follow your heart

After a long period of inactivity, finally a new post on cubistcrystal. This post is an abridged version of an introductory speech I gave at a University of Wollongong (UOW) event to celebrate International Women’s Day, plus the full text of the keynote by Dr Belinda Gibbons. That was Tuesday 10 March, 2020. Just 18 days ago, yet it seems like an eon has passed since then: 100 people were in the room, no social distancing, though no handshakes. How things have changed.

Belinda is an inspirational, incredibly talented, values-led academic, with decades of industry experience, who speaks straight from her heart. Her speech touched mine. I hope it speaks to yours too, and provides some calm thoughts to reflect on in these strange and unsettling times.

(italic text in parentheses in Belinda’s speech are my additions to provide context)

IWD 2020 UOW

#EachForEqual – a lifetime ago and yet also only 18 days ago

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Me:

I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which the University of Wollongong is situated – lands of the Wodi Wodi people of the Dharawal nation. We pay our respects to Aboriginal Elders past and present, who are the knowledge holders and teachers. We acknowledge their continued spiritual and cultural connection to Country. As we share knowledge, teaching, learning and research within this University, we also pay respect to the knowledge embedded forever within the Aboriginal Custodianship of Country.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated since 1911; the first gathering was supported by over a million people. Today, on March 10, we continue the 2020 IWD celebrations at UOW, by recognising the achievements of women at UOW, and of all the women in our lives, women who brought us into the world, women who inspire us, women who lead the way.

There is much symbolism in IWD celebrations. Historically the combination of purple, green and white has been used to symbolise women’s equality. Purple signifies justice, dignity and self-respect. Green symbolises hope and new life. White represents purity, but is no longer used by IWD because ‘purity’ is such a controversial concept.

In my choice of IWD-colour themed apparel today, I have chosen additional symbols – a leopard brooch symbolising independence and a fearless attitude to addressing obstacles on the way to success. Importantly, I inherited this brooch from my mother (I love you mum!), my first role model: who became charge nurse of the Operating Theatre Department in a major hospital in Victoria. While raising 9 children.

Perhaps most symbolic of all, I have chosen to wear a dress that has pockets. Real pockets. Functional pockets. Not fake fashion pockets. Real pockets on women’s clothing symbolize Freedom. Power. Equality.

And that neatly leads me into this year’s theme for International Women’s Day ‘An equal world is an enabled world’ – #EachforEqual.

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Dr Belinda Gibbons:

I acknowledge that the beautiful land on which we gather today is Aboriginal land. As we are allowed to stand on Mother Earth, may we always realise and respect her gifts of water, air and fire. I pay respect to Elders past and present, and extend my respect to all Aboriginal colleagues here today.

I left school when I was 16 – much to my mother’s horror! I was a straight A student. I was an excellent teenager. I followed all the rules but I found myself at the end of Year 10 staring at a list of subjects in a system that had it all wrong – still does in some regards. I didn’t like what the next 2 years of my life looked like and I always listen to my heart – it speaks very loudly. So I went to my beautiful dad and said that I wanted to go to work. He then convinced mum!…..

I took an office internship with a large retirement village on the south coast of New South Wales. This was in 1988. If any of you can recall 1988, this was the year that IBM released the desktop computer and transformed the office working environment. Given I was the youngest person in the retirement home, I was given full reign to incorporate computers into the practices and procedures of the office. I got to work with the networking technicians, with the software programmers and I just fell in love with the difference that this technology made to people’s lives, and how it connected us like never before. I knew I had found my passion.

So I went to TAFE and completed my Higher School Certificate in one year and then entered a Bachelor of Commerce at UOW. I loved Uni. I published with lecturers, I presented at a conference and upon graduation the Dean asked me if I would like to move into academia as a career. I remember that day in building 40 saying to him “Professor, where am I going to make the most money – here or out there”? He smiled and said, “Definitely not here!” And so I went, and didn’t touch base with the University again for the next 15 years.

I worked in IT and management for multinational companies and loved every day. When I had my first daughter, it was expected that I would return to work after a few weeks. No-one worked from home then. How crazy – it was IT after all. Anyway, as I sat in the child care car park I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t like what the rest of the day looked like for me. And I didn’t want to do this – so I left, and purchased a child development and learning franchise. Random, I know!

