Women in leadership: the RUSU Officers on leadership, advancing women in the workplace and who inspires them!

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RUSU Officers on women in leadership transcript


Host: Rish Rajput
Participants: Gemma (Welfare Officer), Daisy (Activities Officer), Fifi (Education Officer), Molli (President)

Rish: So, today we are joined by the RUSU Officers to celebrate Women’s History Month and we’re going to be talking about women in leadership roles. Firstly, if I can just go around the room and ask all your names and your role that would be great.
Gemma: So, I’m Gemma and I’m the RUSU Welfare Officer.
Daisy: I’m Daisy, I’m the RUSU Activities Officer.
Fifi: I’m Fifi, I’m the RUSU Education Officer.
Molli: And I’m Molli, I’m the RUSU President.
Rish: Perfect, so one of the first questions we were asking is “can you talk us through your approach to leadership?” What would you guys do in leadership situations?
Gemma: I think we have very different approaches
[Laughter] I definitely, I still don’t fully see myself as a leader, even though I should, like I see like Molli as a leader.
Rish: OK
[Laughs] Molli: that’s cause I’m loud though. I’ll just like bulldoze through and [laughs] I’ve got better, like I think, I don’t know, the most important part is making everyone feel welcome and picking out the voices in the room that are quieter because that doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to say, so I think that’s probably how I’ve grown as a leader this year.
Daisy: I think for me it vastly depends on how comfortable I am with what I’m leading, so if I’m leading like a cricket, or doing something that I know I’m good at and I know I’m confident in it, then I don’t find leadership hard at all and I can manage different types of people: who needs like a firm hand and who needs more encouragement. I find it’s much more difficult to have that leadership style if you’re not comfortable in it yourself… but yeah, that’s the general idea.
Gemma: mmhmm, I think it is finding like a rapport with the people your leading/
Daisy: Yeah/
Gemma: and making sure they feel comfortable coming to you/
Molli: Mmm/
Gemma: being able to talk to you.
Rish: Fifi, anything to add?
Fifi: I’m more used to leading with small children…
[Laughter] Fifi: so I have to find the right tone sometimes/
Rish: slightly difficult!/
Fifi: if people could be like children it would be [inaudible] Rish: Cool, this might be slightly a difficult question to ask because you all are at a student’s union, but do you feel enough has been done to advance women in the workplace? It’s slightly different because you obviously work in an area that does do a lot to advance women, but would you say from stories from y’know family and friends or whatever, you think enough has been done?
Gemma: Hmm…
Molli: I don’t think, I think it’s really hard to do as much as we want to because everyone has different experiences, so I can only empathise with how you three feel about how you should be treated in the workplace and those levels of where you want things to be are all quite different. I feel like as a student’s union, it’s in our organisational values to be inclusive and diverse, and I do think for the most part we meet that quite well/
Rish: sure/
Molli: but that’s because we have the pressure of [Laughs] 20,000 students constantly/
Rish: Exactly yeah!/
Molli: looking at us, so our standards have to be higher and the pressure is on more because we’re so front facing.
Daisy: You’re definitely right about student’s unions being kind of ahead of the sector/
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: or different from the sector, like as in the workplace generally. We had an all-female officer team before most other student’s unions/
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: and it was kind of a massive deal/
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: and obviously now loads of student’s unions that we go to have all-female officer teams and student’s unions were a bit ahead of the pack in that so you’re right that is a kind of different environment and I think I’m definitely going to find it weird if I go from this into a male dominated work environment.
Gemma/Molli/Rish/Fifi: mm, yeah
Daisy: or even, not necessarily a male dominated one, but one that’s not so explicit about inclusivity. I think I’m going to find that very strange.
Fifi: I think we’re so lucky with that on our campus as well/
Rish: Definitely/
Fifi: because we are so, we have such a strong sense of community that everyone – I hope/
Rish: Yeah!/ [Laughter] Gemma: For sure’
Fifi: feels that
Rish: that’s cool, I like that, I like that a lot. This is again, slightly difficult to answer, because you’ve only been in your career roles for a year, but I would say maybe just in general, what has been the most significant barrier either to you know the fact that you’re a woman or any other barriers that you’ve faced, um, what would you say?
Molli: I feel like sometimes, um, you have like people can approach, because the last president was male, I feel like sometimes people approach you with like a “boysy” attitude and I am not like that/
Others: yeah, oh I get that yeah.
Molli: like I do not respond to that, which is fine because everyone has different learning styles – so I think people adapting to me having a different style of how I am has probably taken a little bit of time. Now I think – I’ve always felt comfortable, people have always made me feel welcome – but I think I probably noticed that a little bit when I started the job.
