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.
Zoe Knowles is a Professor of Engagement and Learning at LJMU’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. She spoke to us about wanting to get more girls interested in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and why International Women’s Day is important to her.
“I think as a global campaign, International Women’s Day provides a great public platform for the achievements of women to be celebrated. For me, it feels like a point in the year when we should take time to reflect on what has been achieved by women, as well as the many challenges ahead. It’s also a time when we should be thinking about how all of us can contribute to finding positive solutions to our problems – both individually collectively.
“To mark International Women’s Day, the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences is hosting our second ‘Here Come the Girls…The Future of Sport and Exercise Science’ outreach event, designed to inspire a group of 60 girls who have aspirations to become sport and exercise scientists of the future. This initiative is led by female staff and covers topics relevant to women of all ages who want to become active members of society, exercisers, sports participants or influencers in the scientific community.”
Zoe reflects on her journey through academia and how she managed to juggle motherhood with her working responsibilities:
“My own journey to becoming a professor started when I came to LJMU as a student myself through Clearing. Essentially I was a student who never truly left! I completed undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD degrees here and also gained a number of other accreditations alongside my studies. When my two children were young I would often worry about being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance as a working mother – but this was something I was able to work around thanks to taking the decision to work part-time for a while.”
As a professor, Zoe has become a role model for many female (and male) students. She also provides mentorship to other female staff at LJMU:
“I offer to mentor and support female staff through the Aurora initiative and other mentoring schemes. I also strongly champion the benefits that LJMU offers in regards to flexible working, as they have helped along the way. When it comes to how my students see me, I’d like to think that the young women I teach view me as someone who challenges bias, stereotypes, poor practice and the prejudices that women sometimes face –particularly in STEM subjects.”
Zoe is passionate about inspiring the next generation of potential female professors to take an interest in STEM:
“As far as female representation goes in my area of expertise, there are a number of women professors at LJMU which is great to see, but the real challenge is to inspire the next generation. I think STEM subjects in particular have challenges when it comes to female representation and we also see similar trends in the elite sport sector too. It’s up to those of us who have succeeded already to take the time to inspire the next generation, to put ourselves forward for influential roles or key positions and do so with enthusiasm, confidence and vigour. I love getting out to schools and colleges to host outreach events on-site, where you can see these young women being inspired first hand.”
Zoe is also keen to encourage others like her to get involved with local initiatives and schemes that help women within the local community and beyond:
“There are many opportunities for women to help each other through various organisations. From The Girls’ Network to Girlguiding in Merseyside – these are important initiatives for all girls in our society. I would really encourage any women who have a little time each week to spare to consider volunteering with these schemes. You really can make a difference to other women’s lives!”
If you’re inspired by Zoe and interested in studying sports science, take a look at the courses within the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences.
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.