International Women's Day: Sharon Harrison-Barker Q&A


What is your job at the University and how long have you worked here? 


I’ve worked in education administration since leaving school at 18 after my A Levels, I never went to University.  I’ve been at Herts since 2001 starting as the Faculty Registrar in the Business School. My current post is Secretary and Registrar which I started in January 2020. 


What is your greatest achievement? Either personal or professional. 


I’ve never considered this much before but on reflection it’s a mix of professional and personal.  I am very proud to have been able, with the support of my husband who I met at school, to have a career and raise a family.  My career has been a delight and surprise to me when I look back at leaving school all those years ago.  Both parts of my life are very important to me, I’m now a doting nan to my 4 year old grandson Marty. 


Are there any women in your life who have been a role model?   


In terms of my career I’ve been very fortunate to be in a sector where I have always seen women in senior positions, so I never had an issue regarding ‘if you can’t see it you can’t be it’.  I’ve been lucky to have what I call ‘cheer leaders’. They don’t even know that’s how I regard them, but they are a collection of women from across Herts who have, from time to time, taken the time to just have a ‘little chat’ with me when opportunities arise.  They’ve made me aware that they think I’m capable and they are quietly supporting me whenever I’ve applied for promotions and development opportunities.   


Two notable colleagues have been Sue Grant, she was inspirational to many women across the University, having worked her way up from librarian to Secretary & Registrar at Herts, showing us it was possible and how to do it.  Also Julie Newlan, who was my Dean when I was in the Business School encouraged and supported me to undertake an MBA in Higher Education Management at the University of London.  As mentioned earlier I didn’t go to university to do an undergraduate degree, so this for me this was an important milestone.  When I graduated as the first in my family to do so it was a very proud day.  It’s been great to work closely with Julie again in my role as peers on VCE.       


Have you ever experienced a barrier or a struggle due to your gender? If you overcame this, how did you do it? 


Early in my career at the University of North London I worked term time only, this enabled me to spend time with my two young children during school holidays.  It was a great option for me at that point, but I do reflect that very few men take this type of option to mix work and child care.  This can hold women back in terms of early progression in their careers and in terms of life time pay and pensions.  For me that hasn’t been the case and I can’t pin point a single reason why, but I feel fortunate and I recognise that is may not be the norm.    


What do you think society can do to advance gender equality? 


Oh, so much!  And all types in inequality, not just gender issues.  I have a large family with a number of teenagers and younger children.  As a family we discuss loudly and passionately gender issues, calling out everyday sexism which can stifle ambitions.  I think how we raise the next generation, to question what we have seen as the norm, in terms of language and attitudes, is really important.  I’ll be a strong ‘cheer leader’ for them in the same way as my working life has been so positively impacted by my ‘cheer leaders’.           

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