Birkbeck Astrea: networking for women in professional and support roles

We've set up Birkbeck Astrea, as a grassroots organisation, to provide Birkbeck women in professional and support roles occasions to meet each other and network, to enable us all to take full advantages of the opportunities available to us and help us all make the best of what we are and have

Why Birkbeck Astrea?

  • Birkbeck Astrea is a grassroots organisation where women in professional service roles (as opposed to academic roles) can meet and network with other Birkbeck women, with a view to learn, develop and help to shift our organisational culture.
  • Find out what our members told us in our 2016/2017 survey.

Birkbeck Astrea objectives

  • To provide a professional networking group, specifically for women working in professional service (as opposed to academic) roles at Birkbeck.
  • To identify the professional development needs these women want and provide opportunities for them to develop them through our network, while signposting more formal development opportunities.
  • To provide a platform for Birkbeck’s senior women to share their experience and expertise with other women, to demystify the issue of women in leadership.
  • To enable professional service women, at whatever level, to meet and learn from each other.

Our facilitators

  • We have a dynamic group of volunteers to organise our events throughout the year. 
  • Our current list of facilitators includes:
    • Mara Arts, Chair
    • Sandra Bekvalac, Communications Officer
    • Christina Buchmann, Events Officer
    • Elizabeth Charles, Treasurer
    • Jana Comfort, Events Officer
    • Teri Gate, Communications Officer
    • Jane Van de Ban, Events Officer
    • Marianna Warren, Events Officer
    • Kayleigh Woods-Harley, Events Officer

