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International Women's Day interview with Vice Principal Claire Carney

VP Iona discusses the challenges women can face in their careers.

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For International Women’s day, I met with Dr Claire Carney, Vice Principal Student Learning Experience.

We chatted about the challenges that women face when beginning their careers and also prevent them from flourishing within their roles. Building professional relationships with other women, has led to several mentorship opportunities and is something very important to Claire. She is both a mentor to others and receives professional support from her own role models. It is so important to build one another up and look out for female colleagues, no matter what level you are at within an organisation.

We discussed female empowerment using women that we find inspirational as examples and I got to hear about the challenges Claire herself has faced throughout her successful career.

Iona: This year FTSE 100 saw its sixth female CEO, Jette Nygaard-Andersen. This is an excellent accomplishment for this Danish professional, but it should not be a reason for celebration, I don’t believe 6/100 CEO’s being female is an outstanding accomplishment in the year 2021. I think that more progress must be made in order to inspire women to achieve more.

What advice would you like to send to women working on advancing in their careers?

Claire: I think it’s really important to believe in your work, and if you have an area that is of particular interest, and you are committed to that, then you really commit and continue on with it. I also think it’s really important just to be yourself. I carry in my wallet a little card that my mother - who was my true role model, gave to me when I think I was 18. This was when I moved to the UK for university. It’s all about being yourself, don’t change, don’t try to be someone else. Because I do see that a lot, people who think “if I’m a senior person I need to dress like this or behave like this and change my personality”. You need to be just be yourself, be committed to what it is you want to do, and you will go far. But you cannot be all things to all people. For those of us in education, it is a vocation, we’re not in it for the money per se. We’re here because we truly believe in the purpose of education. And that to me is my advice and one that I have always followed is to always be yourself and remain committed to what it is you want to achieve.

Iona: Women share the same struggle, no matter their walk of life. Being underestimated is infuriating when it comes from a man, however it is a worse pain when other women disregard us. The “Mean Girl” trope is very real and creates a bigger gender gap.

Audrey Lorde is an American author and a feminist, she once said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”

How do you think women can empower one another and what does this mean to you?­­­­­­­

Claire: I think the quote that I carry around in my mind is from former secretary of state, Madeline Albright who said: “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other” Now I don’t quite believe in the “hell” part of this, but the sentiment is that we must all help each other.

We must support each other, and call things out when we see things that we don’t think are correct. We cannot be complicit when we see things that will prevent our female colleagues from progressing. This support we offer will mainly be informal, but for someone at my level It’s incumbent on me that I support all younger female leaders who are coming through.

Iona: You are one of 3 Vice Principals within our college which is one of the most senior ranks. As well as this you have previous experience that led you to joining the college last year.

What challenges have you faced throughout your career and how did you overcome them?

Claire: Looking back my biggest challenge was very early in my career when I had to juggle motherhood with a number of part-time contracts. I was teaching across different colleges and working as a Research Assistant at Glasgow University.

The combination of being a mother, working several part-time jobs and trying to keep everything on the road, was much more difficult than any FT job I have held since that time. However, even from that time I knew that my long time future was in Education and that experience really emphasised to me the importance of commitment. It was during that time that I began to become more involved and interested in Student Experience and I was very much influenced by the early work emerging from the First Year Experience work in the United States and understanding impacts on student experience. So in effect, I really didn’t recognise the challenges I faced during that time I just got on with it as I had found my ‘passion’ and wondering, how did I do that?

Iona: I think many women also realise once it’s too late that they’ve been passed up on opportunities or they struggle to balance being a mother and progressing in their careers because they are a woman, and it must be incredibly difficult to be in that position.

Claire: I’m a believer in hard work, but I am a believer also in recognising where there are challenges and ensuring we support folks in those areas.

Iona: One of my favourite music artists is Lizzo, for speaking out on issues that impact women and she does not hesitate to do so. I’m inspired by her confidence and ability to love herself. I’d like to share the message of feeling assured in yourself and to always speak up.

What message would you like to send to the students and staff of City of Glasgow College this International Women’s Day?

Claire: This one’s easy in a sense Iona, because something I always go back to is to be yourself and to treat others as you would like to be treated. If we are kind and look out for each other, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, or creed or race you are, it always comes back to being kind. Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is if you put people first, the work will get done, if you put the work first, but not the people, you very soon run into problems.

I don’t get why we aren’t kind to one another, it’s all about saying thank you, or showing appreciation for others, or even being compassionate to those who are still working with a baby on their knees!

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