To mark International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021, we’re celebrating women across the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).
A working woman
As a woman working in the ISCF Challenge Fund, I feel well placed to begin this discussion – although I promise this isn’t a blog all about me!
I have worked for UKRI for just over a year and even in that short period can see a change happening, a movement as such. Maybe it is because we are in the middle (my goodness I hope we are past the middle) of a pandemic, maybe it’s the discussion around race relations that has driven a desire for a more equal workplace and society or maybe it’s a new surge of energy that our female CEO has brought.
Whatever it is, and it could be all three, I’m here for it!
Having joined not long after returning to work from having my first child, I faced many challenges that I’m sure all parents can relate to. First was the guilt; the guilt of not being a good enough mother, or a good enough employee, constantly racked with the idea that one was exclusive from the other. What the Challenge Fund has shown me is that there are other ways of working that allow you to be successful in both areas of your life.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
The other challenge was ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a well-described phenomenon amongst women in the workplace. I had gone from my well-established role as a Physiotherapist to a Project Manager. Although I had been through the same recruitment process, I had managed several projects in the NHS over the decade I worked there, but Imposter Syndrome was fully taking hold when I first walked through the doors of UKRI.
The Challenge Fund offered me many ways to overcome these feelings of anxiety, that so many women experience in their careers. The first was flexibility – not the pretend kind, but the real flexibility to work as and when suited to my family life. With the general ethos; as long as the work is done it doesn’t matter what time of day it is done.
The second was finding the right fit, unafraid to promote people, to review roles and support progression, it felt that it was important to the leadership that they had the right people doing the right things. For me, it was taking on a project to embed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion into the Challenge Fund. I have been given the freedom to flourish in an area I’m so passionate about and I really appreciate that.
Making a change to gender equality?
But I'll be honest, here in ISCF, there are still issues that we are working to address. We have a gender pay gap reflective of the wider organisation. We’ve scaled rapidly and that growth brings difficulties to establish a ‘culture’ and a recent NAO report highlighted, what we already knew, that there is a lack of women within senior positions within ISCF.
EDI was not embedded from the start of the challenge fund and we are having to catch up quickly.
Throughout my work, I hope to share stories of women’s experience working in the Challenge Fund at the cutting edge of research and innovation, explore roles available in the fund, and the journey that has been taken to get to where they are. Hannah Gibson, Innovation Lead for the Transforming Construction challenge, wrote a blog about how the challenge team is working to create a diverse workforce.
I hope that these stories and experiences will begin to unfold opportunities to address the gender bias issues raised above and contribute to an action plan to bring about change.
#ChooseToChallenge for International Women's Day 2021
International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements or rally for women's equality.
This year, we’ve set out to really connect with diverse audiences. ISCF has a speaking spot during the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Women in Innovation event to highlight open or upcoming funding opportunities across the portfolio to a global audience. We’ve also asked a selection of inspirational women across the ISCF portfolio to feature in some uplifting videos.
Follow #ChooseToChallenge on social media or head to the International Women’s Day website for more information.
If you enjoyed this blog you might like to read Olivia's previous blog.
You can follow Olivia on LinkedIn
You can go to the Innovate UK website
You can go to the Innovate EDGE website
You can go to the UKRI website