Shero Tales. Professor Jane Ohlmeyer – The Force for Females

“Women need to be at the forefront”, “we need more women leaders”, “why are women underrepresented in the top strata”. I can’t stress enough, but there has been a lot of rants especially in the recent few years regarding gender gaps.

Ironically, while there are very few women who manage to climb the ladder, fewer still extend their own hands down for the fellow ladies to follow their footsteps. While we complain against a society that does not provide us with equal opportunities, it may make more sense if we consciously take one step to be accommodating, positive, mentoring and helping the women around us.

Jane Ohlmeyer is the visionary, founder and director of The Long Room Hub, Trinity’s (Trinity College Dublin) research institute for advanced study in the Arts and Humanities and active proponent of the education of Digital Humanities. She is the first Vice President for Global Relations, the chair of the Irish Research Council, an agency that funds frontier research across 70 disciplines. Jane is also a non-executive director of the Sunday Business Post, a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, of the National Archives Advisory Council, and of the Royal Irish Academy, where she chairs the Brexit Taskforce. She is the author/editor of 11 books. She has fellowships in Huntington, Newbury and Folger Library, covering the entire region from west coast to east coast.

She advocated the importance of Internationalization and the need for long-term relations with academics in all countries. She stressed on the importance of the financial benefits of inviting academics from other countries, she was also keen on sending Irish students on programs across the world for them to get the required exposure. In three years of office, she has covered 130 countries and 60 cities. She travels almost every week, be it a day visit to London or a few days in the U.S or in India and is in her office, always, the very next day. She had overseen the ground-breaking project in Irish history – the 1641 depositions and launched a fully searchable digital edition in Trinity College Library. She is now involved in the publishing of the depositions in hard-bound books. She had also studied in detail the depositions of the 500 odd Protestant women who gave their testimonies to understand the lives of colonist/Protestant women in the period.

If I’m to explain the roles and tasks she must undertake for various positions, it is just beyond any calendar or calculable human efforts. I kept asking her throughout the interview as to how she manages it all, and she just smiled saying that when you do what you love, you just keep doing it. It is no wonder that her colleagues call her a ‘human dynamo.’

Most women, when they hear such busy lives of successful women – have these questions. How were you able to take time away from family? How do you have work-life balance? “Well, as they say, it is work-life integration. I have two boys, and when they were young, I either had a good support system back at home to rely on, or I would bring the kids to work. They would sit through the conference with their own games, and I would compensate my time away from home when I’m with them” she says with a smile.

One would be amazed beyond words when you look at the positions she toggles and the publications she has in her name. But, more than that, it is her touch with the reality of female fellow colleagues and her efforts striving for a better world for women at work that inspires you.

As the chair of Irish Research Council, she has mandated the participation of women in projects seeking funding. “Gender is an aspect, and there is an unconscious bias,” she says. “IRC has become an example of best practices in this space.” The ‘Gender Strategy & Action Plan’ of the IRC aims to provide equal outcomes to both men and women and strives to ensure that at least 40% of each gender is represented. IRC, along with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board, has decided to make it a mandate for Third-level institutions to have gender quotas to be eligible for funding.

“Leadership roles are largely men. Only 19% of senior professors are women. The publishing world is no different either. There is data to demonstrate that women find it difficult to publish” Jane says concerned about the underrepresentation of women.

Why does it matter? Acceptance and success of women and society in the hands of women leaders has a much higher societal role than is apparent. Perceptions towards women need a significant overhaul across the world, and the first, most positive step is women to succeed in what they do and help their female colleagues. Speaking of her own tussle, she said that once, when she was ‘touched very inappropriately’ by a senior Vice-Principal during her early years of career in the University of Aberdeen, she did not think twice to report to the Vice Chancellor and inform that she will go to press if required. Many would think that it would mean the doom of her career to speak up against the atrocity. But, as fate would have it, the culprit was indeed in the press – ‘Top Peer’s Drug Binges with £200 Prostitutes’! years later for all the wrong reasons. “I’m very conscious that there is a Lord Sewel in every place. Women need to come forward and speak up.” She has coordinated and ensured there is a task force in Trinity to ensure that women feel safe to come forward and talk about issues they face at work from male colleagues.

As she says – ‘Awareness is the Key’. I cannot imagine a lady’s calendar being swamped with activities like hers in my small circle. I clicked a pic of her office to show those little shelves marked with the various offices and activities for each. Yet, there she is – imploring women to speak up, insisting more women participation and ensuring a ‘fair’ future for females.

If as a woman, you strove to do whatever is in your capability to help another woman, there will be two who have climbed the ladder – the very act increases the percentage in the gender ratio favourably, and the resultant actions can improve the positivity for women across the world. The support system you are seeking for should start from within, extend to others and those ripples will create yours.

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