Emma Cayley

Emma Cayley

Emma Cayley is Head of Modern Languages and Associate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Exeter, where she has taught since 2003.

Reflecting on the theme of equality for women being progress for all, the eminent academic comments: “Feminism is not just for women, not just for elsewhere in the world, and not just for one day: it requires a significant shift in global perceptions and behaviours which starts at home.” Emma says that too many times as a woman and a manager she has witnessed or been the target of every day sexism. “Elsewhere in the world I am aware that this is often the very least of women’s problems; but all these instances of disrespect - great or small - are connected to an underlying imbalance that must be addressed,” she adds.

Hailing from a long line of straight-talking Yorkshire women, the mother-of-two believes being kind, having a sense of humour and not taking the ‘small stuff’ too seriously is fundamental in work as in life. She adds: “After I hit 40 last year, something shifted, and I realised I needed to seek out the people I enjoyed being with, who made me laugh; to tolerate the rest, but not give them too much of my time or my tears.”

In her role within the College of Humanities Emma set off a process of reform which she says led to “many unrecognised but brilliant female (and male) colleagues who had been waiting in the wings for years finally receiving the promotions they deserved” – something she is hugely proud of.

Emma’s greatest joy comes from her family and her work. When her son was born prematurely at 28 weeks, the neonatal staff didn’t know if he would survive, and this changed her priorities. She explains: “I aim to be a mother who never expects anything of her children, never measures them against others, but is delighted with whatever they achieve. I am very happy to work full-time, and believe it is incredibly valuable for my children to understand that ‘Mummy’ has another incarnation as Professor Cayley. My daughter teaches me every day that dancing around the living room is preferable to dwelling on life’s disappointments.”