In celebration of International Women’s Day – here we share a brand new recipe in progress from our upcoming book!
The EqualBITE team are now busy with editing the recipes we have received so far so if you have sent us a recipe we will be contacting you shortly.
And stay tuned for information about our ‘Edit’ workshops where you can finalise your recipe with help from us.
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Have a great day all you fabulous ladies!
The EqualBITE team.
Have you ever found yourself responsible for all “ladies issues” in your department by virtue of being female? Here is another of our recipes in progress, by Jane Hillston in Informatics. Jane has some wise words on how to hand back a gender related problem to the person who raised it. If you have any more ideas on this theme, leave a comment below.
Author: Jane Hillston
Flavour: crispy freshness
Serve to: male colleagues
Number of servings: one
Cost/resource: resolve and a smile
In my discipline of computer science the proportion of women is stubbornly low, despite at least two decades of efforts and initiatives to try and make the topic more attractive, particularly to female undergraduates. Sometimes male colleagues find themselves in a situation where the low female participation rate is strikingly obvious, for example teaching a first year class and being confronted by a sea of male faces. They are shocked and outraged that this should still be the case and feel something should be done. And then, take the first opportunity they can to hand the problem over to a female colleague….
Similarly, in the UK, we have the Athena SWAN initiative which recognizes departments which are able to demonstrate commitment and progress on supporting gender equality, through an extensive process of data collection and self-assessment. Many heads of departments immediately assume that such a self-assessment team must be led by a woman….
This is a recipe for trying to counter-act that assumption that tackling gender equality is a problem that must be addressed by women. Of course it is often the case that women are passionate about their subject and keen to increase the proportion of women within the field. But such passion should not be taken advantage of: tackling this problem can be just as challenging and time-consuming as any other academic administrative task. Improving gender balance should not be regarded as something that female academics adopt as a hobby; like all academic administrative tasks it should be included in the workload model and allocation of duties process. Fixing these attitudes in general is more of a slow cooker recipe, taking a long time simmering over a low heat.
In contrast, this recipe aims to assist women who feel the role of female champion being foisted upon them at that moment. Think of it as a peppery salad with lots of balsamic vinegar.
- A situation in which gender imbalance is startlingly obvious.
- An outraged male colleague who feels self-righteous for noticing the problem.
- A female colleague who just happened to be the first he thought of, or the first he met, after the onset of his outrage.
- Bite your lip, count to ten and smile.
- Whilst counting to ten, try to think of male colleagues who could plausibly take on the role being thrust upon you – you’re a women, you should have no difficulty multi-tasking! For example, why shouldn’t the colleague responsible for student admissions tackle the problem of female undergraduate Of course, his unconscious bias may be the reason for the low numbers, but this is only an opening gambit.
- When you reach ten, congratulate your colleague on his insight. Be careful with your use of language because you are aiming to be supportive without accepting ownership of the problem yourself. So, for example, do not thank him for bringing the situation to your attention. Instead ask what he plans to do about it, saying that you will be happy to support him, but making it clear that you expect him to take the lead.
- He will almost certainly present a list of reasons why he doesn’t have the time to take on this extra responsibility. Agree with him that yes, it is unreasonable to be expected to assume additional responsibility by a chance association with the problem, such as being the one to notice it or being a woman. Hopefully the irony will not be lost on him. Doing this should make it difficult for him to pass the problem to you.
- Now deploy your alternative suggestion and enter into a discussion of how the problem could be seen to fall within the remit of an existing administrative role. There are two alternatives here. Either the problem could be seen to fall within an existing role in which case the colleague responsible should be encouraged to broaden their perspective of the role to encompass this additional challenge. For example, this would be the case for female undergraduate recruitment. Alternatively, if it is a genuinely new role, such as coordinating an Athena SWAN self-assessment team, it should be allocated in the appropriate way, with appropriate recognition for the colleague who takes it on.
- Aim to close the conversation with your colleague with a clear plan of action (on his part). This can be followed up on later with an email, saying you enjoyed your discussion and copying in the colleague that you jointly identified as being the most appropriate person to take action.
Try to keep the tone light-hearted and avoid confrontation. It is easy to feel annoyance at the assumption that gender problems need to be tackled by women, but keep this in check. Instead adopt a dressing of sympathy and encouragement, for a conversational salad with firmness and crunch. Omit all bitterness.
Playing this game of academic administration hot potato is not for the faint-hearted or weak-willed. Care is needed to avoid being overly helpful. A firm hand and firm words are needed to return the potato to its originator.