To celebrate this day the EUTOPIAn way, three of EUTOPIA’s many leading women, Nikki Muckle, the alliance’s Secretary General, Eva Wiberg, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg and EUTOPIA Chair, and Marie Marchand, PhD student at CY Paris Cergy Université and President of the EUTOPIA Student Council talk about female academic leadership, feminist inspiration, and life in general.
Do you actively celebrate International Women’s Day?
- Marie Marchand: Absolutely! I’m a convinced feminist and I share important information every day on my social media accounts. However, International Women’s Day is more special. On that day, I try to make sure that I raise awareness regarding global figures, key issues that concern each woman on earth, whether it be regarding equal pay, the end of excision or the right to abortion.
- Eva Wiberg: University of Gothenburg usually has events, panel discussions, and research portraits that day. Students usually also celebrate with many activities. With the pandemic, all activities have gone digital.
Why don’t men have an international day? Why do women need 8 March?
- Marie: Unfortunately, even if we live in 2021, there are still many things to be done regarding gender equality. I sometimes have the feeling that we are regressing on some issues. We live in a world that is still full of prejudices and pre-conceived ideas about what women should do as a job, how they should behave, how they should look. I might agree on one point with the critics of International Women’s Day: it should not exist. But not because there is no existing problem, but because we should all be equal.
- Eva: And we actually really need the men in this discussion. It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’, this is a joint effort. I think that today we still need a special day for women, but that the focus on just the binary genders is not enough. We need even more common discussions during the year. But 8 March is Women’s Day!
You are women in academic leadership positions. What led you to this career path?
- Eva: I was brought up in a family of academics, which is of course a very privileged situation, but I have relatives back in history who were farmers, and also school teachers. The fact is that I never specifically chose to become a university leader per se, it was the engagement of the students and staff that I thought was so fascinating to work with.
- Marie: As far as I can remember, I’ve always said to my parents that I wanted to be a teacher. I think what is key in my way of perceiving the world is that I love to learn and to give people the possibility to learn by themselves. After obtaining my Master’s degree, I started working as a communication & marketing officer but I really missed thinking by myself. I’m currently in my third year of my PhD and I really love research. On top of that, being involved in EUTOPIA has been a revelation, it’s the perfect place to feel useful! I’m not sure if I still want to teach but I definitely want to pursue a career in the academic field.
- Nikki Muckle: I started a career as an academic, but in a field where solitary research with large datasets was the norm. I soon realized that I wanted to work in a role that involved bringing people together to create change in higher education, and that I would better be able to do that in a more facilitative role. Almost the opposite path to Marie! I enjoy problem solving and complexity, but also working in teams and with a wide range of people. So throughout my career I have focused on the development and implementation of new, complex initiatives that enable individuals and institutions to respond to changing priorities. And I enjoy working in a university setting particularly because of the diversity of views, positions and approach.
“A leader isn't someone who forces others to make them stronger; a leader is someone willing to give their strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own."—Beth Revis. Is this a philosophy you embrace as a leader?
- Eva: This is what I related to in the former question. I embrace that philosophy wholeheartedly.
- Nikki: I completely agree. But I think a good leader is also someone that can bring together a team with different skills and expertise where different perspectives can be heard and valued. So a leader is someone that not only supports others, but encourages others to identify and develop their own strengths rather than mirroring the leader’s attributes.
- Marie: I completely agree, too. I’ve been able to teach British History and Research Methodology and I think you cannot get anything done by forcing people to do what you expect. Especially because everyone has their own way of thinking and that is what makes us stronger: our uniqueness. A good leader is someone who helps others become independent and able to think on their own, a good leader is someone who is supportive and who believes in others, while guiding them towards a defined objective.
What do you think is causing the lack of diversity in top leadership?
- Nikki: I think this is also an issue of considering what ‘leadership’ itself is. Our traditional view of what makes a good leader has historically been based on many typically male characteristics. Frequently female colleagues feel they have to adopt those characteristics to further their career, and then feel conflicted when they achieve leadership positions. But there is beginning to be increased discussion now on the value of more female leadership characteristics. I would like to see more dialogue and training on different styles of leadership so that we broaden thinking on what we value as strong leadership traits and what they can deliver. As Eva says - if we can bring everyone, male and female, in to this discussion I think we can achieve much more balance in how leadership is delivered.
- Marie: To me, there are many elements causing the lack of diversity in top leadership, starting with the question of becoming a mother. The fact that one day, a woman might want to have children is clearly still perceived by many as an obstacle. There is also the fact that in the collective mind, there’s still this idea that girls are weaker than men, and thus unable to have big responsibilities. We need to teach our little girls and boys that they can do anything they want. I insist on teaching our little boys too that there is no “girly” job, there is no “girly” sport. Raising awareness among boys and men is essential to achieve equality. We need to teach our girls how to be self-confident and how to chase their dreams. Our gender should not determine what we can achieve in life and this is something one needs to understand at the youngest age.
Gender equality is an explicit priority for the EUTOPIA Student Council. Is EUTOPIA on the right track towards gender parity, or do we have a long way to go still?
- Marie: If I had to sum up what was said during our forum, I would say that our universities have their role to play in reaching a more inclusive environment. This issue is true for our students, but also for our professors and members of staff. We still see too many cases of violence towards women. We need our universities to be safe spaces for girls to think and to live in. We are very lucky to have wonderful student organizations that do a great job in raising awareness, organizing events and workshops for everyone to attend. Our universities also proposed some solutions such as providing free period aid, and the possibility to report abuse or harassment via apps or phone numbers, but we need to push initiatives further!
- Eva: I agree with what Marie puts forward, and would like to add, that the Student Council is a very important group that will be agents for change for our Alliance. We must listen to them, and to our staff.
Growing up, which women inspired you the most?
- Nikki: I have very recently lost my mother, and that has brought me to think a lot about what I take forward from how she raised me. She was a very quiet, quite shy woman. But I have been struck in recent weeks with how many people have said she was so important to them, and how strongly she influenced their lives and families. So from her I take forward that strength does not have to be loud and forceful, but can be quiet and supportive.
- Marie: I think my mom, my grandmother and my great-aunt are key figures who have inspired me. My mother because she raised me alone from my birth to my 3rd birthday while my father was on missions abroad as a soldier. My grandmother because she went through the war, lost her father and then her husband, showing a great ability of resilience. And my great-aunt because she’s herself a very modern woman and convinced feminist.
- Eva: My great-grandmother had a rather big farm, her husband was older than her and died, left her with 6 children. She was the first to understand the importance of technology, and bought a tractor to the farm. This was early 20th century. The farmers around thought that she was mad, but one after the other came to borrow that tractor. All her children were able to get education, some at university or college level. My grandmother was one of them. She married my grandfather who was headmaster of a primary school. They in turn helped many girls, and boys to get their education. I think this has inspired me!
Nikki Muckle [email protected]
Eva Wiberg [email protected]
Marie Marchand [email protected]
EUTOPIA is an alliance of six leading, like-minded European universities committed to creating a connected and inclusive community to address local and global challenges. The aim is to contribute to a new model of higher education in Europe. The alliance is made up of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), University of Gothenburg (Sweden), CY Cergy Paris Université (France), Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona (Spain), University of Warwick (United Kingdom) and University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). EUTOPIA brings together more than 165,000 students, 30,000 staff, research centres in 760 areas of knowledge.