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Developing a Women Staff Network

Thursday 06-10-2016 - 15:01

Jill Wells, Volunteering and Societies Manager at The Union Manchester Met, tells us about the networks that are developing women leaders within the student movement - and how you can get involved.

Working in the student movement, it is impossible not to have an awareness of liberation politics, of social justice. As women, we are often acutely aware of our own place within this – our sense of leadership, our confidence, and our rise and development through the movement. We’ve made a lot of progress in students unions – we’re seeing more women at a senior level, and dedicated programmes to support our skills and leadership. With this in mind it felt like time to develop something wider, for all women in the movement to come together. For my own part, the Aspiring Women Leaders programme reminded me that women-only spaces are vibrant, nourishing and important, and I wanted to create more of them.

We’ve been having conversations with women in students unions at some of the summer’s big events, to find out what they’d want a women staff network to look or feel like, how they’d want it to be structured. At SU16 and at the Membership Services conference, I spoke to women from across the movement, from experienced chief executives to women who’d joined the movement as staff only days earlier. These were women who were interested in being a part of something, having a say in how it develops, and investing in its future.

What came from these conversations, apart from a great diversity of views on specific activities a women staff network should involve, was a strong sense that women wanted to be with other women.

Specifically, women wanted an empowering place of safety and support where they could ask questions, problem solve, share experiences and learn from other women.

Some of the most common themes included:

  • Mentoring – women who were keen to share their experience and support others
  • Building a network of familiar faces to tap into with problems
  • Finding ways of building our confidence as individuals
  • Learning together, and developing skills and strategies

It was also keenly felt among the groups that a formal committee structure was the wrong approach for a collective of women wanting to support each other at this point in time. Instead, we discussed developing an informal network of activity, where each woman is invited to contribute to a programme of events and activities which would be centrally listed and advertised.

From this simple concept, some women are now planning regional get-togethers for women to meet and get to know each other. Some women are looking at running I Will Lead The Way in their region. Some women are simply taking time to speak to people in their union about the network and being more consciously supportive and encouraging of other women.

We all have equal responsibility for making sure the network keeps moving and growing – and that means it can be anything we want it to be. It could include campaigning spaces, sharing spaces, mentoring, national meetings, regional nights out, nights in at our own Union for our own staff, crafting, TED screenings, conferences, celebration events. NUS have committed to providing time and space at any national staff event for us to come together as women.

How do I get involved?

We’re using the inspiring women JISCMail, so join there if you’re interested in learning more about the Women Staff Network and hearing about any upcoming events or activities. www.jiscmail.ac.uk/inspiringwomen

I’ll be working with NUS to collate information about the different activities happening in different places. Get in touch at j.wells@mmu.ac.uk if you want to talk about an idea or let us know about something that’s being planned.

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Features, Women

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