To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve been talking to some of the inspirational female professors about their career journeys so far, as well as hearing their thoughts on what it means to be a woman in the workplace in the 21st century.
Based at Liverpool Screen School, Catherine Cole is a Professor in Creative Writing. A published author herself, she is helping students to hone their skills in areas such as style and structure on the MA Writing course. She is also a Governor on the Board of Governors for LJMU and represents the University at Liverpool City Council’s International Committee and the Burroughs Committee, both of which play a key role in the city’s cultural life. We caught up with Catherine to find out about her career and what International Women’s Day means to her.
“I came to academia late. I have been a professor for 12 years now after commencing as a lecturer in creative writing. Before that, I was a human rights advocate in Australia for the government and represented women on Australia’s UN World Women’s Committee. I also represented women and disadvantaged workers in the ASU (Australia’s equivalent of Unison). My interest in human rights extends back a long way and I have always been a passionate advocate for equality.”
International Women’s Day is significant to Catherine, especially in light of the high-profile stories of sexual harassment and the gender pay gap regularly in the news.
“It’s very important that women celebrate International Women’s Day to highlight their achievements and hard won gains and also to reflect on how far we still have to go. The #metoo movement has shown us just how common it is for women to still experience sexual harassment and assault. Domestic violence remains a major social issue as does the gender pay gap. We need to use the day to state loudly and clearly that women need to be safe, listened to and represented across all levels of our organisations, on boards and in decision making.”
“Women’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to get together to support and celebrate who we are and our determination to override any barriers.”
Within her role, Catherine is actively involved in helping to give women a louder voice.
“We have established a series of support mechanisms for women to enhance their research activities within the Screen School. I read research applications, offer mentoring, advise on promotion and read job applications. I also invite women who haven’t had much research supervision to join me on panels or in research and community projects which will enhance their careers. In regards to students, I meet with and advise women writers and put them in touch with grant and publishing opportunities.”
Now a role model herself, Catherine had her own share of inspirational women who acted as mentors during her professional development.
“I have been very fortunate as an academic to have been offered support and friendship from a number of women. One Australian woman who really was remarkable was the late feminist Edna Ryan who worked solidly for women throughout her long career. When she died at age 97, the Australian women’s movement acknowledged the 70 years of her influence. She was a mentor to me as a human rights advocate and a great friend.
“My other role model is Joyce Kirk, my former Dean in Sydney. She took all new academics under her wing, stressing to us all that she would support our ambitions and ensure that she was available to assist in any way she could. For Joyce ‘ambition’ in women was not a negative thing – she encouraged it and did whatever she could to offer opportunities for our development.”
When it comes to the realm of publishing, Catherine believes there is still work to be done towards equality.
“Women are doing well in publishing their creative work but studies conducted by groups like VIDA show that their work doesn’t receive the same attention as that of male writers either in reviews, articles, literary magazines and supplements, for grants and prizes, in panels at festivals and in the media. That lack of publicity can make or break a book – and a writer’s reputation and opportunities – so there’s still a long way to go!”
If you’re inspired by Catherine and interested in studying creative writing, take a look at our courses.
Find out more about the origins of International Women’s Day and take a look at the other features in this series on Meet the Professors.