Rish: OK
Daisy: I think for me it’s less, the barriers have been way less in this job than in – sorry to talk about cricket all the time but –
[Laughter – inaudible speech] Daisy: but in sport because I think in sport but also in other areas of the workplace people confuse the lack of opportunity that women have had with a lack of ability that women have/
Rish: mmhmm/
Daisy: so because women’s sport has had less funding, the women have to work full-time, as well as trying to train a few times a week. Sometimes they are under societal pressure to have a family while training. Like because of the opportunity that’s not been afforded to them, people confuse that with an innate inability to do the sport and I think – not in our jobs – but in other workplaces, sometimes if women haven’t been given the opportunities to be leaders for example, people confuse that with women just not actually being able to be leaders.
Rish: Yeah and I think I was thinking about it earlier, because obviously as an Activities Officer, a lot of the presidents of societies are men, so I could be sort of that attitude there as well, it’s like “oh now I have to listen to a female leader” and that way, so do you think you’ve had any barriers in that kind of way?
Daisy: Yeah! I think… I was really surprised, like pleasantly surprised because I was thinking about whether or not I was going to run a “This Girl Can” campaign this year and I think I’m still going to, but I was like right, starting point, let me look at how many women are in sport at Reading and it’s 51% of the/
Rish: Really? OK/
Daisy: sports members are female, and I presumed that it would be lower.
Rish: Yeah!
Daisy: So, I think that that kind of means two things. It means that things in sports anyway are better than I thought they were, but it also means that the women aren’t getting visibility even amongst the structures that they exist in. So, I think, I don’t know the statistics actually about how many presidents are male and female, but I think sometimes even the female ones when they are there are sometimes overlooked.
Rish: OK, OK, interesting. Um, so this one that I’m quite interested in – what encourages you, or motivates you when you face a challenge?
Daisy: You can go first Gemma…
[Laughter] Gemma: I think it is the other women in my team.
Others: Aw, love that!
[Laughter – inaudible speech] Gemma: Just seeing how they deal with challenges/
Rish: Yeah/
Gemma: is really inspiring.
Rish: I love that! That’s great.
Daisy: Yeah, it’s so cheesy but we definitely all deal with it in completely different ways and sometimes I’m like ooh maybe I’ll try that way/
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: Rather than just doing my normal thing
Rish: yeah, kind of support from your peers?
Daisy: yeah, or even just seeing how other people do things and being like ah – I could respond like that, that had never occurred to me.
[Light laughter] Rish: Fifi?
Fifi: I think some of the female leadership that we see at the university as well is amazing/
Others: Yes! For sure.
Fifi: inspiring people who work so hard to support students and us with both our campaigns and/
Others: [agreement] Fifi: just with personal support as well, it’s amazing what they offer.
Rish: That is very true. Molli?
Molli: I’m like really competitive.
Rish: OK!
Molli: And I’m really quite results driven, so as you get like towards the end of the goal, to like hit that, that really satisfying/
Rish: that’s a good feeling/
Molli: That like motivates me/
Rish: oh, I like that!/
Molli: but then like helping the others to that as well, like teamwork has been emphasised so much this year, particularly because we are a flat structure and the Uni don’t always see that, like being able to help everyone achieve their goals makes you stronger than like you going off and finishing your manifesto/
Rish: Yeah/
Molli: Yeah/
Daisy: and I think, I was just going to say that, a massive thing about coming up against challenges when it comes to being female in the workplace, or anything else that people discriminate you against, I think the most important think I’ve learnt in this job is that if people are rude to you, or if people don’t respect you, that’s their problem.
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes, like y’know you’ve got to take criticism and you might be doing something in the wrong way, but most of the time that’s a problem with their attitude and the things that they’ve seen and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change what you’re doing.
Rish: Yeah, I think something that I’ve noticed is that all the officers this year have been like incredible/
Others: thanks
Rish: And you’ve all sort of made really good points, so I was thinking about it earlier, and I was thinking maybe something that motivates them is the idea of leaving a legacy or some sort? The fact that you’ve all hit really important marks for this University that has never been done before and it’s all from you five – Zeid included.
[Laughter] Rish: you’ve all had amazing, amazing things happen and I was thinking “oh maybe it’s that legacy sort of momentum that kind of motivates them “ – would you say that’s true in any way, that you want to leave a legacy?
Molli: We talk about that a lot, from like when we started training.
Gemma: we were told that in our first meeting
Rish: Really?
Molli: yeah, cause we’re only here for a year.
Fifi: That was something that made a massive impact on us when we were setting our goals for the year.
Others: [agreeing] Fifi: we really wanted to focus on things that were going to make a difference and weren’t just going to be transient things/
Others: [agreeing] Fifi: that would sort of be gone next year, y’know would get forgotten, we really wanted to make, not neces- not so we get remembered/
Rish: No but… yeah/
Fifi: but to make positive changes that will keep on happening at the Uni.
