In this blog post, Zahra Khan - UCL PhD student and GRRIPP Ambassador - tells us about a lively gender inequality-focused workshop hosted for new students at the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction last month.
On 27 September, during UCL induction week, GRRIPP, IRDR, WOMENVAI and UCLWES co-hosted a joint workshop for students. This was the first of what we hope are many events curated to tackle gender inequality by empowering students to come up with their own solutions.
WOMENVAI is an NGO committed to improving the world for women using artificial intelligence and sustainability. Members comprise of both men and women engineers trying to solve the many issues the world faces. They have a strong global network and participate in many important summits and conferences, showing their influence in driving positive change. We were really grateful that some of them came down to UCL for the day to facilitate the workshop.
UCLWES is a UCL society for women in engineering, but do not be deterred by their moniker. Anyone who aligns with their vision of a better, fairer world for women – especially in STEM – is encouraged to join. They hold many events throughout the year which are designed to inspire, inform, and advise students on why the intake and retainment of women in engineering is crucial. They also host several socials and events for like-minded individuals to have fun and relax, and to combat the stress that can come along with university life. Their mission and values are very much similar to IRDR and GRRIPP, and we were excited to have them contribute to the workshop.
The event started by everyone formally introducing themselves. Maureen Fordham, GRRIPP’s Principal Investigator and Professorial Research Associate at IRDR, gave a fantastic introduction to GRRIPP. Yvette Ramos, cofounder of WOMENVAI and international consultant, did the same for WOMENVAI. Then, Hora Behnejad, President of UCLWES and a civil engineering student, presented UCLWES with a quick and engaging overview. The students participated in a quiz to get them thinking about gender inequality statistics. Most of the room did very well in getting the correct answers with a few comments made about how the numbers are shocking but unsurprising.
The main part of the workshop involved the facilitators’ summarising five key themes to the students, who would then decide on which issue they would like to consult. The issues were:
Gender and Transport
Gender and Climate Change
Retaining Women in STEM
Gender Pay Gap
Gender and Mental Health
After a very brief outline on the topics the students were given only 45 minutes to discuss and come up with a presentable solution. Here are the results:
Gender & Transport
This team’s idea centred around making it safer for women to travel late at night by working with local bus companies, adding additional stops so the total journey time would decrease. On the bus there would be volunteers trained as active bystanders to promote appropriate behaviour by everyone on the bus. This would encourage social mobility and has the potential to be scaled up.
Gender and Climate Change
This team’s solution was to create female-only shelters in disaster prone areas in the world. Their aim was to help single women and mothers in disaster situations, as they are disproportionately affected and can face heightened abuse, which prevents them from seeking help post-disaster. They would work with local ambassadors to gain an understanding of the local cultural needs. The shelters themselves would be designed to withstand natural hazards and provide the space women might need to build resilience.
Retaining Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
This team suggested planned initiatives within big organisations. They proposed that Human Resources departments could support women to gain additional skills they might need to compete with their male counterparts, as well as the confidence to ask for promotions. They would actively engage bosses and seniors to ensure people in positions of authority have the right training to make the workplace conducive for women.
Gender Pay Gap
This group identified two causes for the gender pay differences in the UK: intake and socioeconomic factors. One concern is the lack of knowledge that many women have regarding their rights in employment and, by providing knowledge, this could empower women to demand more from their jobs. Flexible working and making changes to maternity policies were some other ideas the group came up with.
Gender & Mental Health
This team wanted to concentrate on the negative effects social media can have on mental health – particularly the “suggested content” that appears on newsfeeds. They wanted to create a government agency that monitored the quantity of these ads to ensure a cap was put on the number of suggested content that users could view. The content itself would be regulated to ensure anything extremely detrimental was limited and companies would be fined if they did not follow the regulations. These fines would be put back into helping those that were affected by the media posts.
Everyone was impressed by the teams' proposals, given the tight time constraint. The delivery of the presentations was excellent, and the students answered challenging questions with conviction and confidence. The attendees were not only able to discuss and identify some areas of concern but came up with action plans to tackle these issues and give concise presentations.
There was a prize available for one of the teams. The prize criteria were based on innovation & creativity, feasibility & practicality, and presentation and communication. It was a very close call, as the entire cohort did such an incredible job and the quality of solutions was to a high standard.
The winners were the Gender and Climate Change team with their idea for a female-only shelter. Everyone in attendance was given certificates with the winners given a goodie bag. The event ended with some drinks and a social so everyone could get to know each other.
The general feedback by students was positive and we hope that they were motivated to advocate for gender equality in everyday life. Of course, this was just a starting point in the discussions and there is a lot of academic and policy literature already available on these subjects. The workshop was about getting students involved and starting to think about gender inequality in the first place – in other words, a springboard for more action. We hope to run future events where the students can build on these scenarios with more practical outcomes and encourage anyone who would like to get involved to sign up for the mailing list to keep updated (sign up by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org).
A massive thank you for all those who attended as well as WOMENVAI and UCLWES for their valuable contribution in making the first ‘I got 99 problems and I’m trying to solve one’ a success.
Zahra Khan is a GRRIPP Ambassador. She is a PhD student in Chemistry at UCL and has been working with Professor Peter Sammonds and Professor Maureen Fordham since summer 2022. Zahra has a strong passion for women's education and equality for all and for encouraging students to advocate for positive change. Zahra will be working part time for the next year of GRRIPP to ensure it has a lasting legacy.