Portrait of a Woman unveiled ahead of International Women’s DayPortrait of Gillian Gehring

A lively and uplifting celebration event took place last night (Monday 2 March) in Firth Hall to commemorate the unveiling of our Portrait of a Woman.

The portrait, which is of Emeritus Professor Gillian Gehring, is soon to be hung in Firth Hall and will be the first portrait in this location depicting a woman.

Our University is marked by the contribution of thousands of remarkable women staff and students. Some of them are familiar, such as the aviator Amy Johnson and the first British astronaut Helen Sharman. However, there are many more women whose work and lives helped to create our University whose contribution is not recognised on our walls or in our paintings.

Our former Director of Human Resources, Rosie Valerio, identified this as an opportunity and, upon her retirement in 2011, decided to use the generous donations by colleagues to her retirement collection to establish the Portrait of a Woman Prize.

Rosie was determined that the images of women should find a place of honour in the University she had served and loves, so the Portrait of a Woman project began with University staff being asked to nominate current or former female colleagues whose portrait they would like to see hung in Firth Hall.

As a result of these nominations, 28 women were invited to have a professional photo portrait by leading fine art photographer Anton Want. Anton's previous work includes Ambition, a project and exhibition focussing on ambition among young women in Sheffield, and he has had work exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

These 28 portraits became an exhibition which has been displayed at various locations across campus since 2012.

A commissioning panel, comprised of University staff and external members, then considered the 28 women who had been photographed and chose Emeritus Professor Gillian Gehring to be the first subject for the Portrait of a Woman Prize.

Emeritus Professor Gillian GehringGillian Gehring portrait

Gillian is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and remains extremely active within the University and beyond. She was the first, and to date only, woman Professor of Physics at Sheffield, and only the second woman ever to hold a Professorship in a UK Physics Department.

She is a distinguished international research leader in magnetism and orbital ordering, making great contributions to both theoretical and experimental projects, with her seminal work on the co-operative Jahn-Teller effect inspiring a generation of new physics experiments.

Gillian has also inspired a new generation of young people to be excited by physics, establishing one of the first comprehensive outreach programmes, promoting physics and astronomy in primary schools, to which she now devotes much of her time.

She has also led national and international efforts to increase the number of women studying physics, and campaigned tirelessly for gender equality in STEM subjects as a whole. She sits on the Administrative Board of the European Platform for Women in Science, has served on the Institute of Physics’ Women in Physics Group, and Chaired the Women’s Group of the European Physical Society. Amongst the honours she has received are an OBE, honorary membership of the Institute of Physics and their prestigious Mott Medal.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, said: “The process of selecting a woman who would rightly represent the contribution of all University women included a photographic exhibition which celebrated not only women’s faces but also their stories, and the esteem they are held in by others. These women sometimes held high office in this University, others were chosen because of their inspirational service or support for their colleagues.

“The woman who was chosen to have the first portrait to hang in Firth Hall is one who represents all of these qualities – a wonderful scientist and teacher, dedicated mother, grandmother and friend, Professor Gillian Gehring is someone who speaks for the spirit of this University expressed in her life and work. There could be none better.”

Critically-acclaimed portrait artist Frances Bell

Critically-acclaimed portrait artist Frances Bell was selected to become the first person to be awarded the University of Sheffield Portrait of a Woman Prize. Frances trained in the Classical tradition in Florence, and her work has been displayed in various exhibitions including The Not The Turner Prize Exhibition in 2004 and The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition from 2005 – 2014. In 2010 Frances was made a member of the Society of Women Artists and has shown her work there each year since. In 2012 she had her painting The Postman accepted into the BP Portrait Award.

Rosie Valerio, former Director of HR at the University of Sheffield, said of the portrait: “We wanted to paint a stunning portrait that would celebrate women’s achievements; challenge perceptions about women in the workplace, and provide inspiration to future women, and to staff, students and visitors. It’s great that there will be more portraits of women very soon.”

The Vice-Chancellor also confirmed that there are to be further portraits of women commissioned within the University - these will include Kathryn Riddle OBE, the first woman to hold the post of Chair of University Council, and of Dame Anne Rafferty, our incoming Chancellor and the first woman to hold this position.

There are also plans for extending the Portrait of a Woman prize.

International Women’s Day & workplace equality

The unveiling of Gillian Gehring’s portrait comes just ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March, which Sheffield’s two universities have come together to celebrate.

There are two events which have been jointly organised by the Women@TUOS NETwork at our University and the Equality and Diversity team at Sheffield Hallam University.

On Wednesday 4 March, a joint career development event is taking place at Sheffield Hallam University. This series of workshops for women staff across all grades and roles from both universities is fully-booked and promises to be an insightful day.

Friday 6 March will see 90 invited guests from both University communities and the wider city attend Sheffield Town Hall for a lunch and a talk entitled Closing the pay gap: networks as a driver for change.

The inspirational panel of speakers includes:

  • Professor Ann Peat: Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning & Teaching at The University of Sheffield
  • Professor Liz Barnes: Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University
  • Shahida Siddique: Founding partner and director of FaithStar LLP, a specialist consultancy service geared to the faith sector; and
  • Jane Robinson: Co-founder and director of Cutting Technologies Ltd, a £3m turnover laser cutting and engraving business based in Barnsley

The Portrait of a Woman unveiling and our International Women’s Day celebrations demonstrate the ongoing commitment to equality and diversity at our University and come after a year of success in these areas. In 2014, we received ten new Athena SWAN awards, taking our total across the University to sixteen. The Athena SWAN Charter recognises commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

In January this year, we were proud to be ranked in the top 100 best employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

Our continued dedication to workplace equality means we are now placed 43rd. This is a huge leap from last year when Stonewall put us in 82nd place and continues a journey of improvement, where in 2013 we were ranked 106th.