Category Archives: Personal

A busy few weeks

Over the last few weeks I feel I have hardly had a chance to draw breath and though at various times I’ve thought “I’ll blog about that”, events always passed me by. I’ve got a bit of time now at the end of the last day before I head off on a couple of weeks leave, so I’ll try to remember some of the points I was going to make.

I was in Brussels for a few days at the start of what will be known as the March Marathon, and one of the reasons was to do a workshop (well, 2, but they were the same) on using social media for Europe Direct Information Centres. While they receive some funding from the Commission for their information activities, they are¬† individual organisations, and their form ranges from NGOs or Community interest companies, to library services or regional government. So their needs vary and their flexibility to act independently does too. I did a presentation, then asked Europe Direct Leeds to show what they do, then gave them some time to discuss in small groups, share their own experiences, then a few of those in the room showed what they were doing. It was interesting to see how differently they were using the same tools, but there were enough ideas to share, and I’ve already nicked one from Europe Direct Ulm, using the Timeline feature on Facebook to show EU milestones. I was a bit worried about the pedagogical side of running a workshop, but the feedback has been good, so I think I got away with it :)

I then headed back to the UK to do a careers talk at Leicester University. This was a repeat invite (always a compliment to be asked back) and this time instead of just the Modern Languages Department, it was advertised across the university. There were about 60 students there I think and after my presentation, there were lots of lively questions. I’m always slightly perplexed at these events by the weight of interest among the students on internships, rather than the full-time, long-term career prospects offered by applying for the concours. I wonder why that is. It could be that they aren’t interested in the EU as a long-term career, but see EU knowledge as important for other things. Or it could be that they are so fixated on internships as a route into work they miss the turning for the work itself. Frankly it feels a bit more like the latter, though I’d be happy to be corrected on that.

The next day was a Saturday and just to add to the madness of those few weeks, it was the second of my two Open University tutorials. I’ve enjoyed the creative writing course, but I don’t think you’ll be reading my name in the Booker Prize longlist any time soon…

Then on the Sunday it was off to Manchester for the Apeldoorn conference, which brings together Dutch and UK people from across business and society. The theme this time was Higher Education at the Heart of Growth and we had some excellent speakers, including the Universities Minister, David Willetts. Apeldoorn is really great for the people you meet, on your own “side” as much as from over the North Sea, with some really useful contacts made for the future. I also had a #technologywin: with the purchase of one little VGA adaptor I was able to present the conclusions of the workshop for which I was rapporteur direct from my iPad. Just a further example of how my iPad has become the kernel of a mobile office as far as I’m concerned.

The day after I got back from Manchester it was off to Birmingham for the Education Show. Our stall was pretty mobbed, with the Passport to the European Union and Languages Take You Further publications particularly popular. Thousands of people passed through our stall over the three days, and not one was critical or hostile in any way, in fact they were on the whole delighted with the support, particularly for the languages. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the introduction of languages in primary schools, it seems pretty clear that there are many teachers who feel a bit lost and are glad to have ideas of what to do. Obviously we provide pretty bland material, click the links to see them for yourself, and it’s completely up to teachers how they want to use them in their classrooms.

I’ve been back in London since then, but out at some really interesting events. I Storified the Westminster Media Forum event on press regulation. I chaired a fascinating afternoon linked to the European Year of Active Ageing, in which the Greater London Forum for Older People got about 120 of their members together to hear about the cooperation that Enfield over-50s Forum has been doing with twin towns in France and Germany. I was roped in the afternoon before to chair the event as the chair dropped out, and I’m very glad I did, as it was fascinating. One thing that came out very clearly was the strength of attachment to the Freedom Pass. Many older people see it as a lifeline, getting them out of the house and allowing them to have a social life, thereby keeping them healthy both physically and mentally. Mess with it at your peril, Mayor of London, whoever you end up being.

The final noteworthy events took place on the same day. I was representing the office at the British Academy event on the value of a year abroad, and you can read my tweets about it by searching the #yrabroad hashtag. There was a lot of talk about the usefulness of social media in getting students interested in a year abroad, but precious little social media going on at the event. Lizzie Fane at Third Year Abroad is an honourable exception in terms of her use of social media, but I have to admit that there was probably an age thing going on, which is as worrying in its own way. 100% of the students that took part in Lizzie’s graduate survey said their time spent abroad during their degree had been worth it, but the average age in the room of people talking about the policy aspects must have been pushing 50 plus.

