So here goes – something that I have not written about before but has been on my mind…
I just finished listening to a podcast and reading a book titled Stop Fixing Women in which an important point is made very clear: when women do not succeed or do not reach their full potential, the most frequent response is that they need to try harder, be more competitive, be less competitive, not try so hard and countless other bits of contradictory (and pointless) advice.
The point made by the author, Catherine Fox, is that it is not women – but the system – which continuously excludes them. And let’s face it, this is a system dominated by men. Rather than fixing women, we need to repair a system that is biased against them – either consciously or unconsciously – which includes ‘fixing’ men.
As an academic, educator, administrator and researcher, I sit on the frontline of issues of gender equality in the world of academia. Many colleagues both within universities and across different sectors are involved in discussions around gender equality: how can we get more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)? What can we do to promote higher levels of financial literacy amongst women? How do we ensure more women researchers are recognised for the outstanding work they do? How do we promote more women in leadership positions? How we can ensure universities are a safe place for our female students and staff?
The issue, if we tie this back to Catherine Fox’s book, is that this is not about women, but the systemic power structures that we must confront.
If this is the case, then how do we respond?
In the many things I have been reading, here are five things that we need to do to stop fixing women, and start fixing the system – both in terms of promoting gender equality and a safe and thriving campus environment – two points that I feel are intrinsically interlinked:
1. Time for quotas
A recent US-based survey that examined 300 women who had majored in or left a STEM major highlights a lack of female role models including lecturers in their field is a key deterrent in pursuing their goals.
As such, to get more women in STEM, we need to hire more female academics – and if that means establishing quotas, so be it. But quotas for quotas sake are not sufficient: as Jane de Hollander, Vice Chancellor from Deakin argues, you can’t just set quotas but you need to encourage aspirations and provide opportunities for development at all levels.
There are many arguments against quotas but they work – as is evidenced in repeated academic and industry-based studies including a recent OECD report. In a recent interview, former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, stated that quotas are ‘anti-men’ – highlighting both his blindness to privilege (remember the single female in his cabinet) but also the lack of understanding that history plays in exclusion.
Quotas are not anti-men, but about promoting equity: it is about fixing the system that too often excludes half our population.
2. Support ‘Respect, Now, Always’ and create safe places
One of the most important campaigns that all universities across Australia have initiated is the ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ Campaign under the auspices of Universities Australia.
The stated aims of the campaign are as follows:
- Raise awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and lift the visibility of support services for students;
- Obtain data to guide further improvement in university policies and services; and,
- Assist universities in sharing global best practice resources across the sector.
The campaign included a survey of tens of thousands of students across the sector and the results will be released in an evidence-based report in mid-2017.
Key here is for us to understand that relationships between staff and students (in particular supervisors and candidates) – as well as between male and female staff, as well as male and female students – are unequal power relationships. As such, we should have zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour – sending a clear message.
The campaign must continue to educate – directing materials to both staff and students!
One of the best campaigns I have come across is ‘Consent is Everything’: please check out the amazing video they produced aimed at the student cohort titled “Consent – its like a cup of tea’. Though it may seem flippant, it highlights how consent can be withdrawn at anytime. No excuses!
The message here is simple: sex without consent is rape – I could not think of a better and clearer message.
3. Embed gender and equality across curriculums
I think it is important that we embed issues of gender across all curriculums: from engineering and cultural studies, to medicine and the sciences.
I am regularly surprised that many curriculums I am asked to review ignore gender – and there is no excuse for that. The issue of gender, sex and power is something that is relevant in all sections of our society and our students (and staff) need to be made aware of this, their own responsibilities and given a sense of empowerment to respond.
By the way: If you are interested, email me and I will send you a copy of the ‘gender and sex’ chapter from my book…
4. Create pathways – for early, mid and established academics
I have been lucky enough to be part of an executive mentoring program at Western Sydney University (it was surprising to me was that I was a mentor and not a mentee – then I was reminded I was a Dean – easy to forget sometimes).
It was fantastic to have senior members of staff including the senior executive themselves take part in this process – talking to early career academics. While this is great, it is also important that we expose those academics to mid-career academics to identify career pathways – and this is particularly important for our female colleagues.
Such pathways are essential and should be continuously reviewed.
5. Men – get yourself a female mentor
In the ‘Stop Fixing Women’ podcast, Catherine Fox recommends that men in senior positions should reverse the power relationships by asking a junior female colleague to be a mentor: with an aim to better understand the experiences – both positive and negative – of our junior female colleagues.
This should not be seen from a deficit model – implying that everything they experience is bad – but a surplus model – in which we have much to learn.
Inspired by this, I asked a female colleague to be my mentor – which she accepted.
I do not expect her to speak on behalf of every female. Rather, I am hoping to gain insights about:
- What can I do to be a better mentor: that is, fixing men;
- What barriers am I am blind to: that is, fixing men; and,
- What can we do to be a safer place: that is, fixing the system.
This is an issue all too important to ignore… and one that we need to be more proactive about.
I look forward to your response.