Catherine Millan, Student Recruitment and Widening Participation Officer for the University of Manchester, has shared her Life Lessons on this week’s Northern Power Women podcast. After indirectly being affected by the tragic death of Anthony Walker, Catherine has dedicated her career to promoting racial harmony and equal access in education. Working for a number of charities and NGOs throughout her career, Catherine has developed programmes that address inequalities within education systems. She is currently delivering projects as part of a widening participation strategy, that focuses on reducing the barriers Black students face when accessing Higher Education. Alongside this, Catherine is also developing a programme of interventions, support packages and resources that address the degree awarding gap between Black and White students.
Throughout her Life Lessons, Catherine spoke about the effect that international travel had on her life and her career, pushing her out of her comfort zone, and enabling her to pursue her passion of working in humanitarian aid. When we chatted with Catherine, she spoke of how her urge to see the world came from wanting to visit places where she felt represented. She said, “I think most young people of colour will relate to that feeling of being, the only person of color in the room, and how that makes them feel. […] I think you just naturally build up this want within you to escape that and go to a place where you feel like you’re represented”. Commenting on how this want spurred her on to make travelling part of her plans, she said: “I think that then became a driving force for me to just work toward a goal of traveling the world at some point in my lifetime and I was fortunate enough to reach this goal early on in my career”. Catherine reflected on the benefits that international travel has brought to her life, describing how “it was one of the best decisions I ever made […] I was able to meet so many different people from a variety of cultures and be exposed to so many different traditions. This really helped me put life into perspective and developed my passion for giving back to others”.
In her Life Lessons, Catherine also spoke on the perception that work is a chore, and something you merely have to endure without enjoying it. She entirely disagrees with this, and states firmly that “you have to have a career which enables you to find your purpose”. By finding a role that works towards a larger purpose, Catherine is able to dig a little deeper if her motivation flags: “when you’re working towards a purpose that’s bigger than you, that then becomes a driving force to keep going”. Being able to see the difference that your work makes to the world is Catherine’s solution to finding fun and satisfaction in the work that you do. “Taking pride in who you are and what you’ve done is really important to me, you don’t necessarily have to do a job around social justice or you know, climate change or anything to try and make this world a better place. Because not everyone is like that or into that, I think it’s just knowing you are feeding into something that’s bigger than yourself and then that becomes your driving force to do whatever it is really well”. Catherine really emphasis’s here its more about being the best and successful in what ever you do and finding your purpose to help achieve common goals you and your employer are working towards.
Part of Catherine’s success in her role is down to her belief in her own capabilities, and was something she touched on in her Life Lessons. When giving advice about asking for a payrise, Catherine urged listeners to know their worth and value to the organisation before starting negotiations. In our discussion together, Catherine mentioned a quote that she saw every day through her time at sixth form college, which left its mark on her and her perception of her capabilities. The quote read, “our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate, our biggest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. Reflecting on the impact of this quote, Catherine understands that “it wasn’t about fearing failing it, it was about knowing that I could do really, really great things in life and believing in myself and having the confidence to go out and do it”. To those struggling with their own value or self belief, Catherine offers the following advice: “If you can get it into your head, that your goal is something you will always work towards, picture in your mind the person you want to be, and then enjoy the process of getting there, then the confidence will come alongside that”.