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Women’s Leadership: Holding Space for Growth workshop – AWLSIG

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Tree in a body of water

The latest Advancing Women’s Leadership Special Interest Group took place on Thursday 5th March where Clare Trembleau and Antonia Adeyemi, AWLSIG Chairs, and delegates were joined by Christina Hughes and Maria Kukhareva as facilitators from Women Space. This workshop was delivered in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Christina shared her extensive experience in promoting women in universities and stressed the need for new approaches to leadership. Maria emphasised the importance of “holding space” in personal and professional lives. They discussed the potential of women to create new leadership models. 

Maria highlighted the importance of creating inner space for leaders, emphasising the benefits of grounding oneself, connecting with supporters, and staying centred in a busy work environment. She also introduced the Japanese concept of ‘ma’, the idea of negative space or intervals, and how it can be applied to leadership development and personal growth. Maria stressed the importance of intentional pauses in conversation for better reflective processes and communication.

Maria initiated a reflective exercise for the group, asking them to capture their thoughts and emotions after reading a poem by Nora Baitzen. She encouraged the participants to fully absorb the poem and let it resonate within them. After the reflective period, Maria invited participants to share their thoughts and any physical sensations or emotions they experienced. 

The group discussed the benefits of writing down all their different thoughts for 5 minutes. They found that this practice helped them realise the many directions their thoughts go in and how they can channel them more effectively. Maria emphasised the value of this practice in getting to know one’s brain better and learning patience with one’s thoughts. They also discussed the significance of fully being present and paying attention to details, even in short periods. 

Christina further elaborated on Nancy Klein’s work, which encourages creating an environment conducive to good thinking. She brought up the concept of memory and the value of personal reflection. She also emphasised the importance of not always providing immediate feedback, which allows individuals to discover their own insights.

The group discussed the challenges they face in transitioning between meetings and the pressure to pack as much work into the day as possible. They agreed that this lifestyle negatively impacts job satisfaction, self-worth, and the ability to do their best work. They discussed the value of open conversations with unfamiliar people. They acknowledged  the importance of being fully present and providing a space for others to express themselves without judgement.

About the author: Rossana Espinoza is a Senior Learning Experience Designer with a large multi-national organisation. Rossana is also SDF Chair, leading the SDF to fulfil its promise: to continue supporting staff developers in the HE sector. She led the organisation of the first virtual SDF’s Festival of Learning and Development during the pandemic and converted a hierarchical structure to an agile matrix structure with an invigorated Exec team.