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International Women’s Day 2023: Interview with Professor Julie Mennell

Professor Julie Mennell DL Professor Julie Mennell DL

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we caught up with Professor Julie Mennell DL, Vice Chancellor at University of Cumbria and Cumbria LEP Board Member.

A mathematics and physics graduate with a PhD in Applied Physics, Julie has an international reputation in the field of forensic and crime scene science. She has served on the Home Office Forensic Science Advisory Council and the Skills for Justice Forensic Science Occupational Skills Committee, making significant contributions to forensic science strategy, education and workforce development in the UK and overseas.

Now Vice Chancellor at University of Cumbria, she hopes to promote confidence and self-belief in our young people.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
"Women across the globe achieve great things every day in thousands and thousands of ways - some in the headlines, many more in our homes, workplaces and communities. I think it's important we recognise and celebrate their many roles and achievements and who and what they represent."

What do you love most about your job as Vice Chancellor, University of Cumbria?
"I'm part of a University that was established in and for Cumbria to positively impact on people, place and future generations, which inspires and drives me. It's also such a people job, both inside and outside the university, which I love, whether working with people, for them or through them. Can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing!"

If you could change one misconception about how women are perceived in academia, what would it be and why?
"I often meet young women who tell me they are not academic, 'not very brainy' and higher-level education and roles aren't for them. We need to keep myth busting and to instil more confidence and belief in our young people. We have talent and we have jobs for talent."

What's the most valuable piece of advice you can pass on to anyone, especially women trying to establish their careers in senior leadership roles?
"Leadership isn't about knowing all the answers, it's about being able identify the right questions to ask and surrounding yourself with the people, and from all parts of the organisation and beyond, to provide the answers. Even if it makes your head hurt at times!"

You’ve had the ability to 'break through the glass ceiling' in your career, what is it that has allowed you to do that, and what traits have helped you to succeed the most?
"In my early career it was a combination of self-belief, confidence and being able to see and seize opportunities. Most importantly though it was being backed and encouraged by senior colleagues to do this, and of course that's now a big part of my role and responsibility to others."

Julie, you sit on the board for Cumbria LEP, what three factors do you think are shifting board diversity to ‘business as usual?’
"Diversity brings us news ideas, new perspectives, new challenges, new questions and solutions and so much more talent and skills to draw on. We only have to look at the amazing work of our Future Leaders to see this. Simply, it's business critical."

Who are the people that have inspired you during your career? What influence did they have on you and how you work?
"I always say my Mum when asked this question. she left school at 14, had three children by 21 and undertook evening classes, night shifts and with little sleep in the day to go on to buy our own house, become a nurse, to get a degree then masters and to manage an Eye Theatre. She's been a super role model, to me and others."

What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?
"We only have to look at the number of senior leaders across Cumbria and the university sector to see and importantly benefit from the progress made. We need to build further on this and keep working to ensure that all parts of our communities and society are valued and encouraged. An inclusive Cumbria has so much more to give."

What are your personal motivators? What do you do outside of work that keeps the pressures of work at bay?
"Definitely family and enjoying and cherishing all that this entails."

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