Talking about the gender imbalance in STEM is not new. Patricia Fara wrote a book on the history of women’s participation in science and explained clearly that women have always been interested in science – the fact is they have not always been given the opportunities to be scientists.
These days we can look at the lack of diversity in science and see that as well as barriers for women and other marginalised genders, there are barriers for anyone who does not fit the mythical stereotype of what a scientist might be. This might be because they are Black, or because they are disabled, or from a minority ethnic group, because of their sexuality, religion, or because they are the first in their family to enter higher education. Kimberlé Crenshaw described the way that these barriers accumulate and multiply as intersectional.
There has been a plethora of programmes designed to increase numbers of women in science, from the ADVANCE programme in the USA to the Athena Swan Charter used in the UK and globally. But there is still underrepresentation of women. Leading scientists such as Professor Rita Colwell, and advocates for women in science like Professor Sue Rosser, would say that in fact progress towards gender equity has stagnated. So, what can we do?
The approach taken by the International Women in Supramolecular Chemistry (WISC) network was to do things differently in order to effect immediate change. WISC was launched in November 2019 by Dr Jennifer Hiscock and colleagues after they realised the invaluable support they gained from an informal peer-support network. Chemistry has particular issues around the retention and progression of women. Whilst outreach has been successful, with women making up around 50% of all undergraduates choosing to study chemistry, less than 9% are full professors. This is a similar proportion to Physics, where fewer than 25% of A level students are girls. Rather than do yet more research that quantifies the numbers that make up the problem, WISC decided to use a novel area-specific approach that embedded qualitative and creative research methods more commonly associated with social sciences and arts. Rather than working on scientists, WISC chose to work with them, to gain understanding of the lived experiences of women who chose to stay in science.
The barriers to retention and progression that face women in chemistry are not new. Senior women and those who have left science have spoken up about dealing with sexual harassment, misogyny, and microaggressions. About balancing the chance to have a family with a career that places pressure on individuals in their late 20s to late 30s to travel, work excessively long hours, and be hyper-productive. They have spoken about the ‘old boys network’ in science where men use their positions of power and influence to help others, and the threat of losing their job or having to leave the field if they were to complain. In this last, science is probably no different from other parts of academia.
What WISC has done is to create a means by which women in the field now have been supported to share their stories with each other, to build a sense of community, kinship and mutual support through using creative and reflective means such as collaborative autoethnography. Then, together with data from qualitative surveys with a wider body of members, and ongoing reflective work with international research groups, they used narrative fiction to create a series of vignettes drawing from the research data. These vignettes allowed WISC to share the lived experiences and embodied responses of women in chemistry with a wide audience, whilst protecting all the participants from the dangers of being seen to complain or whistleblow. They collected these vignettes together in a forthcoming book from Policy Press. Dave Leigh FRS, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Manchester, wrote in the foreword to the book:
“Over my career I have seen many things change for the better in academia: Recruitment and promotion committees take genuine steps to avoid conscious and unconscious bias; schemes have been introduced that target women and other disadvantaged groups for independent positions; the increase in the number of women in chemistry departments has drastically changed the ‘macho’ culture that was prevalent 25 years ago. But the text and vignettes in this book, the latter composed from real experiences of women in supramolecular chemistry, paint a vivid, troubling picture that shows just why further significant change is still needed. The playing field is still not level. Whether that’s the fault of society, academia or supramolecular chemistry itself, I don’t know. But I suspect it’s all three. In reading this the most uncomfortable part of all was the persistent wondering if and how my own behaviour contributes to the inequality and experiences I was reading about. What do I do, or not do, that makes academia less fair on my women colleagues? And my questioning of that is, perhaps, the best reason of all for this book.”
WISC have created a means by which their members and participants can share their own experiences, and then utilise these safely to raise awareness of the challenges and barriers they face as they choose to stay in science. Their aim is not only to connect with women and other marginalised groups, but to use fiction to reach out to men as well, and from there to make change.
The call for papers for the SRHE 2019 Conference slid into my inbox not so long ago, marking the point in the year when the mind must focus in the short-term, in order to benefit from all things Celtic Manor in the longer term! The conference theme: Creativity, Criticality and Conformity in Higher Education invites debate on transcending the traditional and building an innovative research culture. The theme is timely in view of my own recent experiments involving graphics and poetry in social sciences research.
