International Women’s Day 2021: Professor Uli Sattler
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, we are sharing inspirational stories from staff and students across the Faculty of Science and Engineering, showing what they #ChooseToChallenge in their roles at the University.
Professor Uli Sattler hasn’t looked back after making the (perhaps unconventional) career switch from dressmaking to computer science – a field, she believes, more women should consider.
“Despite the wide range of career choices for computer science graduates and the opportunity to (co)create applications that can really make a positive change in the world, women are still underrepresented in computer science.
“I’d love to see this change in the near future.”
Making the switch
Having seen the “dire opportunities” available in dressmaking following the completion of a three-year apprenticeship, Uli searched for a new path.
“A friend of a friend told me how much she enjoyed computer science, so I went for it… and enjoyed it very much. I saw how creative and diverse computer science is (much more creative than dressmaking!).
“Then I really got into research, did a PhD, then a postdoc, and eventually joined The University of Manchester as a lecturer. I enjoyed learning about new things, doing research, teaching, and somehow ‘grew’ into my current role.”
That current role is as a Professor in Information Management in the Department of Computer Science.
Uli’s career progression, however, has not been without its obstacles. “There were various situations where I doubted myself, wondering whether I am good enough, or cut out for a life in research or academia,” she explains.
“I have also encountered the odd ‘unfriendly’ person or somebody who assumed I was the secretary – but these were quite rare, and I encountered many friendly, interesting people.
“My gender has definitely influenced some of the experiences I have had – from ‘oh, what brought you as a woman to study computer science?’ to people being surprised when I mentioned that I do research in logic. To deal with these situations, I tried out different ways, from ignoring things via joking about them to showing my annoyances or calling out people’s behaviour.”
Addressing unconscious bias
Such stereotyping might be partly explained by unconscious bias – associations made without conscious awareness based on gender (or other social categories). Uli observes: “We know about unconscious bias and how it affects us.
“In my day-to-day life and career, where I am now, I very rarely experience behaviour that is obviously gender-based, but this is partly due to me being in a quite well-established role.”
It is something Uli hopes to see addressed at all levels. She is taking an active role to help make the University a fairer place and teaching students about good team working and communication is a key focus.
“We talk about unconscious bias with our students, and I have been involved in a range of equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA) related activities, such as Athena Swan applications, and developing good practice for promotion and hiring processes.”
Helping the next generation
After an early acceptance that dressmaking wasn’t for her, Uli has since fashioned a successful, rewarding career in computer science – and is now helping the next generation make their mark in this exciting, always-evolving field.
Find out more about the semantic technology research that Prof Uli Sattler contributes to.
Discover the other women from the Faculty of Science and Engineering who are taking part in our International Women’s Day Choose to Challenge campaign.
Words: Joe Shervin
Interview: Enna Bartlett