After being asked to speak in one of the classes at UOW, I walked into the Faculty of Business at UOW again. I loved it and asked if I could start tutoring. I had a lot of industry experience. Eleven years later I am still here. But it took me a long time to find my academic space – obviously, given I am still an ECR….. Honestly, I am still not sure I have found my academic space – or if I am ever meant to.

I remember a Professor saying to me “Just pick a thesis topic. It will go on the shelf and you probably won’t publish a lot from your original thesis”. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. How can we be trying to find contributions to knowledge that live on a shelf? I can’t help people with findings on a shelf. I questioned the system, and probably still do, but rather than leave it, my heart really wanted to stay and so I try to make the system work for me.

In 2015, I started working on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when I was nominated to sit on the UN Advisory Committee for Responsible Management Education. At the time I was the Australia and New Zealand Chapter Coordinator for Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). To be honest it wasn’t a highly contested position. Each university was doing its own thing and the goals were so holistic that they took people out of their discipline – how crazy I thought. We need to come together and share. Sharing took a couple of years.

Collaboration between universities 5 years ago looked a lot different to what it does today. Today PRME has 36 higher education institutions in an established Chapter that have state-based quarterly gatherings and an annual forum. We communicate regularly, share practices and act more like a family than colleagues.

I ventured outside the Management Discipline when I found myself questioning how we would ever realise the SDGs if they were only talked about and actioned in the Business Faculty. I met some amazing people on my travels…..I met George Taciks at my first climate change meeting. He introduced me to Justin Placek who was the General Manager of Healthy Cities Illawarra (HCI) at the time. We decided we would hold a local community event to raise awareness of the SDGs.

I had some money in a Teaching and Learning account, HCI put in some money and we booked a small function room and thought that 20 people might turn up. We didn’t put a limit on Eventbrite as we didn’t think there was a lot of interest at a local level. We were wrong. Within 24 hours, we had 110 people registered covering all sectors. We got a larger room! From there, local interest grew and I started working with councils and industry.

Within UOW, Dominic Riordan (Director, Academic Quality and Standards, UOW) gave me 30 mins one day and opened doorways for me to run an interfaculty student Act4SDG Dean’s Scholar Challenge – which for the past two years has brought together interdisciplinary teams of Dean’s Scholars to tackle global goals at a local level.

Other incredible internal support was given by Dr Tamantha Stutchbury, Prof Chris Gibson and the amazing UOW Global Challenges Program team who single-handily got UOW signed up to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and welcomed me as the 2020 ECR representative; Richard Cook (Program Manager, Research Analytics, Systems and Support, UOW Research Services Office) who asked me to present at the Research For Impact workshops and designed the SDGs into the Planning For Impact canvas; Omar Khalifa (CEO of iAccelerate, UOW’s business incubator and accelerator) and his amazing team invited me to become an Expert-in-Residence allowing me to work with starts-ups who are embedding the SDGs, and Associate Professor Honglin Chen (Acting Dean Graduate Research) who recently embedded the SDGs in a University-wide Responsible Research subject.

Prof Grace McCarthy (Dean, UOW Sydney Business School), Professor Julia Coyle (UOW Pro-Vice Chancellor Students), Associate Professor Tracey Kuit (Teaching Specialist, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences), WATTLE, Sarah Lisle (Director, UOW Pulse), UOW Student Services, the list of those who have helped my passion is long – and then just when I start to think of more I can do to have our University focus on the SDGs, we had an incredible DVC (Research and Innovation) arrive who immediately incorporated the goals into her vision. In January 2019, UOW opted to enter the pilot of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings (UOW ranked =13th in the world in the pilot) and signed the University commitment to the SDGs. Lots of conversations and support has snowballed into an exciting, crazy and grateful couple of years.

I now present on the SDGs 1-2 times a week within Faculties, Schools, Industry – and not because it’s in my workload but because it makes my heart feel full. I was always told in my Career Development Review, and in mentoring sessions, to find your specialty, the thing that you will be known for. I never set out to do that with the SDGs. They provided me with a framework to connect people and make change. That’s what I love to do – its what I have always loved to do.

I follow my heart, my decisions align with my values and I teach, research and collaborate with people in areas that inspire me to be more.

I promise following my heart has also led to some very painful times but I have learned to seize every opportunity and I am very grateful for all the support provided by many amazing people along the way.

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