Promoting gender equity in science/STEMM: A reflection on Prof Jenny Martin’s visit

It was a treat last week to have biologist Professor Jenny Martin visiting us from Australia, where she is the director of the Eskitis Institute at Griffith University. She blogs and tweets about things science-related, including women in science. Jenny has been passionate and committed to promoting the participation of girls and women in STEMM in Australia, including a key role in getting Australia’s SAGE initiative set up. It was this focus of her work that she spent time discussion in two presentation. The first, on Gender Equity – recognising and removing bias from the equation, was to the equity community at the UoA. The second, enticingly (or provocatively, depending on your view) titled Science is Male, was a standing-room-only seminar in the School of Biological Sciences. (Jenny has kindly agreed to provide  links to her slides; I’ll revise this blog when they’re up).

Both presentations balanced humour with the seriousness, and emphasised the practical – what can I do, what can you do, what can different groups of people do – to increase not only early participation, but retention of women in science, and in contexts where they are valued, and have the opportunity to flourish. My experience of watching presentations like this (in my equity role I have seen more than one) is to hope to glean new ideas for moving forward in what we do to promote Women in Science at the University of Auckland. Jenny’s talks both validated much of what we’ve been working on, with our Platform for Gender Equity and other things, and offered new insiprations and suggestions.

Jenny emphasised the need for leadership from above to really make a difference – alongside bottom-up/’on the ground’ type actions. Yes! Please.

She also emphasised the need to collect the data – so, for instance, what is the case in relation to a gender pay gap? Jenny highlighted a few cases of North American universities where a gender pay gap had been explored, identified, and addressed through some form of compensation. Some places have opted for a one-off payment; UBC took a slightly different tack, adjusting women’s salaries across the board by 2%, when analysis identified a gap that could not be explained by other factors . As New Zealand is far from immune from gender pay inequities, I would like the UoA to undertake a similar analysis, and to take action should a gendered pay gap be identified. So measurement and collecting data is important (we are researchers, after all). Not least because what we measure determines at least in part what we see and what we can know…

Another topic discussed more widely – and where we’ve seen some shifts globally, but where a lot of work is still needed – has been gender inclusivity at conferences – on organising committies, and on speaker panels, plenaries, keynotes, and other invited speakers. Senior men have been encouraged to take a pledge (this isn’t the only one!) not to accept invitations where, in the most basic version, women are not present as participants. Jenny has offered 10 simple rules for achieving gender balance in conference speakers. This is something we’re working on…

There was much much more – which can be found in her slides (when I get them up), including data around the bias against women found in student surveys (which was news again this week, with a new Dutch study providing new robust evidence around this).

Jenny acknowledged that gender is not binary – our focus on ‘women in science’ can sometimes obscure that. She also acknowledge the intersections of many different axes of privilege/marginalisation, which are vital to acknowledge and hold as real, at the same time as we talk about broad brush categories. The idea of our indenties and experiences offering differential privilege and marginalisation are captured in trainings like the power shuffle – they can be powerful and revealing tools.

Amidst this, I appreciated Jenny’s use of humour. These topics are of course very serious, but laughter is also vital amidst it all.



Parenting in higher education

I’ve just read this fascinating review of Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College Women’s Success, by Laura T. Hamilton. The book studied a selected group of MidWestern US College women, and explored different parenting styles, and mapped these on to different educational outcomes and achievements. I won’t sum this up here (read the review!) except to say parental input matters. Related to recent discussions around class at university (a great invisible here), and to the potential challenges first-in-family students face, I was struck by the way this seems to nicely empirically demonstrate the often invisible supports (and lack thereof) and the ways these really do impact on students, and participation and success.

Excellence vs inclusivity and participation?

I’m just back from a month in the UK, where there seems to be much doom-and-gloom about the post-Brexit impact on higher education and universities (I’m not suggesting this is unfounded; all analysis I’ve read suggest this worry is well-founded). This morning, I read this piece in the Guardian about the push for ‘excellence’ and (related) exclusivity in (some) universities in the UK, and how this potentially works against developing more inclusive and diverse student bodies. Then I read this piece, again in the Guardian, about the scrapping of maintenance grants for the poorest of students, which indicates another way in which participation from certain marginalised groups will likely be reduced. They are just two points of a complex discussion of the role of the university, and the place (and obligations?) of universities in contemporary (western) societies – including the tensions between ‘private benefit’ and ‘public good‘ type arguments and perceptions.

Related to this question of who makes it in to our classrooms (and what we do to get them there, make them feel welcome, keep them there, and support them to flourish), one of my favourite presentations at the British Psych Society’s Psychology of Women Section conference was from Leeds Beckett academic Glen Jankowski, talking about diversity and inclusivity projects around race/ethnicity, in both the psychology classroom, and the university more generally. He discussed various projects and practices, linking to great resources like Leeds University’s anti-racism toolkit.