Monica Illsley, Chief of Staff at Essex and the University’s Gender Equality Champion, presented this year’s Motivational, Empowering and Inspirational Awards as part of International Women’s Day.

I was delighted to have the chance to be part of this week’s celebration in The Hex organised by our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team and to meet so many of our incredible female staff and students.

The nominations for awards from our community really demonstrate the amazing impact of women across the University. They show how individuals are inspiring colleagues, giving others the confidence to succeed, making a difference through volunteering, providing great leadership, and leading by example.

Our event came within the context of this year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme: #PressforProgress. With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away, this clearly remains an area where there is still so much more to do.

Celebrating our motivational, empowering and inspirational staff and students

Celebrating our motivational, empowering and inspirational staff and students

I think that many of us simply become accustomed to how things are and, with busy lives to lead, we can sometimes stop questioning and challenging assumptions and behaviours. I’m fortunate enough to have a 16-year-old daughter who doesn’t let me forget about the need for action. I am constantly amazed by the extent to which she and her friends see inequality around them, and really feel that need to Press for Change.

I’m also fortunate to have been at the University for a long time both as a student and as a member of staff. One of the reasons I’ve stayed so long is the sense of fairness, of community and of mutual respect that I feel exists here. It’s who we are and what makes us special.

We all need role models – people who inspire and motivate us and I’ve certainly been fortunate in having them over my many years at Essex. Two stand out: my first manager who really believed in me and gave me confidence in my abilities; and more recently, our last Chancellor, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, who I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with. Her mantra of: “aspire to be anyone’s equal but no-one’s superior” is a powerful values statement that I think really resonates with who we are at Essex.

Our students are also a constant source of inspiration to me and a reminder of the power of the next generation. The wonderful current President of the Students’ Union, Zoe Garshong, is a fantastic example but there’s a student who has really made an impression on me in recent months and I’m delighted to see her receiving an award this year. This first-year government student has completely on her own initiative designed, planned and delivered a project to celebrate diversity and inclusivity at the University. She has led a ‘Love has no Labels’ project which will culminate in a screening of our community sharing their views on inclusivity and diversity. Having been postponed due to the snow, it is now happening on Monday 12 March from 2-4pm on Square 3 so please drop by to see it and show your support if you can.

All of those receiving awards this week haven’t done whatever they’re being recognised for in order to get an award but I think it’s wonderful that our community finds a way to make sure that you know that what you do has been noticed and appreciated by others. And is valued by the University.

Congratulations and thank you to all our worthy award winners:

Liz Austin, Nur Dinie Binti Mohd Fadil, Ilaria Boncori, Karen Bush, Katharine Cockin, Louise Corti, Camille Cronin, Angela Eldridge, Maria Fasli, Katie Finnimore, Hannah Gott, Helen Ivory, Bev Jackson, Ella Jeffries, Emilia Ilieva,Tina Lewis-McGlynn, Rowena Macaulay, Lesley Monk, Vanessa Nolan, Silke Paulmann, Mariem Shahzad, Emyliyana Suhaimi, Rae Waddon, Tess Wagstaffe, Belinda Waterman, Hannah Whiting and Rachel Wier.