Professor Sara Cantillon did not take a traditional route into academia. Joining GCU in May 2015 as Professor of Gender and Economics and Director of the WiSE Research Centre from University College Dublin, she previously worked in the private sector (in roles at Price Waterhouse, Washington DC and Mitsui Inc., New York) as well as in the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin and in the World Bank.
For three years she was the Economic Advisor to the Department of the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). “It was quite a different world,” she laughs, “Impossible deadlines, political dramas, the nuanced demands of the various social and economic interest groups.”
While there, Sara’s primary responsibilities were in relation to the national Anti-Poverty Strategy and the social partnership negotiations.
Sara believes this wide range of experience enhances her work as an academic. “I think, too, that it contributes to my capacity and desire to combine research, public engagement and public policy.”
She says that one of the attractions in coming to GCU was “its commitment to public engagement and its motto of University for the Common Good”.
The attraction also had a personal dimension. “I was born in the US, grew up in Ireland but am of Scottish descent. My grandmother was from Glasgow, so in coming to Scotland at this particular time in the aftermath of the referendum with a renewed sense of political engagement and energy around equality issues feels like a natural unfolding for me, professionally and personally.”
Sara graduated from Trinity College Dublin and has an MSc from University College Dublin and a PhD from the University Of Kent (Canterbury).
She was also Monbusho Scholar at Hiroshima University in Japan.
Prior to joining GCU, Sara was Head of the School of Social Justice and Director of the Equality Studies Centre in University College Dublin, amassing a portfolio of research in equality, poverty, gender and intra-household distribution.
Sara is keenly aware that she has big boots to fill as Director of GCU’s WiSE Research Centre, following its founder, Professor Ailsa McKay. She is full of praise for Ailsa’s “great work, her enduring research impact and for having put gender inequality squarely on the map in Scottish policy discourse”. Sara wants to build on, and consolidate, Ailsa’s work and to extend the impact of WiSE internationally. “The issues with which WiSE is concerned (care, unpaid work, occupational segregation and pay gaps, inequality) are ones that have global relevance and resonance.”
WiSE has established the Ailsa McKay Annual Lecture Series and the inaugural lecture was given in May by the pre-eminent feminist economist Nancy Folbre, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who explored the interface between political economy and feminist theory. A second lecture is already planned for May 2017 with Professor Philippe van Parijs, from the Université catholique de Louvain.
Over the past year, the WiSE team has secured over £70,000 in funding from the Scottish Government to develop a research programme which covers a number of different strands.
Dr Katarina Sarter, appointed as the Ailsa McKay Postdoctoral Research Fellow, is working on public procurement and gender equality; Dr Zofia Lapniewska, WiSE Postdoctoral Research Fellow, is working on the impact of investment in the care economy; Dr Angela O Hagan works in the area of gender budgeting and is leading a research project to build capacity in developing participatory budgeting by working with local community researchers; Emily Thomson is working on Modern Apprenticeships and with NGOs on a funded research project on the business case for gender equality.
The team is working hard to attract further research funding and resources for “the continued intellectual development” of the WiSE Research Centre. The Centre recently celebrated the launch of a book, Feminist Economics and Public Policy, edited by Dr Jim Campbell and Morag Gillespie and the researchers also write a WiSE Working Paper Series. Sara and WiSE Visiting Professor Diane Elson have been appointed Series Editors for a new book series, The Gendered Economy.
Sara says: “It’s a big ambition but we want WiSE to showcase the importance of a feminist economics approach within mainstream economics, within policy making and, perhaps most importantly, within everyday life.”