23 March, 2023 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

International Women's Day: Dr Judith Butler on how to #EmbraceEquity in Early Years and Follow Your Passion

International Women's Day 2023 with Dr Judith Butler

The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is #EmbraceEquity.

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.

Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. 

To celebrate and support International Women's Day 2023, Portobello Institute is sharing inspiring insights from women who follow their passion to fulfil their potential as they share their experiences with embracing equity. 

Introducing Dr Judith Butler

Dr Judith Butler is a Lecturer, Postgraduate Supervisor and Researcher at Munster Technological University Cork. She lectures in early childhood development and psychology and supervises research for Master's and PhD awards and is research active.

Her own PhD research focused on the social domain of children’s development and highlighted the significance of relationships in ECEC.

Her research areas include  

  • relationships in the learning environment,  
  • the social domain of children’s development,  
  • positive and adverse childhood experiences (ACES), 
  • Trauma-sensitive and relationship-based approaches in education and care.

She has vast experience working with and on behalf of children and has worked in every sector of the education and care system. She has published and presented nationally and internationally and is the former President of OMEP Ireland.

OMEP is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works to promote and advocate for high-quality early childhood education and care around the world.

For the last six years, she acted as editor of An Leanbh Óg: The Irish Journal of Early Childhood Studies. She is also a member of the scientific committee of World OMEP. More recently she took up an exciting role with UNICEF as an Expert Trauma Trainer in ‘Emergency Childhood Development Support.’

You can rewatch our Early Years webinar with Dr Judith Butler here.

What does International Women’s Day mean for you?

International Women's Day is a time to reflect on the achievements and indeed the struggles of women throughout history in Ireland and around the world. For me, it represents a day to celebrate the strength, resilience, and power of women, and to recognise the ongoing work that is needed to ensure that all women have rights and opportunities. 

As a woman, International Women's Day ignites a sense of pride and empowerment. It reminds me of the countless women who have fought for women's rights and made significant contributions to society.

I am thinking about the powerful women’s groups in Ireland that instigated change. On this day, I also look sentimentally at the lives of my grandmother and mother. Their experiences were a lot different to mine. Imagine being a woman in Ireland prior to 1973 and having to give up your job when you got married. Imagine not being able to sit on a jury, own a house, get a barring order against a violent partner, or even buy a pint in a pub never mind get the same rate for a job as a man. 

I am so grateful for the powerful women who fought so hard for change. I am also remembering Ann Lovett and others that suffered because of the attitudes, policies, and practices in Ireland. I am thinking of the women who were sent to Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, those who were denied choice and their voice. I am remembering women like the incredible Vicky Phelan who changed Ireland so that it’s a safer place for us.  

International Women's Day also ignites a sense of gratitude for the women in my life who have supported and inspired me. From my beloved mother Noreen, my aunt Breeda and my sister Veronica who all instilled in me a love of learning, a belief in myself and a reminder to laugh every single day, to the superb and inspirational female colleagues and mentors who have helped me grow and develop in my career. I am grateful to my father Paddy who reminded me from an incredibly early age to be financially independent of a man!

At the same time, International Women's Day also ignites a sense of frustration and sadness, as I am reminded of the many ways in which women are still oppressed and marginalised. From the gender pay gap to the lack of representation of women in leadership roles. Fundamentally, there is still much work to be done to ensure that women have opportunities and are treated with respect and dignity. Overall, International Women's Day is a day of reflection, celebration, and of course action. It represents the ongoing struggle for gender equality, and health equality and serves as a reminder of the strength, resilience, and contributions of women throughout history and around the world.

What does embracing equity mean to you?

Equity is often contrasted with equality, which refers to treating everyone the same. However, equity recognises that people have diverse needs and challenges and may require various levels of support and resources to achieve equal outcomes. By focusing on equity, we can work towards a society where everyone has an opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. 

I think embracing equity in a career and life, in general, is fundamental because it promotes fairness, diversity, and inclusivity. This means creating a society/ environment where everyone, regardless of their background, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other characteristics, has a fair opportunity to succeed and advance. Is this utopian? Is it achievable? I hope so, I live in hope.  

By embracing equity, individuals and organisations can create a more diverse and inclusive workforce better equipped to meet the needs of society. In addition, embracing equity can help to address the systemic and structural barriers that prevent certain groups from accessing opportunities and resources. This includes addressing issues such as poverty,  discrimination, and unconscious bias, and creating policies and practices that promote fairness, and are culturally sensitive and inclusive. 

How do you think embracing equity can support women in the early years sector?

Equity is the concept of fairness, justice, and impartiality. Overall, embracing equity in any career is important for creating a more just and equitable society, promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, and ensuring that everyone can succeed and reach their full potential.

It is important to recognise and value the ECEC profession which is traditionally female-oriented. ECEC professionals play a critical role in society and contribute to the overall well-being of communities. ECEC is an example of a female-oriented profession.

Have you ever faced a situation in your life or career that was not fair, impartial or just? How did you overcome the challenge of this?