Daisy: yeah, I think it’s not something that personally motivates me/
Rish: OK/
Daisy: but it does motivate me in a professional context, like I make decisions based on what’s going to be long-lasting, but the idea of kind of leaving something behind, in terms of people remembering what I did/
Rish: Yeah [continues overlap] Daisy: I’m not personally motivated by that. I’m not competitive in that kind of thing, but professionally, we’re making decisions like, I see it as really important.
Rish: Oh OK, that’s interesting. Um, so this one I really like, I really love hearing this question – is there anyone who inspires you and why? I, that’s my favourite question ever [Laughs].
Gemma: I think my grandma.
Molli: You stole my answer!
Rish: That’s so cute!
[Laughter] Gemma: just because she like is so positive all the time and like she is 90 years old and last time when I went to Poole, she was like “Gemma, we’re going into the sea”…
[Laughter] Gemma: and like she’s just there and like even though she’s old, she still wants to do things all the time/
Rish: aw, that’s great!
Gemma: and she’s really motivated by life and like yeah…
Rish: I love that! That’s so nice. Daisy, what about you?
Daisy: I’m really struggling to think of someone that’s not my Nan!
[Laughter] Molli: Literally!
Rish: We love our Nans!
Molli: genuinely is my answer.
Daisy: My normal answer is my Nan because she is gay and is also a woman who is 70 years old.
Rish: Amazing.
Daisy: And so, she had children in the 60s and then because there was no other option and then came out to her husband the day after the fourth one had left home/
Rish: oh – wow!
Daisy: because she wanted to keep the family together and then be true to herself.
Rish: wow, what an amazing story.
Daisy: and it was such an amicable divorce/
Rish: yeah
Daisy: ‘cause my grandad was like “fair enough”/
Rish: yeah!
Daisy: “you can’t really do anything about that” so, yeah so she/
Rish: what an amazing story
Daisy: it was the fact, the motivation that she had to keep her family together, aside from any personal struggle, like that, that is something that is just completely monumental to me and I can’t even wrap my head around it, um but more importantly the activism that she had throughout her whole life for other people as well, like on picket lines her whole life/
Rish: wow
Daisy: and representing people, not even just her own groups of people but just people that needed it, in a time when absolutely no one was listening to her.
Rish: yeah, that’s amazing! What a cool story.
Molli: that’s so much cooler than what I…
[Laughter, agreement, inaudible speech] Molli: I don’t want to follow next!
Rish: Fifi – who inspires you and why?
Fifi: I think the team in this room.
Others: Aww!
Fifi: the RUSU team, not just these three, Zeid as well [Laughter] and everyone at RUSU work so hard/
Rish: they do/
Fifi: everyday to make such a difference and they’re also such good friends outside of work so…
Gemma: Aw
Daisy: yeah we, it’s quite sad, we always hang out outside of work
[Laughter] Molli: And hat’s off to Zeid/
Gemma: Yeah/
Molli: like we always make a joke of it’s like Zeid and his wives
[Laughter] Molli: he must have to, like he has to deal with like four, sometimes very emotional human beings
[Laughter] Rish: yeah
Molli: coming out at him from four different/
Gemma: and like at least one of us cries
[Laughter – inaudible speech] Molli: yeah, he is such an advocate for like/
Others: [agreeing] Molli: female leadership and empowerment, that he’s such an asset to the team, honestly.
Daisy: the past officers last year were saying that sometimes in meetings, um, someone would ask a question to the female officers, but they would look at the male officers.
Rish: Mmmmm
Daisy: so if they were asking a question to one of them they would speak to the male officer, and they weren’t necessarily doing that on purpose, it was kind of just their instinct/
Rish: yeah/
Daisy: and they never really know what to do/
Rish: Yeah/
Daisy: and I’m not sure if Zeid has experienced that this year but it is so important to have men who feel the same as we do about women in leadership/
Rish: Yeah, for sure.
Daisy: because if all of the women in the world believe in female empowerment that’s not… like you need everyone to be on the same page.
Rish: for sure. Wow, that’s really interesting, oof!
Daisy: Sorry! [Laughs] Molli: I’m not gonna use my Nan!
[Laughter] Molli: cause you two have stolen it. Sounds a bit odd but um, one of our colleague’s children, um child, came in the other day, her daughter, she was incredibly confident and inspiring and I really like that, like I love looking to like younger women and children
Others: [agreeing] Molli: and seeing how confident they are and how y’know, I guess part of it is like childhood innocence that they don’t necessarily notice things like sexism in the workplace but they’re just happy to like smash on through and be brave and be confident and I love looking back and seeing that these women are going to grow up to be such inspirational leaders and they don’t even know it yet. I love looking back and seeing that.
