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Aug 24
The Working Earth Woman’s Month Campaign - Part Two

Name & Surname: Felicity Coughlan

Job title, Company: Group Academic Director/  Director of The Independent Institute of Education

Qualifications – D Phil (Also have B Soc Sc (SW), B Soc Sc (Hons) (SW), B Soc Sc (Hons) (Psych), M Sc)

1. What does Woman’s Day mean to you?

In South Africa, it commemorates women who stood up against injustice.  They did not succeed then.  The democracy they wanted was decades away.  I believe though that the fact that they took the stand they did and were public about their anger started to change the course of history and added a little impetus to a swelling resistance.  For me that is what women at their best are.  Strong, brave and infinitely patient without ever being passive.  Women seem to be future directed and to understand that things do not always pay off now and they do not always pay off for the people who did the work.  Therefore, the day means that one thing to me.  The other is more challenging – the world is a dangerous place for women, but it is women who raise boys to be men and provide at least half the examples of what is OK in terms of the way men treat women. For me it should be a day to focus on the next generation of men and to recommit as women (and men) who are teachers and employers and lecturers and leaders to raising a different kind of man.   AdvTech has a sphere of influence far wider than most work places as we have access to the youth and I think we need to make better use of this opportunity  – Woman’s Day for me is about imagining a world in which a Woman’s Day is only needed for historical reasons and so that we never go back.  


What I want most right now from Woman’s Day is to mobilise conversations and action against what I consider being one of our key current injustices and that is that poor girls have lower access to schooling because they menstruate.  I care about the fact that more than two decades in to our democracy the lack of sanitary pads keeps people out of school.  The original march was about how documentation, control, and abuse of power kept people, families divided, and women in particular subjugated.  For me the level of inequity that feeds violence against women is wrapped up in a society that does not have its act together to make sure girls can go to school when they are menstruating.  Therefore, Woman’s Day to me is also, about what we still need to do.

2. What are your thoughts on women in the work place?

The world remains a dangerous place for women and my vision is that AdvTech will be a place from which change spreads.  Therefore, when I think about women in the work place I am hypersensitive to anything that mirrors the misogyny of broader society.  Given the profile of people we reach every day, I truly believe that if we all conducted our working lives with a deep respect for the development of a non-racist, non-sexist, prejudice free society we could make a meaningful and sustained difference to the world that women have to navigate every day, and this impact would be way beyond the scope of influence of most other work places.  That motivates me.

3. How do you manage to balance your work life with your family/social life?

I don’t.  Every day is a series of compromises and in hindsight I am embarrassed and regretful of as many decisions as I am proud.  I am hoping that one day I will figure out the formula.  In the meantime I love as deeply as I can and work as hard as I can at home and at work and I hope that on balance the impact on me and on those I care about (at home and at work) will be merciful, forgiving and maybe even a bit appreciative.  I have no clue how to achieve what others call balance and I have made a decision to stop seeking balance but rather focusing on doing the right thing by weighing up the impact of the choices I make.  I sometimes get this very wrong.

4. What is your favourite quote, by whom and why?

“Curiouser and curiouser”.  This is something that Alice in Wonderland (by Lewis Carrol) says when she is not just talking about all the strange things around her but also when she is trying to  understand if all the things she believed about herself are true.  I use this phrase all the time to remind myself to accept change and embrace the bizarreness of life.  If that fails then I draw on this one from Dr Seuss “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you than you.”

5. What advice do you have for young women in the work place?

I tell women to walk a path that leaves their conscience clear, their reputation for dignity and effort intact and others a little uncertain about what is coming next.  Mostly I try to share strategies for managing unfairness so I say, “Sometimes things don’t work out because things are just not fair.  Sometimes though they do not work out because I did not handle the situation correctly or did not put in enough thought and effort.  If you treat each challenge as being something done to you and never as something you have done to yourself you will burn out as the opportunities for rage and frustration are enough when you are a women in today’s working world without doubling them by blaming others for things you could have avoided. Just like me, no one likes losing so I always try to remember to go in to a negotiation or discussion knowing how to allow the other person to leave with something they wanted.  They are then much more likely to give me something I need. This is reasonably good advice for men too I guess.  In addition, it sometimes does not work because sometimes things just cannot be fixed.  Then I have needed to learn to let things go as I don’t have enough strength to take on new challenges where I can succeed while still investing time and energy in situations in which I will continue to fail”.

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