One year ago, I sat with a mass of rich qualitative
data I’d collected for Gender(s) At Work,
a research project investigating gendered experiences of work and career
trajectory in higher education (HE). I’d interviewed 50 members of staff,
identifying as female, male and gender non-binary, working in academic and
professional services roles within one UK university. I set about analysing the
data using Massey’s theory of geographies of power operating within space. I
wanted to explore ways in which gender operates as a ‘geography of power’ within
HE and the extent to which participants’ diverse and complex lived experiences
trouble the prevailing career narrative of linear, upward trajectory.
Clear space soon emerged
between the rhetoric of gender equality and lived experiences in the workplace
and throughout working lives. Despite decades of equal opportunities
legislation and institutional equality policies, the glass ceiling remains a
feature of our sector. Elements of less familiar career archetypes: the glass cliff
(Ryan and Haslam, 2005; Bruckmuller et al,
2014); the glass escalator (Williams, 2013; Budig, 2002) and the glass closet (Merriam-Webster,
2018) also surfaced in the transcripts. These
metaphors, archetypal and architectural – were something of a gift to a
researcher concerned with the relationship between space and power. I found
myself experimenting – you might call it doodling – with visual representations
of the glass ceiling, escalator, cliff and closet.
Using the visual was not completely new territory
for me; as a doctoral student I had employed visual mapping as a research tool (Carruthers
Thomas, 2018a) and tentatively used abstract diagrams as aids to explaining my
theoretical framework and findings (Thomas, 2016), but I hadn’t picked up a
pencil with intent since school art lessons. Nevertheless, four cartoon characters
emerged from my doodles; embodiments of gendered dis/advantage in the HE
Throughout the Gender(s) At Work project, I had been disseminating emerging findings through conference papers and PowerPoint presentations. I had written a chapter about my research methodology (Carruthers Thomas, 2019a). As academics we anticipate and reproduce such formats; they keep the academic wheels turning and form the building blocks of academic credibility. With data collection complete however, I was unsure that the temporal and structural constraints of these conventions were going to do justice to the volume of complex personal narratives entrusted to me by research participants. I was also becoming increasingly drawn towards McLure’s argument for
immersion in and entanglement with the
minutiae of the data … an experimentation or crafting … a very different kind
of engagement with data from the distanced contemplation of the table that is
the arrested result of the process.
(McLure, 2013: 174-175).
In March 2018, the Sociological Review explicitly
invited unconventional contributions to its conference: Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges. Still enjoying my
experimentation with cartooning, I decided to explore the possibilities of
communicating my research findings through a ‘graphic essay’ entitled My Brilliant Career? An Investigation.
This would be in the format of a large-scale, hand-drawn comic strip conforming
to the structural conventions of an essay or article. My proposal was accepted
and the work began! The learning curve was precipitous!
In June 2018, I exhibited My Brilliant Career? An Investigation at Undisciplining (Carruthers Thomas, 2018b) in the impressive
surroundings of BALTIC Gateshead. The four A2-sized panels remained on display throughout
the three days of the conference. It was strikingly different, communicating my
research this way rather than hothousing it in a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation.
Many delegates returned to the exhibit several times to look, bring colleagues,
take photographs, ask questions. I engaged in discussions not only about the
medium, but about the research process and findings too. And I myself engaged
anew with the work, as an exhibit, rather than a cherished work in progress. I later
translated the four panels into an A1-sized academic poster, displayed at the
SRHE 2018 Annual Conference.
Meanwhile, another call for unconventional conference
contributions in the form of poetic and performative work, had come from the Art
of Management and Organisation (AoMO). This triggered a second experiment in
creative criticality resulting in Glass,
a long poem also based on the Gender(s)
At Work data. Unlike graphic art, in poetry I do have a track record (Carruthers
Thomas, 2018c), but had not considered blurring the boundary between poetry and
academia until this call. Yet, as an academic my research practice involves
collecting, analysing, distilling and presenting data. My research is a form of
enquiry seeking enhanced intelligence and evidence to advocate organisational,
structural and cultural change. As a poet, I follow a similar process to create
a poem. More, or less, consciously I collect data: ideas, questions, emotions,
sense phenomena, then manipulate language and sound to distil the data into
poetic form. Glass brings these
To write it, I returned yet again to the interview
transcripts, creating a poem comprising four sections – ceiling, escalator, closet and cliff
– using participants’ words and a narrative framework featuring the
researcher’s voice, using original poetry. Glass
was deliberately written as a piece to be performed, another first, as I
had only previously written poems for the page.
