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MDX-backed network for female academics boasts hundreds of members

The network has expanded from around 15 members to more than 300 academics from 100 plus universities

A unique network for female academics co-founded by a Middlesex University Professor now has hundreds of members across the globe.

Anne-Wil Harzing, Professor of International Management in the Business School, helped set up the CYGNA network seven years ago which aims to provide a forum for learning and support for women in academia.

Since its inception in June 2014, the network has expanded from around 15 members to more than 300 academics from 100 plus universities and more than 30 different countries.

It aims to be a “friendly, kind, inclusive, and supportive community, providing a safe space/place to exchange ideas, share experiences, provide advice, inspire, and learn”.

During Covid, the group’s international community continued to meet online and provide each other with support.

The name CYGNA derives from the female version of the Greek word for SWAN, which in turn stands for Supporting Women in Academia Network.

Prof Harzing, a Fellow of the Academy of International Business, was inspired to start up the network after working in Australia for 13 years.

“We established this network because the London area has so many universities and a lot of female academics felt quite isolated because they were one of only two people in their department or school focusing on a particular research area and they felt very much on their own and not supported,” added Prof Harzing.

 CYGNA members

The network was co-founded by Argyro Avgoustaki, a Professor of Management at the ESCP Business School, and Ling Eleanor Zhang, an Associate Professor in Management at the same institution. The organizing team was joined by Shasha Zhao, an Associate Professor at the University of Surrey a few years later.

Various CYGNA members have praised the network, which is free of charge and includes a mailing list for sharing ideas and collaborations.

One said: “It’s a super supportive, welcoming and generous community; a safe space to exchange ideas, learn with each other; a group of enthusiastic women eager to share their experiences for the benefit of others; a brilliant environment encouraging to pause and reflect.”

Another said: “A kind and understanding network/community of colleagues and friends, from which I draw much comfort and inspiration. I always look forward to meetings and feel energised and re-spirited afterwards.”

A third member added: “As someone who finds diversity of views rewarding, I was always apprehensive when invited to attend groups that reinforced certain identities, gender included. I did understand the value of such groups, but I never fully clicked. Two year and counting with CYGNA and the only times I feel anxious is when I know I cannot make a meeting or cannot stay to the end.”

Prof Harzing was recently honoured with a Positive Leadership Award having been selected from 11,688 nominations from 22 countries across six continents for helping teams, people and organisations thrive.

One of her colleagues in a testimonial described how Prof Harzing’s work in ensuring academia is positive, inclusive and full of co-operation was “unparalleled and deserves recognition”.

Find out more about Middlesex University Business School.

Further information regarding CYGNA is available via Prof Harzing's website.

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