While I was at the British Academy, and mainly during the lunch break, I took part in a Q&A on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about how charities can access EU funding. The Q&A is here and the best bits summed up here. The Guardian does these Q&As very well; I’ve previously done one on languages for careers and there was another on a similar theme this week.

Anyway, after all that and judging the UACES/ThomsonReuters Reporting Europe Prize, I think I’ve earned my two weeks away. So I’m off. Have a great Easter, everyone.

2011 in review – back at my desk

There’s been a bit of a hiatus in the blogging while I was on holiday in Mexico for three weeks. There was so much to say there, I could have written every day, but I thought that most of you probably wouldn’t be that interested. All I’ll say is that Mexico is a fabulous destination, if you are careful about where you go. The food is amazing, the people lovely and the weather significantly better than here!

Anyway, best wishes for 2012 to anyone reading this. In blogging terms, here’s a summary of 2011.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Off-topic: Well done Greenwich Council

It’s easy to take to Twitter or a blog when something is getting you down (you know who you are…Southeastern Rail) so I thought I would buck the trend by noting when something has gone right. I left my house yesterday morning (bin day in our street) to be confronted by clothes, shoes and bags strewn across the pavement – someone doing a little light fly-tipping. I went back in and went onto the Greenwich Council website and reported it via the online form. The automatic email I got said they would deal within 3 working days, but within 10 minutes I had a reply from someone saying they would send out a van to clear it away. When I went back outside I realised that whoever was responsible for the mess had also nicked one of my wheelie bins. Back inside, to call Greenwich Council and order a new one. All sorted, and he was very apologetic that it would take 2 weeks to get it to me. Within 15 minutes all was sorted, and when I got home last night, they had come by and taken away the mess. Good on you Greenwich. All that and weekly bin collections as well :)

Goodbye media, hello communication

As of tomorrow, my role in this office will change. I will no longer be the head of media, dealing with the press, TV, radio, agencies and online journalists that I have dealt with in the last 3 and a bit years. Instead I will be responsible for our publications, websites and digitial media, relations with NGOs and the voluntary sector, foreign languages, information networks¬†and parts of England outside London. I hope this new post will give me a bit more time (and, to be honest, some renewed enthusiasm) for this blog. Time will tell…

Women in the Commission

Some interesting stats have come my way relating to women in policy grades and management positions in the European Commission. I find them particularly interesting because they start the first year I joined.

The first table refers to all policy grades.

Women in policy grades in the EC

When I joined 23.9% of policy grade post-holders were women and now 41.6% are. So that’s a clear improvement. It’ll be interesting to see if the introduction of the new format entrance exams affects those figures in the future.

Next table is women in middle management, that is heads of section, deputy heads of unit and heads of unit. I’m not sure whether my current position as head of sector in a rep counts as a middle management job, but this is the kind of job I would expect to have when I leave London in a few year’s time.

Women in middle management in the EC

This shows that women are under-represented at middle management in the Commission. This is of course logical, as the figure for women in middle management in 2010 is broadly the same as the figure for all policy grade women in 1995. As it takes about 10-15 years to work your way up to those grades, that makes sense (at least on one level). Will that trend continue? Will it take to 2025 to see 40% of middle management posts occupied by women?

The final graph is women at senior management level, that is Director, Deputy Director-General, Director-General.

Women in senior management posts in EC

Here growth has been steeper, aside from the drop in 2004, which is probably due to new senior level posts and occupants from the new entrant countries (I don’t know whether they have a better or worse record on equality, though the figures suggest “worse” at least at senior level). While 22% certainly looks a lot better than 4%, it still means that 78% of jobs are going to men.

Clearly the overall situation has improved. But there is still a way to go for young women in policy grades to feel that they have role models in the upper echelons. The Commission has undoubtedly sought to introduce policies that allow a better reconciliation of work and family life (flexi- and tele-working, discouraging late evening meetings etc) but I still have the feeling that this is only dealing with some of the problem. Work/life balance affects women, certainly, but men have children too, and also have a lot to gain from family-friendly HR policies. And not all women have children. Encouraging women to apply for senior positions, and having a system in place that recognises a variety of experience and approach (rather than having a specific-shaped peg in mind) are both important as well.

I’m sure there are more profound things to say about these figures, and I’d like to hear them.

Off-topic: LSE reunion call for music

Not strictly speaking about the EU, this one, but I need a way to get input and isn’t that what a blog is for!

I’ve been asked to DJ at the LSE 1990-1994 reunion this summer and I want to make sure that I play what people want to hear. So, if you were at LSE between 1988 and 1994, what were the tunes you heard in the Tuns? What was played at that great Tequila party? What were the sounds of the Underground? Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!