Even now, even now in my meetings
I’m still faced with wall to wall suits.
And I still hear my colleagues repeating
the proposal I tried to get through weeks ago
(extract from Cliff, Glass 2018)
My Brilliant Career were created
independently of one another, in different media but they draw on the same
research data. This is not all they share. Both involved an extended process of
analysis and representation; repeated revisiting of the data and work in
painstaking detail. Both explicitly draw on and draw in, the affective,
bringing the potential for surprise, humour, anger and pain into the room
without apology. Finally, both also required me to allow myself to be
vulnerable to audience resistance, discomfort, critiques on multiple levels and
questions of academic validity.
Largely positive responses to the graphic essay and
the research poem at those conferences set me thinking about ways to signpost
the potential of creative approaches in social science research more widely and
led to another experiment in academic practice.
I designed a multi-modal dissemination programme to take the findings of
Gender(s) At Work out to UK
universities and research institutes.
The programme featured six ‘options’ from which host institutions could
select, mix and match: the exhibit My
Brilliant Career? An Investigation; the research poem Glass; a conventional Powerpoint presentation of the research
findings: The Workplace Glassed and
Gendered and another giving an illustrated account of my emerging graphic
social science practice: The Accidental
Cartoonist. Building on both the research findings and visual methods, I also
designed two participative workshops. Mapping
Career challenged participants to develop meaningful visual alternatives to
the reductive metaphors of career ladder and pipeline and On The Page explored the way simple visual and graphic methods might
be used in research and teaching. I publicised the programme via email across
the UK HE sector.
The response was extraordinary. Since November 2018
I’ve visited universities and research institutes from Edinburgh to London;
Cambridge to Bangor. Audiences have included academics in all disciplines,
professional services staff, senior management, conference delegates, Athena
SWAN teams, women’s networks and mentoring groups, postgraduate and
undergraduate students. I called the initiative the ‘gword tour’ after my blog the g word (that’s g for gender).
Six months, 30 ‘gigs’ – all that’s missing is the T-shirt!
One day I might be discussing Gender(s) At Work aims, research methods and findings to Athena SWAN
leads and women’s networks; on another I’ll be delivering the Mapping Career workshop at a staff
conference. I’ve presented The Accidental
Cartoonist to academic developers and EdD students and encouraged academics
to experiment with visual methods in their research and teaching practices in
the On The Page workshop. Glass has been performed at some
unlikely venues, including the Wellcome Sanger Genome Campus, the Stansted
Airport Novotel – and to audiences somewhat larger than those at the average
How will you crack the glass enclosing some,
exposing some, blinding others
to their privilege?
Reflect on it.
from Epilogue, Glass 2018)
Throughout the gword tour I have diligently handed
out structured feedback forms (in return for a free postcard), providing me
with a continuous feedback loop and resulting in adaptation and tweaking of
individual sessions throughout. Now the tour has concluded, a large pile of
completed forms await me and I’m looking forward to getting the bigger picture.
Meanwhile I’m already musing on two questions which have arisen throughout the
past year. Firstly, whether and how addressing familiar topics through
unfamiliar media can disrupt audience expectations and dislodge habitual
responses to tricky subjects such as gender equality; secondly, whether what I
have described in this blog constitutes being ‘differently academic’.
By ‘differently academic’ I mean taking the
opportunity to sit with our data for longer, deliberately to approach it from
different angles, to explore its creative dimensions. I mean bringing data to
diverse audiences, in diverse ways over an extended period, a process which has
only further energised and deepened my engagement in the original research questions.
Audience after audience has grilled me on my research rationale, process,
findings, limitations and implications. Each time, their questions, comments
and challenges have pushed my analyses further and opened new lines of enquiry.
