Rogerson is concerned by the "complacency" that affects CambridgeRosie Bradbury

For many, Gonville and Caius’ appointment of a female master for the first time in its 670-year history is a huge milestone in the fight for equality. But for Pippa Rogerson, “diversity goes well beyond the women thing. That’s not where we stop.”

Rogerson graduated with a Law degree from Newnham in 1983. She developed a strong connection with Caius as an undergraduate through her supervisions. Now, she has been a fellow of the college for thirty years, working as a Senior Lecturer in the Law Faculty and Director of the Law Tripos from 2014-2015.  

Although she feels “a very great debt of gratitude and loyalty” to Newnham, she admits that she has been linked to Caius for ten times longer than Newnham. Her cohort was less than thirty percent female, so being at an all-female college was a huge bonus for Rogerson. As she puts it, after Caitlin Moran, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” On graduating, her intake at the firm Clifford Chance was over half female – twelve out of twenty. But now, all but four of them have left the workplace, and of those four, two are here at Cambridge: Rogerson herself, and the Pro-Vice Chancellor Eilís Ferran.

Rogerson has vocally supported the 'Caius for Consent' campaignOEAC UC News

Things today are a lot better, certainly, but much remains to be done to improve gender equality in career prospects. “How can we say that we’ve done enough when the evidence shows that people are just not being promoted or developed on merit, or anything that you would want your staff to be developing?” Rogerson asks, concerned by the “complacency” which envelops Cambridge. “Cambridge is not immune [to issues of equality and diversity], even though we’d like to think we’re better at it.”

"Cambridge is not immune [to issues of equality and diversity], even though we’d like to think we’re better at it"

For Rogerson, the diversity issue spans far beyond gender, and especially concerns race. Levels of representation for those who are “non-pale, non-male and non-stale” are “very low”, and she says the discussions the University is having are “very uncomfortable”, yet deeply necessary, and ultimately positive. Rogerson is actively engaged in these talks, and it is apparent to me that whatever changes are to be made, Rogerson will be looking to see that Caius is swift in adopting them.

Caius students have voiced their optimism that her tenure will be one of positive change, pointing to how Rogerson recently promoted the ‘Caius4Consent’ campaign on social media.

Rogerson leads from the front, something she is not unaware of. “I do feel that I’m slightly standard-bearing,” she concedes, although she instantly tempers this with her characteristic humility. “You do feel a responsibility that you’ve got to get it more right, work harder, be more careful about how you present yourself and what you say [as a woman]”. Later she reflects on how, in her own family, the expectation was that her brothers would attend Oxbridge, but the notion that she might was “crazy”.

"These ancient institutions develop strategy in a more iterative, organic way, so they can seem slow to respond to change"

The maxim Rogerson lives by is Michelle Obama’s: ‘when you can, be kind.’ “Basically, be kind: kindness extends to anybody, regardless of their position. We have to try and see the world through the eyes of somebody that doesn’t have the [same] advantages.” Rogerson is candidly aware of her own, saying, “I know very well that I am very privileged.”

However, this is a women who has also faced hardship in the form of the death of her husband, father to her five daughters, eleven years ago. “[My family] have faced considerable adversity, and that puts an awful lot into perspective,” she says. “I left Cambridge never, ever thinking that I was going to face any sexual discrimination of any sort, and I haven’t in any very obvious way.” She continues, “I’ve just had a slower progression through the academic ladder from having children, Gerry dying, and various other normal vicissitudes of life, really.” Here Rogerson’s positive attitude is apparent. “But those will happen to everybody. It’s how you deal with it in relation to other people that’s important.”

Want to get involved with Varsity interviews?

Meet some of Cambridge's most interesting figures and ask your burning questions. Just join our Interviews Writers group or email our Interviews team to express interest.

As a master, it is clear that Rogerson will be focused on the pastoral aspects of Cambridge life as well as the academic. “I have always had an academic minimum”, she says, stating that getting as good a degree grade as possible is “why you’re here.” But at the same time, she cites the 440 university societies, noting that “not to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities is a waste of your time at Cambridge. Participate. Get involved.” She is reassuring about the work-life balance, too. “Work efficiently, work smartly”, that way you don’t have to work constantly; “but you must realise that you will get the balance wrong”. This being said, she is keen to stress that we learn from mistakes more than we do from getting things right.

Another key maxim for Rogerson is that ‘nothing is ever irrevocable’, no matter how set in stone it may seem. Should a master have a vision for their tenure? “It’s the sort of thing you always get asked”, she muses. “These ancient institutions develop strategy in a more iterative, organic way, so they can seem slow to respond to change. I feel the history of the 670 years that the college has been in existence.” Nonetheless, “you want to hand the college on in better shape than you received it.”


READ MORE

Mountain View

Victoria Bateman on ‘the cult of female modesty’

So what does this mean for Rogerson? The aim is to make Caius “a place in which everybody can thrive,” which will be achieved through discussion, and consensus. It’s clear that Rogerson cares about making the opinions and voices of others heard. I ask her what her biggest fear is for Cambridge, and she is sanguine about the economic threats, namely to the funding of higher education and research. She notes the “growing view that if we really do live in a post-truth world, the sorts of things we do are not really valuable.” But she is, as ever, optimistic. “We have fabulous, fabulous people here [in Cambridge],” whether they be staff, academics or students.

“We will find our way through whatever problems we face, whatever the problems are. This is a very resilient institution, and I believe that resilience will see it through these difficulties. If we’ve survived the beheading of the king, the Reformation, and two world wars, let’s hope a little thing like Brexit is not going to stand in our way.”

Sponsored links

Partner links