Our sessions

  • Future sessions for your diary:
    • 17 April 2018: 2-4pm
    • 20 June 2018: 2-4pm
    • 23 August 2018: 2-4pm
  • 8 March 2018: International Women's Day: International Women's Day is on Thursday 8 March. Following the success of last year's bake sale on International Women's Day, Astrea is planning to hold another bake sale to celebrate International Women's Day while raising money for another good cause. Last year we managed to raise a fantastic £400 for Refuge, a charity that supports women and children experiencing domestic violence. We hope you can join us. You might even want to contribute a bake or cake! Just . The bake sale will take place in the foyer of Birkbeck's main Malet Street Building.
  • February 2018: Samantha Commons, the College's Employability Consultant, will be delivering this session which will teach attendees how to best present any professional development they have undertaken to future employers. Following this session, two Birkbeck women will share their career stories, and lessons they have learnt along the way. Finally, there will be an opportunity to network with other Astrea members.
  • December 2017: 'Seeing the Whole Picture: Your Professional Development Story'. Melanie Sanderson from City, University of London, ran an eye-opening and festive interactive session focused on using the right side of our brains to develop our professional development stories. Participants helped each other to understand where they want to go professionally and how to get there (with a festive twist!). Each participant was 'gifted' strategies for achieving their professional development plans.
  • October 2017: Making the Most of Development Opportunities: following the vote by Astrea members for us to adopt the theme of professional development for our 2017/2018 Astrea year, we were pleased to host Paul Mills, from Birkbeck's Learning and Organisational Development team, who told us about the full range of professional development opportunities at Birkbeck - not just the training courses offered, but also mentoring and shadowing. We were then joined by panel members, Rose Devany, Lynn Grimes, and Tara Orlanes-Angelopoulou, who shared their own experiences of professional development. We learned that almost any experience can be an opportunity for learning and personal development and to never say no to a course!
  • August 2017: Your story: your power (Astrea event and summer social): As women, we often find ourselves needing to fit into others' (often male-led or constructed) frameworks, rules and systems. Everyone needs to do this to an extent. What we sometimes don't realise is how often we 'edit out' parts of ourselves as part of this process. These elements of our experience which end up on the cutting room floor can be the things which make us different – and special. This inspiring session was led by Jane Cordell, whose experience has included working as a musician and teacher, becoming deaf, joining the diplomatic service and starting her own social enterprise. Regularly having to handle major challenges - including discrimination - has given her lots of practice of valuing and communicating all experience – both as an individual and as a trainer and coach working with marginalised people.
  • June 2017: Conquering imposter syndrome: an interactive session led by energetic and insightful executive coach Deena Gornick. Deena took us on a journey through the steps needed to help us conquer our feelings of imposter syndrome:
    • What is the imposter syndrome and why do so many women have it?
    • Some manageable steps towards awareness
    • Praise and our relationship to praise
    • Language choices to promote our talent
    • Presence and gravitas
  • April 2017: How to be a great leader – leadership for all career stages: Dr Vanessa Iwowo from Birkbeck's Department of Organizational Psychology delivered this session on leadership. She looked at:
    • What leadership really is
    • Learning to recognise the leadership qualities you already have and to see yourself as a leader
    • Empowering yourself to lead where you are – at every stage of your career
    • Finding your own leadership style
  • February 2017: Asking and getting the answer that you want: This workshop on how to prepare for and ask your manager for something, whether it's training, a pay-rise, a new project or flexible working, was run by three experienced Birkbeck fundraisers. This workshop:
    • set out the 'dos and don'ts' of asking for something
    • explained why preparation is key
    • provided top tips for maximising your chances of getting the answer that you want.
  • December 2016: Empowerment and personal confidence: Managing upwards and learning to ask for what you want: Building on the theme “Empowerment and Personal Confidence”, we were joined by a current Birkbeck student, Linda Ridgers-Waite, to help us explore the topic of ‘Managing upwards and learning to ask for what you want’. Linda has worked for the Civil Service for a number of years and has also acted as a senior member of staff in the civil service trade union. She has worked for the Civil Service in a variety of roles, including HR, where she brought in the HR people strategy, and performance management. Currently the lead for Wellbeing in HMRC, Linda has vast experience of management: in her last role, she led a team of 70 people in 20 locations throughout the UK.
  • October 2016: Empowerment and personal confidence: How to make an impact and get your ideas heard at work: At this event, a panel of four women considered: ‘How to make an impact and get your ideas heard at work’ – looking at topics like:
    • Knowing what kind of person you are and what that means for your professional life.
    • How to put forward your ideas effectively.
    • How to make your voice heard in an academic environment.
    • How to make a positive impact on others.
    • How to work well with people who aren’t like you.
    • How understanding your own and others’ working style can improve your success in meetings.
  • August 2016: Taking Charge of Your Career Path: Your Digital Presence: (Mosh/Alex, Birkbeck Careers and Employability Service): Thinking of your next job? It is no longer enough to polish your cv and practise your speaking skills. Future employers – whether at Birkbeck or elsewhere – are likely to check out your digital presence, whether it be LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. So it’s important you learn how to present yourself well. In this workshop, we are looking to give you the guidance you need to make the best of your digital self – and apply it in a short hands-on workshop with other colleagues.
  • December 2015 / April 2016: First two sessions in our Taking Charge of your career year:
    • Personal Impact and Rapport – Body, Energy, Dynamism and Charisma (Akbar Kurtha, Mindfulness Coach): Using relaxed body language and a clear voice allows us to have a charismatic presence and build a trusting bond with other people. Greater self-awareness allows us to modify our behaviour and engage others. This session was designed to teach you how to relax before facing a stressful environment. Using physical exercises and mindfulness techniques, Akbar taught us how to make the most of your personal impact and build rapport with any group.
    • Finding your unique ability (Mosh/Alex, Birkbeck Careers and Employability Service): Money or happiness? Work-life balance or promotion? It is not easy to juggle keeping all elements of your personality happy. This workshop was designed to give you a deeper understanding of your values base, helping you consider what your passions are. Using this information, Mosh and Alex helped us to identify what opportunities are relevant for us while finding ways to develop and enhance our strengths.
  • August 2015: Putting networking into practice: Following our last Birkbeck Astrea meeting, where we were given some great tips on how to network, we held a meeting to help our members put networking into action: How to work a room, even if you don't know anybody; Developing an elevator pitch that people will remember; How to move from one group to another, and still make an impression; and - possibly most importantly? - how to get away from a really boring person.
  • June 2015: Making an Impact, or How to be a Successful Networker: For our first meeting, we invited an external speaker to talk to us about the principles and practice of networking. 

Become an astrea facilitator

  • We're looking for women to help us with next year's programme of events. Becoming an Astrea facilitator is a professional development opportunity, which you can put on your CV. By becoming a facilitator, you:
    • Work with other facilitators on projects to deliver a varied programme of events, aimed at helping Birkbeck women develop their personal and professional skills.
    • Work with women drawn from across Birkbeck, and get to know more about the organisation.
    • Help to decide on what topics to tackle and how best to engage our network of Birkbeck women.
    • Help to make Birkbeck a successful network for women in professional support roles.
  • If you're interested, please contact any of the facilitators listed above to find out more or .

Getting Advice and Help

  • Any network member is welcome to contact the Astrea facilitators for one-to-one advice and guidance on career progression, personal and professional development, interview skills, coaching, mentoring, or any related topics. Simply drop a line to with a short description of what you'd like to discuss. We will either put you in touch with a facilitator who is able to advise, or match you with another network member who can provide guidance.

Join us

All women who are professional and support staff (in schools and professional services) are welcome to join us. To join our mailing list, please email us at