Yes, I have and no doubt I will in the future. Many people face situations in their lives or careers that are not fair, just, or impartial and I am no exception. These situations can be challenging and may require individuals to overcome obstacles to move forward. It is how we deal with these situations that is important. 

I have found that the best way to overcome these challenges is to seek support from others. This can include seeking guidance from mentors or trusted colleagues. Another approach is to just act to address the situation directly. In the past, this has involved me advocating for myself and sometimes on behalf of others. I have learned over the years to put time and thought before a reaction. 

I think overcoming challenges related to fairness and justice requires a combination of self-awareness, self-care, and indeed putting time and thought before a reaction. With the right support and resources, it is possible to overcome challenges and move forward towards a more positive and fulfilling future.

In your career, how do you embrace equity to fulfil your potential? 

In the context of any career, embracing equity involves actively seeking out opportunities and resources that support one's potential and growth, while also recognising and addressing systemic barriers that may prevent equitable access to those opportunities and resources. 

For example, someone who is passionate about a career in early childhood education and care (ECEC) might embrace equity by seeking out training and professional development opportunities that help them to build their skills and knowledge. They might also seek out mentorship/support from experienced colleagues or supervisors to support their ongoing learning and development. 

At the same time, someone who is committed to equity might also recognise that not all individuals have equal access to these opportunities and resources. For example, individuals from marginalised communities may face systemic barriers to accessing training and development opportunities or may experience discrimination or bias in the workplace. 

To address these barriers, someone who is committed to equity might advocate for systemic change within their organisation, such as by promoting policies and practices that support diversity, and inclusion, are trauma sensitive and ensure access to opportunities and resources for all. They might also work to raise awareness about issues related to equity and inclusion, both within their workplace and in the wider community. 

Overall, embracing equity in the context of a career involves a combination of individual action and systemic change, and requires ongoing commitment and effort to create a more just and equitable workplace and indeed society. 

Has a person or organisation ever embraced equity to support you? What did they do and how did it support you?

Yes, many people have and continue to do so but my PhD supervisor Prof Emeritus Francis Douglas embraced equity to support me and certainly changed my life for the better.

He provided me with exceptional mentorship. He has over the years provided guidance and support on issues such as research and publications, teaching strategies, supervision, and professional development opportunities. This helped to build my confidence and skills. He has been an outstanding influence on my life and an exceptional role model. He is a man of integrity and always had a commitment to equity and fairness.

I now supervise postgraduate research myself and can see that a good PhD supervisor is committed to equity and inclusion, ensuring that our students have fair access to resources and opportunities. I have learned from Prof Douglas about the importance of being compassionate and kind, generous with time and actively working to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students 

In an early years work environment, what do you think can be done to embrace equity to allow people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

We need to create a supportive and inclusive work environment where all people feel safe, welcome and valued. The workplace culture should be welcoming and respectful of diversity, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, and sexual orientation. Creating an inclusive, welcoming, and supportive work environment where everyone feels safe, valued, and respected can help individuals to feel more confident and comfortable expressing their passions and pursuing their goals and dreams. 

It is important to provide fair opportunities for all employees to develop their skills and advance in their careers. This can include opportunities for professional development, training, and mentoring programmes. We also need to address unconscious bias. Leaders, managers, and staff need to be aware of their unconscious biases and take steps to address them. This can include providing diversity training and trauma awareness training and education to staff, reviewing hiring and promotion practices/policies to ensure they are fair and unbiased, and creating an environment where everyone's contributions are recognised and appreciated.  

We also need to encourage open communication. Encouraging open and honest communication among staff can help to create an environment where people feel comfortable and safe in expressing their ideas, thoughts, and concerns. I like the idea of open-door policies, promoting active listening and opportunities for feedback. The fastest way to change an emotion is to move! I like the idea of ‘walking meetings.’

It is important to recognise and celebrate the achievements of all staff members. Recognise efforts, and understand that people’s time is precious. Appreciate their time and do not waste it!

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about many things - both personal and professional.  

The personal passions that bring me joy and fulfilment outside of work are primarily my lovely husband and wonderful family (including Jofi the dog – who is called after Freud’s first therapy dog). I am also extremely fortunate to have the same four best friends since childhood. We all lead remarkably busy lives now, but their friendship is incredibly special, and they make me laugh the loudest. Additionally, I feel very strongly about combating racism because I recognise the social and economic benefits of a more inclusive and diverse society. Racism leads to discrimination, prejudice, and inequality, which limits opportunities for individuals and creates disparities. Racism is poison. 

Professionally, I am deeply passionate about my work and have a deep-seated interest in children’s needs and especially trauma-sensitive and relationship-based approaches in education and care. I am striving to promote trauma-sensitive practices in ECEC nationally and internationally through my UNICEF role. Trauma-sensitive and relationship-based approaches are crucial in creating safe and supportive learning environments for all children and especially those who are impacted by trauma and adversity. These approaches prioritise building positive relationships between educators and children, promoting a sense of safety and trust, and considering the individual needs and experiences of each child. I am a firm believer that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship, (Comer, 1995) and a smile can change a person’s brain. I constantly remind my own students that ‘I teach students not modules’ and that the students are far more important than the content. I hope they believe me because my students are especially important to me. 