I fully intend to
publish my reflections on these questions in conventional academic formats: papers,
articles and chapters.It may be that
creative, critical work in our field can only
gain academic legitimacy through this route.Meanwhile, other opportunities have arisen. Glass was published in the Sociological
Fiction Zine in May 2019 (Carruthers Thomas, 2019b). I am currently working
on a set of visuals for a new academic research centre and will be
poet-in-residence at an academic conference in November 2019. The SRHE call for
papers defines creativity as ‘transcending traditional ideas, rules, patterns,
relationships’. I hope to continue to be creative and critical in my academic
work, not for transcending’s sake, but ‘to create meaningful new ideas, forms,
methods, and interpretations’.
McLure, M (2013) ‘Classification or
Wonder? Coding as an Analytic Practice in Qualitative Research’, In Coleman, R
and Ringrose, J (eds) Deleuze and
Research Methodologies, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Chapter 9. pp.164-183.
Click on the title followed by ‘version française’ below to jump to the French language version of this post. We continue to encourage submissions such as the one below to include perspectives in languages other than English. Please send all contributions to the editor, email@example.com.
Minding the gender gaps in European higher education
Fostering equity and equality between men and women and reducing different forms of gendered discrimination has taken centre stage in the European policies of the past two decades, for example in the pact for gender equality (2011-2020).
Gender equality policies and legislation have also proliferated at national and institutional levels, in an attempt to reduce existing vertical and horizontal gender segregations which have traditionally favoured men. For example, 23 out of 28 European Member States have established a voluntary or legislative quota for political parties and their parliaments to ensure women representation. To tackle the gender pay gap – which is one of the most persistent horizontal gender inequalities – in the UK and in Germany, for instance, companies are now required to establish transparency in their salary and bonus systems.
Similar policies have been applied to academia and research. In Austria, for example, there is a 40% quota for all university committees and universities are awarded additional funds for appointing women professors. In the UK, the Equality Challenge Unit monitors and supports equity and equality among staff and students in higher education, and in Sweden extra support is provided to women approaching professorship. Such initiatives also exist, in different degrees and forms, in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Finland, according to the EIGE report.
Have these multiplying initiatives transformed gendered norms and stereotypes in higher education systems and helped creating equal opportunities for both men and women? The reality is not as promising as one might wish for.
One basic issue arises from the distorted interpretations of gender equality as a concept. Increasingly, it is used as an equivalent to women’s rights and empowerment in the so-called battle of the sexes.
Within this distorted perception, “the oppressed becomes the oppressor”- to use Freire’s words. Instead of rewarding institutions where outcomes for women practically equal those of men, the tendency is for near-parity or women outperforming men to be applauded – while in both cases the actual participation levels are hidden and/or ignored. In effect, this worldview harms men but harms women even more severely. It objectifies women in institutions’ tokenism while no actual shift in power relations has taken place.
This perplexing view has a direct impact on access and success in higher education. In many OECD countries, particularly those with higher income, boys are more likely to repeat a grade, dropout of high school, and opt for directly entering the labour market rather than higher education. This has led to a ‘feminisation’ of bachelor’s programmes (58% female graduates). The choice of fields and progress in the level of study remain gender segregated. Women are more likely to study undergraduate programmes considered feminine, including education, business, law, social science, health and welfare. Men, on the other hand, study in engineering and STEM fields and outnumber women at PhD levels – that is, if they opt to enter university.
Gender inequalities that still persist are indeed causing considerable economic loss of public and private investment in higher education. “Across the EU, women have better educational outcomes than men (44% of women aged 30-34 in the EU completed tertiary education, compared to 34% of men)”, yet receive an average of 16% less hourly pay. Around 10% of their wage difference remains “unexplained” according to the 2018 EU report on equality.
Likewise, according to Eurostat’s 2017 report, 22.4% of the European population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. We know that men are increasingly shunning higher education. It is also clear that “those with only upper secondary education have earned around 50% less than those with a tertiary education between 2000-15 in OECD countries”. The prospects for the average European household poverty rate in the next decades sound worrying with less educated men and lower paid educated women. It may be, therefore, fair to say that gender equality policies- in their current forms- have not delivered equal opportunities and are not fit to create sustainable societies.
