and ; openness to others;
Slow down! Set aside time to plan, think, and digest.
Focus upon positive mental health. Be kind to ourselves. Have confidence in what we do.
Find a balance between work and life, share with others if struggling for whatever reason, develop a supportive network
Rest, fight our own corner, seek help from colleagues
Self belief, ask for help/take it, be kind to ourselves
Pause the effort to “have it all” sometimes, to take a moment to enjoy the things you’ve accomplished so far, or the things you’ve neglected in the process.
Be true to our values
Dance it out! 😉
Get enough sleep, don’t assume responsibility for things that are not your responsibility, be open and share how you feel.
Work/life balance
Being organised, looking after physical health, having a work life balance
Say ‘no’
Remember that it is just a job
Speak out
learn to say no. compartmentalise the important/less important things. make the most of nourishing opportunities!
Listen, self-awareness and sleep
Be authentic
Make time for yourself
Learn how to say no
Always make time to see the people that support you
Ensure we do things that align with our values
Don’t accept a situation we wouldn’t expect others to accept.
Communicate better
Remind ourselves our work is only one part of our lives and possibly not the most important.
be at one with yourself
Nurture our health and well-being to enable us to work and live as best we can.

What could we do to help others?
Share our personal stories
Be more confident that change can be achieved
Give time to them – to listen, to support their ideas.
Listen to and understand them. Provide the support they need either personally or through direction to other resources
Be honest about the challenges. Don’t try and look perfect. Open up channels of communication and support
Recognise we are human! Be kind, listen, give space, give others a voice
Offer support
Listen. Support. Don’t patronise
Listen carefully, be kind, make time for them.
Listen, make time, empathise
Listen with fascination
Offer support
Don’t judge
respect their views even if we disagree. be pragmatic. be up to date on important changes
Listen, be kind and be supportive
Dare to be our authentic selves in workplace
Be supportive
Encourage others
Listen to what others have to say
Listen
Offer Help
Encourage
Listen
Lead by example
Bring joy to the table
Be encouraging, recognise good work
Make the most of their talents, be encouraging and find ways to reduce their concerns
Acknowledge life events have impact on people’s work at times eg grief,caring for others
Mentoring
Share our own vulnerabilities
Have empathy
Have cake days!

Personal stories: presentation by Louise Drumm at UHI Women’s Network 22nd January 2019

Theatre, feminism and learning technology – a personal story

Theatre is a collaborative, experiential space where we share and create stories, mapping the personal onto the political and vice versa. It is a transformation of individuals into an assemblage of audience, actors, space and, mostly but not always, text.

It is a form of expression and Dublin Youth Theatre embodies this, upholding artistic excellence in performance while giving young people a voice, bringing together people from every part of society. I was lucky to join DYT as a 16 year old and it challenged my (middle-class) assumptions about the purpose of the arts, who could make it and who it was for. While still at school, criticality and inclusion were instilled and role-modeled to me by a number of amazing theatre professionals who volunteered as leaders in DYT. I knew I was never going to be an actor, but I started to write plays and direct them. I did an arts degree in English Literature, while keeping up my extracurricular work in theatre (my grades may have suffer admittedly). In university I was introduced to (very dry) critical, feminist and postcolonial theory, while my other life was seeking creative expressions of authenticity and empowerment. I think the rest of my life has been a slow entanglement of these two things. I started to see the inequalities surrounding and controlling me. As another DYT member casually remarked in conversation, “What hope have we got when this state doesn’t recognise rape within marriage?” It felt like there was not just one, but whole range of mountains to climb to overcome inequality in both Irish legislation and societal perceptions. I joined campaigns. I went on marches. Some school friends stopped talking to me.

After university I worked as a theatre technician for a number of years – stage management, lighting and sound technician. As you can imagine, there were times when people passed comments on a perceived dissonance between my role and my gender, but not often. Flash forward a few years and I was directing plays and running my own theatre company. Again, the people I worked directly with, the actors, the designers, the technicians, had no difficulty in working under me as the creative authority. Then I hit a glass ceiling and my career shattered. I had been appointed as a staff director at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre – basically the biggest gig in the country for a young director. I was the first woman to hold the position and I was told that was why they were interested in appointing me at my ‘interview’. For 18 months I was put on the shelf and consistently overlooked for directing jobs within the theatre, even though I was spawning projects on contemporary European plays and overhauling the audition system. I directed readings, but the head of the theatre never came to one of them. Through I casual conversation with a male colleague in the same role I discovered that I was paid £7,000 less than him. I went to the (then named) Equality Authority and the theatre agreed to give me a lump sum, but no shows to direct and no extension of my contract. I had effectively ended my very hard-won career by calling them out. A few years ago I revisited this all again during the #wakingthefeminists uprising where women in Irish theatre started to share stories of their experience of discrimination and sexism. I was shocked to realise that much has not changed, but their tireless campaigning is hopefully putting an end to this. During #wakingthefeminists, many people I worked with sent me lovely messages and I know that there are many actors, many women in theatre now, to whom I gave a ‘leg up’ when I had the power to do so. I no longer blame myself for what happened. This was an important lesson for me. I know I was an excellent director.

After the Abbey Theatre, I left my country and career behind and indulged my interest in computing with an MSc in the University of Glasgow. This led, by way of revisiting my Old and Middle English Literature roots, to elearning. Much like theatre, working in learning technology requires a mixture of creativity, technical understanding and, above all, collaboration with a range of people. It was a good fit for me. After working on a very successful project in one university, we needed to extend our team and recruited another learning technologist from within the university. It turns out that this other (male) learning technologist was being paid £5,000 more than I was, so I got a raise. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me to ask for back pay.

As time passed, I could see that my knowledge and expertise in both pedagogy and technology were not being recognised and used. Decisions were being made about university policies and systems and I was never asked to be at the table, yet I had to work with the outcomes. So, to extend myself beyond my comfort zone, and in an effort to ‘legitimise’ my knowledge, I started looking for a PhD. And I found one. It was a brilliant experience and a studentship meant I could focus on just that for a few years: a real luxury.

In parallel with my careers, there is the backdrop of a political narrative, particularly in relation to Ireland. As an undergraduate I campaigned for ‘legalisation of homosexual acts’ (we still had British Victorian laws on the statute books) and the repeal of prohibition of abortion. It is with great joy that I celebrated the decisive referendum results to reverse the eight amendment this year and the introduction of marriage equality in 2015. The country in which I grew-up is very different now. When I stood up about these things when I was an undergraduate, some people stopped speaking to me. I know that wouldn’t be the case now. Ireland has re-found the power of personal stories to move people to a more progressive, open outlook. Above all, I have benefited personally and professionally from those who share their experiences.

How else otherwise would we know that we are not alone?