. . . Moving on, at speed. I can go really quickly now if there's a rejection, or a query of something. I just go, "Right, okay, take it in, process it, and then move on" in so far as saying, "What's the next step now?"

- Joy Damousi

BEING RESILIENT

. . . Moving on, at speed. I can go really quickly now if there's a rejection, or a query of something. I just go, "Right, okay, take it in, process it, and then move on" in so far as saying, "What's the next step now?"

[To be successful, one needs] resilience and persistence. But clearly one also needs to be very inquisitive.

Resilience [1] is the ability to cope with life’s ups and downs, to overcome stress, and to bounce back from adversity. It is often identified as one of the key attributes for success. As Leann Tilley, one of Australia’s female laureates observed, resilience and persistence are the key skills that are needed to be an effective academic.

 

In higher education contexts, resilience can help individuals turn adversity into strengths, enhancing academic performance and success [2][3][4]. One study revealed that resilient individuals use positive emotions to rebound from, and find positive meaning in, stressful encounters [5].

 

Resilient people also use positive emotions to help them to achieve cardiovascular recovery from negative emotional arousal. In other words, resilient people recover quickly from the cardiovascular activation that is associated with negative emotions (such as increased blood pressure and heart rate). The maintenance of positive emotions during adversity also provides physical health benefits [6]

 

Why is resilience important for women?   

 

Women often face more difficulties in the workplace than men [8]. They may need to adapt in the face of adversity, as their identities are multiple and complex [9]. In order to fit organizational expectations, women are often expected to switch between roles, which requires resilience.

 

Indeed, research shows that resilience is vital to career success [10]. As an example, a 2014 study of 87 academic deans [11] employed at public universities showed that female academic deans reported higher levels of resilience than male academic deans, possibly as a consequence of the accumulation of experience during with challenges during their careers.

Value of a positive academic climate   

 

A healthy workplace climate that encourages and provides positive support for women can help women to be resilient.

 

Previous research has examined the effect of perceptions of workplace climate on women’s job satisfaction, self-reported influence, and productivity [12]: Female scientists are more productive, and feel more positive about their job, when they perceive a positive academic climate, characterised by collaboration and cooperation, respect, and collegiality. Such a climate increases feelings of integration within their department and reduces social isolation. Increased integration and close relationships with colleagues can have health implications, such as higher levels of wellbeing [13], as well as practical implications, such as improved information sharing [14] and higher organizational performance (see the happy worker-productive worker hypothesis [15]. 

 

A 2004 interview study of female doctoral graduates asked participants to describe their experiences of progression towards the completion of their degree [16]. Aspects that positively affected the participants’ educational resilience [17] included:

  1. Personal fulfilment from working on the degree

  2. Academic confidence

  3. Self-discipline

  4. Seeing themselves as a role model

  5. Motivation by personal or career-related goal

 

However, individual differences in resilience were also supported by organisational and structural resources, such as:

  1. Peer group/cohort support

  2. Consistency of faculty/committee member support

  3. Financial resources

  4. Research opportunities

  5. Accessibility of university facilities and personnel

 

This study demonstrates that the individual resilience of researchers can be complemented by workplace structures and practices that facilitate resilience and persistence.

Value of a learning orientation and a growth mindset

 

People who have a strong "learning orientation" (a focus on learning when in a competitive situation) and a growth mindset (a belief that people can grow, develop and change) tend to be more resilient to setbacks and mistakes.

 

In contrast, people with a strong "performance orientation" (a focus on ability in a competitive situation e.g., wanting to 'prove' your ability' or wanting to avoid showing a lack of ability) tend to be less resilient. People with a 'fixed mindset' (a belief that people have fixed abilities they are born with) also tend to be less resilient. This is because people with a performance orientation or fixed mindset tend to interpret their own setbacks negatively, worrying they are not smart enough or do not have the ability required. Consequently, they tend to withdraw effort rather than persist or try again.

Listen to ARC Laureate Fellow Sharon Parker talking about the importance of a learning mindset when going for research grants here.

 

You can also check out your own orientation/mindsets by completing the Managing You Survey.

Practical tips for building your resilience

 

  • Cultivate a "learning orientation" in which you see competitive situations (e.g., going for grants, getting promoted), as an opportunity for learning. You can find out more about learning orientation and a growth mindset here.

  • Our Australian female laureates identify resilience as crucial for success. Watch the videos below to hear more about our laureates’ experiences.

  • To strengthen your social support system, consider these avenues for meeting new people [19]

  • Doug Hensch – certified executive coach, consultant, and corporate trainer – offers his insights and perspective on resilience as being far more than just an ability to bounce back from adversity. Click here (long version) or here (shorter version) for an interview with Doug, or find his book here.    

  • Click here for a TED talk with Carol Taylor, an experienced facilitator and program supervisor. She argues that building resilience through loving, nurturing, safe relationships is the key to helping people succeed.

  • The New York Times recommends the following strategies for building resilience: practice optimism, rewrite your story, don’t personalize it, remember your comebacks, support others, take stress breaks, and go out of your comfort zone.

 

How resilient are you?

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