I have elsewhere expressed my concern on access policies that can be carrying a “Cinderella syndrome”, hence betraying the promise of higher education in bringing social change. I reiterate my argument here with regard to the current formulation and application of gender equality policies and quotas in European higher education.
Despite some progress, gender policies have systematically failed in ‘undoing’ gender stereotypes. They are – at least partially – responsible for : increasing inequality of access for men to a majority of undergraduate fields of studies; maintaining the proportions of men and women in fields traditionally assigned to their gendered roles; and not having completely reversed trends in salaries and representation of women at professorial and higher management levels in universities. Evidence from a recent study in France has also shown the failure of gender-related quotas. It argues that having more women on appointment committees has, in fact, had reverse impacts and dramatically cut the number of female academics getting hired.
It is time to mind and close the gender gaps that still persist and to redress the new ones we have fabricated by the inadequacy of our gender policies in higher education systems. Or, We could confide it to AI, but that might make things worse!
Juliette Torabian is a senior international specialist in education and sustainable development. She holds a PhD in Education from the Institute of Education, University College, London and a Masters in Development from SciencesPo, Paris. Her research focuses primarily on comparative higher education policy and practice, social justice and gender equality.
l’UE: l’inégalité des genres dans l’enseignement supérieur toujours bien présente!
par Juliette Torabian
Au cours des deux dernières décennies, l’équité des genres et l’égalité entre hommes et femmes ainsi que la réduction des différentes formes de discrimination fondée sur le genre, ont été au centre des politiques européennes; par exemple, le pacte pour l’égalité des genres (2011-2020).
Les politiques et les législations dans ce domaine ont également proliféré aux niveaux national et institutionnel dans les États membres européens afin de réduire les ségrégations de natures verticales et horizontales entre hommes et femmes, favorisant traditionnellement les hommes. Par exemple, 23 États membres européens sur 28 ont établi un quota volontaire ou légal pour la représentation des femmes au sein des partis politiques et dans les parlements. Pour faire face à l’écart des rémunérations entre hommes et femmes – l’une des inégalités horizontales des plus persistantes – au Royaume-Uni et en Allemagne, par exemple, les entreprises sont désormais tenues d’instaurer une transparence dans leurs systèmes de rémunération et de primes.
Des politiques similaires en matière de genre ont été appliquées dans les universités et la recherche. En Autriche, par exemple, il existe un quota de 40% pour la composition des comités universitaires mais également une compensation financière pour chaque affectation de femme académique. Au Royaume-Uni, « Equality Challenge Unit » surveille et soutient l’équité et l’égalité au sein du personnel et des étudiants, tandis qu’en Suède, il existe un mécanisme de soutien supplémentaire aux femmes en phase d’accéder aux plus hauts niveaux académiques. Selon le rapport EIGE (Institut européen pour l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes), de telles initiatives existent également, à divers degrés et sous différentes formes, en Belgique, en France, aux Pays-Bas, en Allemagne, au Danemark et en Finlande.
Ces innombrables initiatives, ont-elles réussi à transformer les stéréotypes dans les systèmes d’enseignements supérieurs et par conséquent à créer des chances égales pour les hommes et les femmes ? La réalité n’est pas aussi prometteuse qu’on pourrait espérer.
Un problème fondamental découle de l’interprétation erronée du concept de l’égalité des genres. Il est de plus en plus utilisé comme synonyme des droits et de l’autonomisation des femmes dans la prétendue bataille des sexes.
Dans cette perception tordue, “les opprimés deviennent les oppresseurs”, selon Freire. Au lieu de valoriser les institutions où les mesures prises ont donné lieu à des résultats concrets assurant l’égalité des femmes et des hommes, la tendance serait davantage à applaudir la semi-parité ou bien les femmes qui surpassent les hommes ; alors que dans les deux cas le taux réel de participation en général demeure ignoré pour ne pas dire dissimulé. En effet, cette vision nuit aux hommes mais nuit encore plus gravement aux femmes. Les femmes sont ainsi stigmatisées à travers des mesures purement symboliques sans aucun changement à l’horizon dans les rapports de force.
