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EmJay Nicholas: A Farewell Blog

by EmJay Nicholas, TechUPWomen Administrator

I’ve never been afraid of endings. To me, if you’ve done something properly, then sooner or later it should either happen automatically, or not need doing any more. What I do lament is endings before their time, when things are left unfinished.

I joined TechUPWomen back in May. Much like some of our participants, I had found myself in a bit of a rut with my career and was looking to return to the kind of work I love. For me, that’s communications and engagement. I’m an anthropologist by background and I’m fascinated with how people interact with each other. This led me in my younger days to be elected as PR, Media and Comms Officer for district and regional youth councils, and then eventually to become a cofounding Trustee with responsibility for Communications and Engagement at Durham Pride UK. I’ve always had a strong motivation to work with groups of people that mainstream society pushes to the fringes – young people, LGBTQIA+ folks, disabled folks, etc. – because I grew up feeling marginalised and struggling to find visible role models whose experiences I could relate to. By using my communications experience to advocate for these groups, my aim is to empower more people to fulfil their potential and to become visible role models for our future generations.

Preparing to meet our TechUPWomen for the first time

I’m also someone who is motivated by a worthwhile vision rather than worrying about the barriers that are in the way. Many times throughout my non-profit work, I’ve been told to compromise on my vision because to achieve it would rock the boat, and each time I’ve resisted. I believe that there’s no good reason not to do the right thing; in fact, my motto in life is ‘the winds of change will always ruffle a few feathers’! And often that has been a lonely road. So when I heard about TechUPWomen, I knew I’d found the role I was looking for; an ambitious project focused on improving society by upsetting a longstanding status quo of inequality. I felt I could offer not only my administrative skills, but also my experience of building a movement for empowerment in the face of institutional oppression. I’ve never hit ‘Apply’ so quickly.

I remember vividly in my interview Alexandra asking me if I was fazed by a target of 100 women. I laughed! I think my confidence and determination set me apart from the other candidates, and I was delighted to be offered the job! From my first day, I pretty much just rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in. From day one, this was not a normal admin role, and it was clear – and greatly appreciated! – that I would have the chance to play an active role in the project and use all my skills.  Day-to-day, most things are handled between me and Johanna. This means that from one day to the next, my role is incredibly varied! On the admin side, I answer emails, research event logistics, manage calendars, make spreadsheets, produce documents, and so on. But beyond that, I also manage all our social media channels, I maintain and update our website, run the TechUPWomen blog, manage the mailing lists, maintain our YouTube channel, transcribe videos, produce the graphics and flyers for our activities, and the list goes on. I joke that my job is actually to make sure that Johanna doesn’t have to be in two places at once!

Durham University TechUPWomen, Nottingham, 18 January 2020

I think my favourite part of working with TechUPWomen has been the relationship-building side. I came to TechUPWomen with a lot of volunteering experience and strategies developed from practice rather that theory, and finally got to put these ideas into practice in a full-time paid role. Not only has it shown me that I do know what I’m doing and that I deserve to be able to make a living from it, but it has also let me put my ideas to work for the most wonderful group of people I’ve met in my life. Seeing hard work pay off is beautiful at any time, but seeing it pay off for 100 resilient, intelligent, kind and wonderful women is something else! Walking in to each residential and feeling the sense of community and excitement was hands-down the most rewarding experience of my career so far. Meeting these women, learning about their experiences, using that knowledge to personalise their experiences, and then seeing the personal growth that comes from feeling seen and heard has truly been a gift, and I thank each and every one of our TechUPWomen for meeting me in the middle with authenticity, truth and open hearts and minds.

My hopes for TechUPWomen are as follows:

  • That the programme continues to be unwaveringly innovative and true to the cause of intersectional liberation, no matter how impossible some may think that dream is.
  • That the women continue to be uncompromisingly themselves, no matter what the world throws at them.
  • That we continue to have the opportunity to work with forward-thinking and compassionate industry partners who believe in the TechUPWomen ethos, and who value people in everything they do.
  • That the team continues to have the confidence to put down the rule-book and step into the unknown, because that’s where the true innovation happens.

To the future generations of TechUPWomen: know that you are stepping into a community unlike any other, and it relies on each and every person to bring their whole, authentic self. If you’re thinking of applying, DO! There’s no such thing as the ‘typical’ TechUP woman; our cohorts are unique and vibrantly diverse, and you will be welcomed no matter what.

Durham University TechUPWomen, Nottingham, 18 January 2020

Will I keep in touch? I’d love to. In an ideal world, I’d love to rejoin the rest of the team once the funding needed for future programmes is secured. However, for now, I’m practicing what I’ve preached to our wonderful participants, and stepping out into the world with authenticity, fearlessness and determination. Somewhere along the way of this project, whilst helping others rediscover themselves, I think I found part of myself too. And I’m excited to see what her future looks like!

Bye for now!