How do you follow your passion?  

Set goals, stay committed and keep an eye on the prize!  

I also find people with the same passion and values as me and I connect. 

What challenges have you faced while following your passion or what has ever held you back from following it? 

One of the biggest challenges I found while following my passion is fear of failure and imposter syndrome. Pursuing a passion often requires taking risks and stepping out of one's comfort zone, which can be daunting. Additionally, practical obstacles such as lack of time, resources, or support from others can also hinder one's ability to follow passions. However, I have a network of people to support me. I am aware that this is a huge privilege, and I am incredibly grateful. It is important to recognize that feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy are normal and that it is possible to overcome them with time and effort. Another challenge I found early in my career was the pressure to conform to traditional career paths and societal norms. Studying Early Education and Care back in the mid-1990s was not the norm! It was a new degree. This could have created a sense of conflict between following my passion and fulfilling expectations from others, but it did not, and I was encouraged by the most supportive parents.  

How did/do you overcome these challenges?  

I suppose overcoming these and any challenges requires a lot of self-reflection and identifying my values and my priorities. I took small steps towards pursuing my passions. Accept that everyone makes mistakes. Recognise that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process and that everyone, even experts, make mistakes. We learn from mistakes so essentially mistakes are progress. As for imposter syndrome, with time I have learned to manage feelings of self-doubt and build confidence in my abilities. It is important to celebrate accomplishments and recognise contributions but there will always be some level of self-doubt, but I am using that to motivate me to do my best and to keep learning, reading, and reflecting.  

Seeking support and mentorship from others who have successfully pursued their passion is extremely helpful. It is important to remember that pursuing one's passion is certainly a journey, and not without setbacks and obstacles. These were part of the process even though I did not see them as this at the time. I am sure there will be more challenges in the future, but I am lucky to have supportive and wonderful key relationships that will hopefully keep any stress in the tolerable zone.

How do you believe we can encourage and support more people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

We can encourage and support people to pursue their passions by encouraging individuals to explore their interests and passions from an early age and providing opportunities for self-discovery can help individuals identify their passions and potential. I advocate for providing mentorship and support.

Having mentors and role models who have pursued their passions can be inspiring and provide valuable guidance and support. We also need to encourage people to prioritise their personal fulfilment and happiness over external measures of success. This is what I did! This can help to create a culture that values following one's passions. It is important to emphasise that failure, mistakes, and setbacks are a natural part of the journey towards pursuing one's passions and these can help us develop a growth mindset and persevere in the face of challenges. Obviously providing resources and opportunities is important. Providing resources such as education, training, and funding opportunities can help individuals develop the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue their passions. 

One of the missions of International Women’s Day is ‘Women at Work’ which aims to forge inclusive work cultures where women's careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated. How do you think this can be applied within the early years sector? 

The mission of 'Women at Work' on International Women's Day can be applied to the ECEC profession in several ways.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the ECEC profession is largely made up of women and that we often face challenges and barriers. As stated earlier, it is important to create inclusive work cultures where women's careers can thrive and their achievements are celebrated. This could include initiatives to increase the number of women in leadership and advocacy positions, improving pay for this essential work as well as training programmes to help women develop their skills and advance their careers.  

Another way to promote gender equality in the ECEC sector is to address issues of discrimination and bias. This could include training ECEC staff on how to recognise and address gender-based discrimination and initiatives to promote gender diversity in the sector. It is also important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women in the ECEC sector, and to create opportunities for women to share their experiences and perspectives. 

Overall, applying the mission of 'Women at Work' on International Women's Day to the ECEC profession means creating a more fair and supportive work environment for women in the profession, where they have equal access to job opportunities, fair pay, career advancement, and professional development opportunities, and where their contributions are celebrated and valued. 

So, on International Women's Day, let us celebrate the achievements of women everywhere, and continue to work towards a more just and equitable world for all. 

Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. 

International Women's Day Webinar with Portobello Institute

Portobello Institute is delighted to celebrate International Women's Day 2023 and support this year's theme of #EmbraceEquity

The webinar took place on Wednesday, 8th March '23 from 7 pm - 8.30 pm. You can rewatch it on YouTube here.

This webinar was led by three industry practitioners from the world of elite sports who shared their experiences and the importance of embracing equity when it came to being successful in their chosen careers.

Screenshot 2023-03-01 at 11.00.47

IWD Webinar (640 × 476px)

Register for our International Women's Day webinar here.

Read more: The Importance of Every Child Having 'One Good Adult'

Read more: Dr Judith Butler: What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Read more: Mary Kate Murphy on Embracing Equity for Women in Facilities and Workplace Management

Read more: Dr Ron Cambridge on How To #EmbraceEquity and Balance

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