Impact’s sting in the tail

December 18, 2014

I would like to applaud Alison Phipps for her article on the personal cost of impact (“Prude. Joyless. Vapid. Man-hater. Idiot. Toxic. The price of impact”, Opinion, 4 December).

Coincidentally, I was considering the issue from my own perspective last week. My own research around women in leadership and, in particular, women on corporate boards has allowed me to have considerable impact in the form of input to government policy and media coverage, including television appearances. One of my postgraduate students emailed me last week to express pride in seeing his lecturer on TV and also in finding old YouTube videos. Thinking to check some of those available, I was extremely upset to see a comment below one of them that read “deluded c***s”.

A few years ago, myself and a colleague started receiving regular emails from a man who declared himself to be “anti-feminist”. He criticised reports and commentary we were giving in the public domain. The emails were upsetting and disconcerting, but we said nothing and did not engage with the individual, despite offers of a public debate. When we were invited to contribute to a House of Lords inquiry on the subject of women on corporate boards, this individual found out about it and informed us that he would confront us there. Thankfully, sharing this information with the security team at the House of Lords meant that our evidence was heard in private.

I don’t for one moment believe that my colleague and I are alone in having these sorts of experiences. In an age of social media and constant commentary, this is an issue that will not go away. And while, of course, men who put their academic opinions out there will also get comments, research shows us that men are not judged in such a personal manner and that the comments are likely to be about the opinions rather than the genitalia of the speaker. I would not wish to silence freedom of opinion, and I hope that reading derogatory comments on YouTube will not stop me from speaking out publicly. However, reading the online comments did make me pause last week. I know that my institution will benefit from publicity when I speak out in the media and I am pleased for that to be the case, but we should recognise the personal toll that this activity may take on those individuals who are striving to make the impact the institution seeks.

Ruth Sealy
Deputy programme director
Organisational psychology
City University London

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations