Monthly workshops encouraged a sense of community among doctoral students

It’s important to provide adequate resources for activities that support the EDI agenda
Kuvituskuva: opiskelijoita luonnossa, kaislikossa
Image: Aalto Univeristy/Mikko Raskinen

Petra Paasonen and Pelin Geyik,Doctoral students of Marketing at the School of Business, created aproject, "Root to Rise," which was born out of a desire to belong to an academic community that nurtures and cares (see Lafaire et al. 2022). The COVID-19 pandemic, along with subsequent lockdowns, canceled social events, and increased remote work, left us feeling increasingly isolated in our work. 

‘While we have observed progress in terms of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), universities often tend to exhibit masculinist modes of operation that foster an individualistic, competitive, and isolating culture (Prothero 2023). This culture largely originates from the normalization of publishing research as the primary aim of academic activity (Pereira 2020), while other vital dimensions of academic labor, such as nurturing and administrative roles, are being sidelined (Stevens and Maclaran 2022).’

A workshop series designed to encourage a sense of community

Finding ourselves eager to contribute to building a kinder, fairer, and more collaborative university environment, we applied for and received funding from the School of Business Diversity and Inclusivity Fund for the academic year 2022–2023. During this period, we organized a series of five events, all designed to encourage a sense of community and foster a stronger sense of belonging among doctoral students in the Business School.

We inaugurated our event series with a Foraging Workshop on a rainy afternoon in September. Delving into the topic of diversity through a connection to nature, participants learned to identify various types of mushrooms while beginning to form connections and share their unique academic journeys.

Next in line was a Wellbeing Workshop at the Theatre Museum in November. Utilizing different tools and methods provided by theater, this workshop allowed participants to temporarily escape work-related roles and social pressures, fostering team spirit. This workshop remains one of our favorites in the series due to the enthusiasm and open-mindedness with which everyone participated in the exercises.

February marked our third event: a Cooking Workshop held at Oodi’s communal kitchen. The intention was to express care and compassion to one another through preparing and sharing a meal together. Under the guidance of a culinary expert, participants collaborated in small groups to prepare delicious vegan mezes, learning about Turkish cuisine while having fun together.

The fourth event, Diversity Training, took place in April and was facilitated by a training designer from SETA. The aim was to enhance awareness and understanding of LGBTI+ issues, striving to create a more inclusive and supportive atmosphere where everyone is free to work and study without fear of discrimination. During the training, we realized how easy it is to make unintentional mistakes in our daily communication due to our assumptions. This underscored the importance of organizing such training for faculty, staff, and students to create a diverse and inclusive community where all members feel a sense of belonging and can fully pursue their professional, educational, and social aspirations.

As the final event, we organized an overnight Writer’s Retreat at Suomenlinna hostel in June. This time, our goal was to create an inspiring writing environment where participants could escape the distractions of daily life and immerse themselves in writing. The retreat provided participants with an opportunity to write in solitude while also connecting with others for support and writing tips. Working together in a shared space outside the office created an atmosphere where many felt they could focus better and be more productive. Since writing is one of our most important tasks and one we often struggle with alone, providing opportunities for working in shared spaces can contribute to the enhanced well-being of individuals and further encourage a sense of community.

Throughout this pilot initiative, our intent was to highlight the necessity of such events in fostering a community where all members with diverse backgrounds feel welcome, safe, and heard. It is evident that creating an empowered community requires the effort of all its members and cannot be achieved without support from the University. 

The importance of providing resources for EDI activities

We are grateful to the School of Business for providing us with the funding that allowed us to organize these events and contribute to a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace for doctoral students. However, while organizing the events was rewarding and meaningful, it was challenging to manage the project alongside our other duties at times. For this reason, we would like to emphasize the importance of providing adequate resources for activities that support the EDI agenda. As long as care work remains undervalued and unrewarded by the organization, we cannot claim to be truly advancing a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable university.

We hope that our insights and experiences inspire enthusiasm in others, encouraging active participation in enabling, planning, and executing future activities that further nurture a collective spirit, care, compassion, and equity at the Business School.

Petra Paasonen, Doctoral researcher, Department of Marketing
Pelin Geyik, Doctoral researcher, Department of Marketing


Lafaire, Ana Paula, Aleksi Soini, and Leni Grünbaum. 2022. In lockdown with my inner saboteur: A collaborative collage on self‐compassion. Gender, Work & Organization 29(4), 1331-1345.

Pereira, Maria do Mar. 2021. Researching gender inequalities in academic labor during the COVID‐19 pandemic: Avoiding common problems and asking different questions. Gender, Work & Organization, 28, 498–509.

Prothero, Andrea. 2023. Me, the Patriarchy, and the Business School. Journal of Management Studies 

Stevens, Lorna, and Pauline Maclaran. 2023. Up close and personal: feminist pedagogy in the classroom. Journal of Marketing Management, 39(1-2), 32-39.

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