Cette conception perplexe de l’égalité des hommes et des femmes dans l’enseignement supérieur a un impact direct sur l’accès à l’université et sur le succès dans les études. Dans de nombreux pays de l’OCDE, en particulier ceux où les revenus sont les plus élevés, les hommes sont plus en proie au redoublement, à l’abandon de leurs études secondaires et à opter pour le marché du travail plutôt que pour les études supérieures. Cela s’est traduit par une « féminisation » accrue au niveau des licences (58% de femmes diplômées). Le choix des filières et la progression du niveau des diplômes restent dominés par les stéréotypes de genre. Les étudiantes sont davantage enclines d’obtenir une licence dans les filières dites féminines : le droit, les sciences sociales, l’enseignement, le commerce et la santé. Alors que les étudiants choisissent davantage des filières d’ingénieur, des sciences et des technologies, dépassant en final, le nombre de femmes titulaires d’un doctorat, -si bien sûr ils poursuivent leurs études supérieures.
Les inégalités de genres qui persistent entraînent une perte économique considérable en termes d’investissements publics et privés dans l’enseignement supérieur. “Dans l’ensemble de l’UE, les femmes obtiennent de meilleurs résultats scolaires que les hommes (44% des femmes âgées de 30 à 34 ans dans l’UE ont achevé leurs études supérieures, contre 34% des hommes)”, mais perçoivent en moyenne 16% de moins en salaire horaire. Considérant que 10% de cette différence de salaire, reste « injustifiée » selon le rapport 2018 de l’UE sur l’égalité.
De même, selon le rapport d’Eurostat 2017, 22.4% de la population européenne est exposée au risque de pauvreté et d’exclusion sociale. Nous savons que les hommes s’éloignent de plus en plus des études supérieures. Il est avéré que « ceux qui n’ont suivi que le deuxième cycle de l’enseignement secondaire, ont gagné 50% de moins que ceux qui ont fait des études supérieures entre 2000 et 2015 dans les pays d’OCDE ». La prospective d’un taux moyen de pauvreté au cours des prochaines décennies dans les ménages européens comptant des hommes moins scolarisés et des femmes éduquées mais moins bien payées, est inquiétante. Il serait donc juste de dire que les politiques d’égalité de genre -dans leurs formes actuelles- ne sont pas susceptibles de créer des chances égales pour une meilleure cohésion sociale.
A d’autres occasions, j’ai exprimé ma préoccupation à propos des politiques d’accès pouvant entraîner un “syndrome de Cendrillon” trahissant ainsi la promesse de l’enseignement supérieur pour assurer un changement social. Je considère donc que le même raisonnement s’avère juste quant à la formulation et l’application actuelles des politiques et des quotas en matière d’égalité des genres dans l’enseignement supérieur européen.
En dépit de certains progrès, les politiques en faveur de l’égalité des sexes ont systématiquement échoué dans la « suppression » des stéréotypes sexistes. Ces politiques sont au moins partiellement responsables : des inégalités d’accès des hommes à une majorité des programmes de licence ; de maintenir le statu quo de la représentation des deux sexes dans les filières traditionnellement associées à leur rôle social respectif ; et enfin, de ne pas avoir complètement inversé les tendances des niveaux de salaires et la représentativité des femmes dans les hautes fonctions universitaires. Effectivement une étude récente en France fait écho de l’échec des quotas. Elle établit que le fait d’imposer des quotas pour la présence des femmes dans les comités de sélection, a eu de facto des répercussions inverses et a considérablement réduit le nombre d’enseignantes embauchées dans les universités.
Il serait peut-être temps de traiter une fois pour toutes, l’imbroglio des disparités persistantes entre les genres et de réparer nos politiques qui par leur inadéquation, fabriquent de nouvelles formes d’inégalités dans nos systèmes universitaires en Europe. Ou bien, confions cela à l’intelligence artificielle,… à nos risques et périls !
Juliette Torabian est une spécialiste internationale dans le domaine de l’éducation et du développement durable; PhD de Institute of Education, University College London; Diplômée de SciencesPo – Paris; ses recherches sont concentrées sur l’analyse comparative des politiques de l’enseignement supérieur, la justice sociale et l’égalité des genres.