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International Women’s Day 2022: Breaking the Bias in Higher Education

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias, encouraging us all to imagine a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

We spoke to some of our inspirational females who are part of Regent College London’s community to understand more about how they are breaking the bias when it comes to gender equality in the HE sector.

Meet Dr. Rula Alousi, program leader at The School of Business and Enterprise. Her current research area is around the impact of conflict and war on education.

How are you breaking the bias by promoting women’s equality in education and or research?

“I do this every day by setting myself as an example to my students, focusing on females who feel they may not be able to do it, on daily basis, I aim to inspire. I support my fellow team members and let them know I am her, appreciate their work even if no one else is acknowledging their efforts.

I have lived through a working life of bias and discrimination. Due to my cultural background as well as gender, it was a struggle even while studying at university. I used to be shy, scared, and worried to say I was originally from. I was challenged when it came to job opportunities due to being a female and sometimes for being a young female. But now, and a few decades later, I am happy to see how the world had changed, how the way of thinking had changed. More importantly, how the law had changed to support women of all ages and backgrounds.

Organisational culture in the UK has developed and evolved when it comes to bias, especially in London. I am happy to say that working in a metropolitan city such as London, we get to see people from all walks of life, faiths, genders, and a fantastic cultural mix. Accepting one another outside of the workplace should become second nature and daily practice as we can take this with us wherever we go, to our workspace as well. This must be an attitude and a way of living, for at the end of the day we are all human. A woman may be a full-time employee but she’s a mother at home, a wife, a sister with responsibilities to support her family. Life imposes pressure so let’s not add additional pressure caused by discrimination or being biased. “

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Which female role model inspired you to pursue your career in academia?

“My late mother, as an academic and educator herself, has and always will be my inspiration. I grew up with books in the house, raised within a family that took education as a mission as well as passion. From an early age, I knew how my mother played a role in designing curriculum for primary school education for overseas deprived systems. My mother contributed to a project of illiteracy eradication and seeing her face on UNESCO’s monthly magazine with an article acknowledging her efforts in 1978 was my moment of inspiration.”

What advice would you give your younger self when it comes to your education and career?

“You are brave and a human being, don’t be scared to follow your dreams. Carry on working with your goals and plans, be proud of who you are and where you come from, don’t let bullies tell you otherwise. Don’t be scared my young self, in the years to come you will have your own wall of fame at home with many framed degrees to show for, a son and daughter who make you a proud mother every day of your life, a career that you love and a job that you’re passionate about. So, lift your head high and believe me when I tell you, you did it.”

Meet Miyanda, a first-year Software Engineering with Foundation year mature student, studying at Regent College London.

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What inspired you to study Software Engineering?

I’ve always been interested in software development and often attended Google’s tech hubs. 10 years ago, I saw a pitch from a woman who developed Sugru, a plasticine-related product who saw a need and developed a solution for it. On some level, I felt I could do the same. I spent 18 months developing an app that would make football players data easier to analyse as a fan. I spent a long time looking for a mentor through the dept of trade and industry and eventually took the idea to SeedHack at Google Campus and worked on it for another 12 months. To develop the concept further, I realised that I needed the technical ability and skills to take iterate creatively.

I initially applied for Computing course especially as I didn’t feel confident in my Maths skills – but during my interview, the Head of School suggested Software Engineering would be a better option for me, given my start up experience. He showed me what my capabilities are and how my skills would better fit with Software Engineering. This was quite a powerful moment for me, as I felt that my potential was seen.

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What made you choose RCL as a place of study?

The University of Bolton curriculum along with the diverse modules appealed to me and the central London location that RCL offers. The flexible timetables and specifically evening classes that fit around my existing commitments with full-time work and family was a huge bonus too.

What do you enjoy most about the Software Engineering course?

The project management and collaborative working aspect. I’m a mature student- work full-time in a school, and I am in the evening cohort. I work with students with special needs and help them access learning, simplifying complexity and learning, which has helped me in my studies. Working on group projects, understanding technical demands, and feeling confident to lead.

I’m looking forward to doing more practical lab work next year. We missed out on some this year due to covid.

What are your plans after you graduate?

I often attend Google Talent events aimed at inspiring tech students. The sessions have given me insight into where my skills would fit. I would like to pursue roles in product management or software engineering.

Do you think the tech industry has an equal representation of men and women?

My course has a gender split of 30% women and 70% men, but I’m pleased to say the women are very vocal- I often hear my female peer’s voices in classes. We don’t, however, currently have female academics or lecturers, but I know the Computing & AI School has done in the past.

How can we, as a society engage more women into tech roles?

Putting yourself out there and being open to opportunities, you don’t know what opportunities will come your way otherwise. The industry needs to highlight that there are opportunities for everyone- no matter what your background, age, race, gender. Some tech events that I attend already highlight that software is for all-but it’s not enough. The industry can look to raise awareness by engaging women into the industry by approaching it from many different perspectives and offering support and understanding.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing women?

Being an agent of change is work that’s exhausting sometimes, we probably need more allies to drive the momentum of change with us!

What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?

Equal pay across all genders please.

What do you think is the biggest stereotype women face and how do you overcome it?

For so many different reasons we can feel like we don’t always belong in these tech spaces when we are contributing and creating value alongside our colleagues and peers. Good mentorship and leadership systems that value and validate us as we make our own way through our career path could be one way to get a positive feedback loop going, one that confirms how right we are for where we are.

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