In the vanguard

Glamorgan's incoming vice-chancellor Julie Lydon has never let her gender get in the way of career advancement

December 31, 2009

"I won't pretend that there haven't been glass ceilings above me. Like many colleagues, I've had to find ways of breaking through."

Julie Lydon has had more success than most. In 2010, she will replace David Halton as vice-chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, becoming the first female vice-chancellor in Wales in the process.

Thriving in a male-dominated environment is nothing new for Ms Lydon. Her working life began at the engineering firm TI Group in 1975, when she was one of just two women in a graduate intake of 30. Like many businesswomen, she has learnt to turn her gender to her advantage on her route to the top.

"I have disregarded the fact that I'm a woman, and more importantly, played to it," she said.

"I fundamentally believe that whatever gender you are, it's about what you do as an individual. But I think there are times when, as a female senior manager, I'm actually able to engage people in a way that some of my male colleagues find more difficult."

She added: "I certainly think women generally are able to deal with a range of tasks in a way some male colleagues would find more challenging."

Although Ms Lydon will be Wales' first female vice-chancellor, there have been 23 others elsewhere in the UK.

She studied economics as an undergraduate at Wolverhampton Polytechnic before joining TI Group. By the mid-1980s, she was an adviser to the Black Country Development Agency, but towards the end of the decade she moved into higher education, returning to her alma mater as an information manager.

She said previous roles in the private sector had prepared her for the realities of working in the midst of a funding crisis: in her first job, the business downsized from 5,000 employees to under 2,000 in less than two years.

By 1997, she had risen to the post of associate dean at the University of Wolverhampton's Business School, and in 2003 she moved to the University of the West of England as assistant vice-chancellor. She took on the role of deputy vice-chancellor at Glamorgan in 2006.

Although she insisted that doctoral study is not a prerequisite for a vice-chancellor, in the new year she is due to complete her PhD in mergers and collaboration in higher education. Issuing a rallying cry for greater unity across the Welsh higher education sector, she said: "For competitive reasons, within Wales we need to find ways of bringing together institutions. We've got too many small institutions to remain competitive."

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