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

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