Each for equal means not imposing boundaries or barriers

Dr Rachael Rothman, Associate Director, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

Professor Rachael Rothman

When I was younger (this applies until at least age 20) I had no idea what I wanted to be when I 'grew up'. I liked maths, science and working out how things work, and I loved being outdoors.

As far as I was concerned, I could be and do anything I chose when I grew up. Looking back I realise how lucky I was – no one was imposing any barriers on me and I wasn’t putting any up myself.

Nothing was gendered – I didn’t feel like girls shouldn’t climb trees or like physics and my parents helped that by treating me and my two brothers equally.

I never felt like I was breaking any barriers; I’m a very competitive person and I’ve always just wanted to push my own boundaries and strive to be as good as I could be, whether in sport or academic life.

By working together we can make the world a more equal place.

Dr Rachael Rothman

Associate Director, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures

I went from a state school in northeast England to study chemical engineering at Cambridge. To me, it seemed like the natural step and it was only after that I realised other people felt like I had overcome a barrier. In my first year of chemical engineering, two weeks before my exams, my director of studies told me I would not pass if I didn’t stop running (at the time I was in the British Orienteering team and training often twice a day).

I was incensed. How could he be so short-sighted? Needless to say, I kept running every day and I achieved first-class marks.

His negativity drove me to achieve better things. At the time I saw it as proving him wrong rather than breaking boundaries, but it was probably actually the first instance I truly felt someone else imposing a barrier on me.

Since then there have been many other instances.

At a big international conference as a post-doc, I was in a meeting with 15 men and one other woman. They were selecting the committee and the new chair pointed straight at me and said “What about you? You look like you’d be a good secretary”.

I was so astounded I was speechless. The really disappointing part is that no one else in the room said anything either. The irony was that had he not said anything I would have volunteered, but after that, there was no way I was taking the role.

This kind of mindless bias should not go unchallenged. If not challenged things will never change.

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would now be an academic researching sustainability and leading the University sustainability activities, I would have a lovely family with two young sons, I would have a sporting career behind me and I would have just returned from a year in America and sabbatical at MIT, I would never have predicted it. But I would have thought 'yeah that sounds pretty fun'.

Each for equal means not imposing boundaries or barriers on other people, and not allowing other people to impose boundaries or barriers on you. Take the opportunities that are presented to you, have courage in your conviction, strive to be the best you can and don’t be afraid to call out the bias of any kind.

By working together we can make the world a more equal place.

Report + Support

An online platform for all staff and students to report and access support about harassment and discrimination of any kind.