A truly UnCommon session –  #openEd17

photo by: Robin DeRosa CC BY

In the 2014 Tutu Lecture “Women in Peace” Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke to the importance of gender equality of the decision-makers in the room.  And what that the value of amplifying the voice of women leaders brings more to the room and the decisions – Her practical recommendation was simple

“that women in positions of authority walk into a room that is dominated by men should ask “What’s wrong with this room?””

I started UnCommon Women because I saw a gap between the women in senior operating roles and the men in “Thought Leader” roles. In other words, the women were getting s*** done. I wanted to celebrate and amplify the many strong brilliant and busy women of the commons.

The first OER UnCommon Women panel needed voices who were accessible, vulnerable, and brilliant. Fortunately, I know a lot of women with these traits, Amanda Coolidge and Sarah Cohen were first to mind, and Amanda introduced me to Francesca Carpenter.  I had also asked the incredibly thoughtful Jess Mitchell, but sadly the Inclusive Design Research Centre DEEP conference was scheduled before OpenED for the same week.  (sidebar: if you are serious about Inclusive Design check out the resources from IDRC).

Conference sessions can often be messy. You don’t know who’s going to show up or what they will be inspired to say/to share.  I think we can comfortably say we blew the doors off. Essential to the session was breaking the room and encouraging conversation over a panel of talking heads.  The room was packed and filled with individuals across experience, role and gender lines and with them, they brought their voices what followed was a diverse and experience rich dialogue. Many personal stories, experience and practical advice all with an underlying theme of women saying “yeah, me too.”

I will always wish we had this on video or audio to capture everything. Some comments from the session included the desire to shift the traits of leadership to include ones that are “quote” softer or ones that are considered weak. Forgetting about trying to push our way to the current table, current social structure, and instead blow it up and build a new one. The Table. The value of positive and growth inspiring work environments. The realisation that those you most think will lift you up might pull up the ladder behind them, but your greatest support might come from someone unexpected.  Amanda, sharing her story of working towards a deserved promotion and having her male boss say “Amanda, some men don’t think women should be in leadership positions”.  Amanda walks in the next day and quit. She decided the non-negotiables in her career.  Katie Steen reminding us how old we are and asking a brilliant question about advice to early career women and lastly, Kim Thanos dropping the mic “I’m Kim and I’m David Wiley’s boss.”

I love long untethered conversations but, like Mary Robinson’s act of walking into dominated rooms, I love tangible things. The simplicity of one thing that can be practised can shift ideas and have a major impact. Participants were asked 2 questions (and bonus question)

  • What is one thing women in a leadership role here at OpenEd can do to support the advancement of women in the open movement
  • What is one thing an ally can do the week at OpenEd
  • BONUS: One practice they can take home and practice for the year ahead?

The complete list of your ideas/comments/suggestions from the session can be found HERE.

Photo by: Kelsey Merkley CC BY 2.0

Some I loved

Women in Leadership Roles

  • Introduce yourself to 5 non-speakers(Attendees) and genuinely engage – no more cliques
  • Reconceptualize what is a thought leader ie indigenous views of wisdom
  • Pass the mic to a woman who is less known
  • Partner Up!
  • Consider the non-negotiables for your career

For Allies

  • When you work on open projects specifically seek out women (emphasis POC) to collaborate with – don’t settle is there are only men
  • hire, cite, listen to women
  • Just listen
  • RT don’t just like
  • Seek gender representation in OER efforts not just token but active
  • Seek to amplify voices of your female counterparts
  • Be prepared to be uncomfortable

What’s Next?


Photo by: Ryan Merkley CC BY 2.0

Some readings that were mentioned in the session and on twitter. More reading to share use #UnCommonReads and I’ll compile a pocket reading list.




Feature photo by the amazing  Ken Bauer CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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