‘Inspiring Women’ Student Series – On ‘Role Models’ and Inspiring Behaviours
Yesterday I attended a talk by Irene Ng – who is currently a professor at Warwick Manufacturing Group – as part of the ‘Inspiring Women’ series. It was as insightful as it was powerful. Irene’s opening point about role models; the idea that she was not a role-model and found the notion of being a ‘role-model’ uncomfortable and problematic, was striking and set the tone for the rest of the talk. Instead, Irene encouraged a shift towards thinking about ‘inspiring behaviours’, and the idea that over a lifetime, a person is the product of the behaviours which they have accumulated, learnt from, disagreed with and admired.
This is a process that we engage with on a day-to-day basis. By watching others around us and paying attention to the things which we find intriguing or interesting or sometimes unattainable, we seek to better ourselves by either imitating those behaviours or permitting them to mould elements of our future selves.
What I also found extremely interesting was her rejection of the term ‘role-model’ and her separation of behaviours from people. A person can do wonderful things and not be a wonderful person, in the same way that someone you esteem to be wonderful can do ‘un’wonderful things. Both points are important in their own right for how we view and receive people and their actions. Remembering this can lower the possibility of unfair or unrealistic expectation, and equally prevent you from building up somebody to be far more ‘perfect’ than they really are; a cliché we nonetheless face in our everyday celebrity culture.
The second thing I learned from Irene’s talk was how to face people’s preconceptions of you and stereotypes playfully. She was very much aware of the stereotypes some people would have of her as a third generation Chinese Malaysian immigrant living, working and lecturing in Britain. However, she talked about using this self-awareness to her advantage. How? By surprising people. By not allowing their preconceptions of her ring true, and by remaking herself in the eye of the person she would communicate with. I liked the idea of using her position and power as a platform to do so. It reminded me that many people face stereotypes daily; and rather than allowing hers to knock her down, she has fun in challenging them on the daily.
Lastly, I loved her zest when it came to ‘Britishness’. "I am Britishness," she said. And why not? From her years of experience living in the South of England, to her intellectual contributions to the work she does, to the adaptations of certain British culture and slang – Irene is an embodiment of the Britishness that she defines within herself. And it linked to her argument that systems and institutions can only change by ‘hacking’ them from within. We can change people’s perceived stereotypes of what British culture means by proudly embodying who we are as mixed-heritage British people; a challenge that I personally faced and struggled with in my time living abroad in Europe. It was an important point because it linked to the question of how to deal with everyday sexism and embedded institutional discrimination. Irene’s response was that when it comes to challenging gender imbalances, sexism and discrimination within institutions that govern Britain today, we need to hack them from within by refusing to adjust to the system. Her argument lay on the premise that the more people hack the system, the more it changes. Though light-hearted, I thought her words had a deeper and more powerful message given the current climate we are living in today. They were words of advice from an extremely well travelled, well experienced and witty person – and I really enjoyed this talk and am happy to be sharing what I took from it with you readers!
Her blog post on this topic can be found here – https://email@example.com/inspiring-behaviours-825c87b243a0 and you can follow her on Twitter at @ireneclng.
The ‘Inspiring Women Student Series’ runs every Wednesday and can be booked onto via MyAdvantage so it’s worth keeping an eye out for the next few speakers!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and until next time,