EqualBITE – A Recipe Book for Gender Equality in Higher Education
EqualBITE is a ‘recipe book’ which aims to share practical and effective strategies for creating more gender balanced working environments in higher education. The recipes were written by University of Edinburgh staff and students, drawing from their real life experiences.
The recipe format developed for the book gave people space to reflect, sometimes humorously, sometimes critically, on how things actually are. Recipes also provided people with an opportunity to share practical advice. In large complex organisations like universities, the culture and environment can vary considerably across different departments: being able to adapt effective strategies is likely to enhance their impact.
The book was not produced to be a glossy politically correct version of Edinburgh’s successes in gender equality. Instead it is intended to be a frank exploration of the messy reality. The recipes to highlight some excellent practice but also to show the complexity of enhancing gender equality and to uncover the frustrations people face. The overall tone is positive and constructive with real insights to share within the University but also across the higher education sector and beyond.
The book was launched in May 2018, and can also be downloaded free as an open access book of recipes, case studies and articles, at: EqualBITE (oapen.org)
Author: Marissa Warner-Wu
Serve To: Anyone biting their tongue
In any group which is primarily homogenous, a culture starts to develop around the dominant component. In IT, this culture centres on white men, usually in their twenties or thirties. To participate in the culture, you need to engage in it. If you’re surrounded by men who speak dismissively of women, for example, then you also feel the need to do this. Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted by their peers.
For many years, I too engaged in this kind of culture. I tried my best to be “one of the guys”, but in the end it just left me full of repressed rage towards colleagues who unthinkingly made sexist comments in my presence. Recently I made a commitment to myself that every time this happened, I would say something out loud to the person who had made me angry. This was a lot harder than I originally thought. There is a kind of unspoken (pun not intended) social rule which prevents you from saying something which might make someone else uncomfortable. It’s easier to sweep something under the carpet and pretend it never happened.
The goal here is not to get the other person to apologise. If this is what you want, you will probably be disappointed. Instead, you will hopefully achieve two things. First, you will remove your own sense of burning resentment and allow yourself to sleep peacefully at night. Second, often times the other person is not speaking out of malicious intent or any real conviction. Calling them out is often all that’s needed to make them aware of their language.
- A person who has just said something you find sexist or otherwise discriminatory/dismissive
- Repressed anger
- A desire to make change
- Think about what has just been said. What about it made you angry? Why did you feel this way? Sometimes it’s hard to move from thinking, “This person is a jerk!” into something more constructive, but this step is key to getting to the root of why you are mad. It’s also important for helping you prepare for the next step.
- Carefully frame what you want to say in a constructive manner. A good method is to use the non-violent communication framework (https://www.cnvc.org/learn/nvc-foundations). Observe…Feel…Need…Request. You do not have to make it complicated. Often simply observing what has been said is enough. If you feel too choked up with rage to think properly, saying something like, “That sounds a bit sexist to me.” is fine. Remember that the goal is not to attack the other person or make it personal. Do not call them a jerk, even if you are thinking it.
- Say something to the other person in a neutral voice. You do not need to sound angry (you’re not trying to start a fight), or upset (you’re not a victim). This step is very difficult and can feel quite socially awkward. That’s ok! Remember that even the tiniest thing can make a difference or change someone’s mind. Even doing something small is still doing something.
- If the other person replies to your comment or challenges you, be prepared to have a conversation about it. Try to remain neutral and non-confrontational. Explain simply why you had a problem with what they said. You don’t need to belabour the point or make them feel badly.
- Sometimes you will get no response, and that’s fine. Don’t expect the other person to reply – they might feel too embarrassed to say anything.
Speaking to someone privately can help boost your own confidence about approaching them and also avoid turning it into a public shaming exercise.
It’s not unusual for the other party to become angry or ashamed when confronted. They may even blame you for making them feel badly. Your relationship with the other person may become strained for a while, but hopefully you will both benefit in the long run from your honesty.
One for the ladies, riposte
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. Make it clear that this is not your hobby, and that these roles should be regarded academic administrative tasks like any others and should be allocated appropriately.
- 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 recruitment. 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. 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 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.