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International Women's Day Sunday 8 March 2015

The University is holding various events during the week commencing March 9th, view events. Geography has asked it's first female Professor of Human Geography Loretta Lees to write a piece on her career to date:

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Professor Loretta Lees
As the first female Professor of Human Geography to be hired at the University of Leicester, I have been asked to write a short piece for International Women’s Day. This is up there with me being asked recently to be Queen for a Day for 24 Housing magazine! In 2013/14 HESA calculated that only 22% of professors in the UK were female, so we remain a rare breed. Despite my diminished numerical status I have been lucky enough to have had both academic career progression and success. My academic career started in New Zealand, when on finishing my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I took up a Visiting Lectureship at the University of Waikato (known for its work in feminist and postcolonial theory). My next step was to win a two year Leverhulme Trust fellowship which I took up at the University of British Columbia in Canada (then at the cutting edge of the ‘new’ cultural geography); from there I went straight into my first ‘secure’ academic position at King’s College London where I remained for well over a decade and got promoted up the career ladder to Professor in 2008. I took up my current Chair at Leicester in 2013. I chose to join Leicester Geography because I wanted to work in a happy, warm and collegial environment, one that had top notch geographers but also a real ethic of care. I have not been disappointed!

I am now just about beyond the mid-point in my career and I am proud of what I have achieved to date – I have published ten books, another is due out later this year, and just yesterday I signed a contract for a twelfth. I have published nearly a hundred journal articles and book chapters and have been lucky enough to receive invitations from around the world to speak. My work on gentrification is being used internationally not just by academics but also by those fighting this problematic process. But I remain active locally too – I am off to talk to the Labour Party in Tottenham week after next about the gentrification of council estates and alternatives.  I have also had the honour of first supervising 13 PhDs to completion who have all gone on to great academic careers themselves, in addition I have 6 great students working on their PhDs as we speak. PhD supervision, although hard work, is one of the high points of my job. Seeing my students being heavily cited and on the international stage at conferences makes me very proud. Indeed, one of them works with me in Leicester Geography! The high points of my career have been numerous but things always stick out, like when I was an undergraduate student going on a tour of the Lower East Side in Manhattan in the summer of 1988 with the late Marxist geographer Neil Smith just before the Tompkins Square Park anti-gentrification riots kicked off; post-PhD having my eyes opened to new, cutting edge geographical theory in Waikato and canoeing up a river near Wendy Larner’s family farm in New Zealand (Wendy is now a Dean at Bristol University); befriending an incredible cohort of British PhD students at UBC – now all major players in the discipline – Alison Blunt, Noel Castree, Neil Coe, Phil Kelly, Martin Evans, Steve Rice, and others; and last but not least working with the London Tenants Federation, Just Space and Southwark  Notes Archive Group on an Antipode Activist Scholar Award, which involved being an expert witness at a public inquiry.

But it has not all been smooth sailing and on International Women’s Day there are equality and diversity issues that deserve a mention. I have had to put up with sexism, insecure male (and female) colleagues, and indeed bullying along the way, and sometimes it is better to side step this, as I chose to do, rather than confronting it head on. It can also sometimes be awkward to be a female urban geographer, in a sub-discipline, in the UK at least, that is dominated by men. Frequently I will be the only woman around the table, on a panel, or in the pub, which can make you a little self-conscious; even if I really enjoy this male only company. Being in a quite female geography department at Leicester with a superb female head of department and many lovely female colleagues can make me forget what it is like in the wider world, which is both good (for me) but bad (for changes still need to be made to make the academic work place a safe and progressive one for those female academic geographers coming up behind me). For a long time I refused to identify as a feminist geographer, but with daughters aged 10 and 13 who will in due course enter the gendered space of the work place (attention second year work place geographers – remember my lecture?) I now see the real attraction and utility of feminist geography, even if I will no doubt remain an urban geographer for the duration of my career. Happy International Women’s Day!

International Wonen's Day 2015
As many Geography ladies as we could grab for International Wonen's Day 2015

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Department of Geography
University of Leicester
Leicester
LE1 7RH

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