Rish: that’s really nice, that’s actually a perfect Segway to the next question which is what advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Daisy: I think for me, the thing that helped me was having constantly been, having constantly grown up in an environment where I was the only girl, like I literally can’t explain this without saying cricket again, but
[Laughter] Daisy: sorry, but like, if being a girl on a boys’ sports team, or whatever it is, being the only woman in any situation, although it’s scary at first, like you kind of, I kind of forget now that I’m meant to – in quotation marks – or like that other people are thinking that I would feel intimidated in that situation. Now if I go into a meeting where it’s all men and me, sometimes I’d walk out and not even have thought about that/
Rish: yeah/
Daisy: ‘cause you’re used to it, so basically it’s that like don’t be scared of experiences where you are the minority early on because it only makes it easier going forward, basically, I think.
Rish: OK.
Fifi: I think so much has happened and progressed in even the last ten years in terms of equality/
Rish: for sure.
Fifi: but I think that there’s always more that can be done. Never stop fighting. Keep pushing.
Rish: Yeah.
Molli: why do you make me follow after these
[Laughter] Daisy: follow that Molli!
Molli: inspirational speeches… I’d say like don’t compare yourself, like not to just men but don’t compare yourself to anyone.
Gemma: Mm
Molli: the reason that we are in these roles is far beyond like a popularity context or really what was in our manifestos, like it’s your personality that drives you on through, so don’t spend time comparing yourself to the people that you think that society wants you to be, particularly when it comes to language. I have to say it, the word that I hate most in the world is “bossy”.
Others: [agreeing firmly] Molli: ‘cause bossy is like a female word.
Others: [agreeing] Molli: You never hear it/
Daisy: not once/
Molli: a man being called bossy, so do not compare yourself and don’t like when you get given words like that and you’re described in that way don’t take it, cause what someone might see as “bossy” actually you’re just empowered and you’re confident and you’re brave, so don’t think that like… when people bring you down don’t let them, carry on through.
Rish: when men are bossy, they’re confident/
Molli: yeah exactly
Rish: “oh he’s taking power, he’s delegating tasks/
Molli: Yeah, they’re strong-willed
Rish: but for women they’re seen as bossy, which needs to change/
Molli: yeah. I hate it. I hate that word. Ban that word.
Rish: It’s awful, yeah. Gemma what would you say?
Gemma: I’m trying to think. Again, don’t compare yourself because I remember when I was running for the role, I genuinely did not believe in myself at all, I was like “there’s no way I’m going to win” ‘cause I’ve always been quite an introvert and like a quiet person and then I remember in my speech/
Daisy: that made me cry!
Gemma: Um, I can’t remember what I said now
[Laughter] Daisy: I can remember it cause it made me cry, you said “like I hope I’ve proven that you don’t have to speak the loudest in order for your voice to be heard,”
Gemma: yeah.
Daisy: something like that. I didn’t cry when I won – I cried when Gemma won!
[Laughter] Gemma: and just that like you can be like a thinker, and someone that takes things in and that’s OK too, you can still be a leader.
Rish: That’s great! This is an interesting question that’s just popped into my head – what would you say to men in the workplace? What would you say needs to change for men? What do we need to do, that we’re not doing?
Daisy: That’s a really good question.
Gemma: Be like Zeid!
[Laughter] Rish: Be like Zeid!
Daisy: I think y’know if you’re… it’s pretty simple, it’s obviously easier said than done but just listen to what people are saying/
Rish: yeah/
Daisy: so if there is a woman in a room, with a, in a highly male-dominated workplace, it’s kind of not relevant. If you’re there to kind of make a plan for something or have a board meeting or whatever, just listen to what she says and that sounds so obvious that it doesn’t sound like a good tip, but it does need to happen/
Rish: yeah/
Daisy: I remember learning about a few studies in psychology where in board meetings or conferences, afterwards people rated, people were asked how many women do you think were in the room, or what percentage of the time was a woman speaking? And everyone, men and women, rated like thought that women spoke more than they did, or thought that there were more women than there were because they, because even one woman in the room speaking 5% of the time had blown their minds ‘cause they were so not used to it. I would just kind of ease into and be comfortable with women in male-dominated situations, listen to what they say and um, kind of just treat them like anyone else I would say.
Rish: that’s great! That’s really/
Daisy: yeah, be like Zeid!
[Laughter] Rish: Be like Zeid, be like Zeid. That is perfect, thank you very much for coming today Ladies, this has been amazing and I’ve learnt so much, it was so inspirational, and if you’d like to follow on for more, we’ve got a couple of blogs coming out on the careers platform and on the student life platform and we’ve got a big one coming out with Parveen who is the Pro Vice Chancellor and we’re very excited about that, but thank you all very much for coming today.
RUSU Ladies: Thank you!

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