Ahead of our International Women’s Day event, we asked speakers and colleagues about their thoughts on gender equality in education.
Alex Walker, Professional Development and Recognition Lead, University of the Highlands and Islands
The University of the Highlands and Islands is holding an International Women’s Day event to explore gender equality in education. The event will provide an opportunity to reflect on the way societal contexts and inequalities impact our student and staff groups and to identify what can be done to champion equality across our partnership.
For example, COVID-19 has impacted on all our lives, but especially on young people and on women. Those under 25 are twice as likely to work in a shut-down sector than those over 25 (Blundell et al) and women are more likely to have taken on extra caring and domestic responsibilities, with mothers spending on average two fewer hours doing paid work and two hours more on housework and childcare compared to fathers (Andrew et al).
This has particularly impacted BAME women, with a recent study finding that 45.5% said they were struggling to cope with the different demands on their time, compared to 34.6% of white women and 29.6% of white men.
There are clear implications for women staff and students working and studying at universities in this time of crisis. It’s important we reflect on the pandemic’s impact on women and how we can harness existing networks to provide spaces to share experiences around these challenges.
Ash Morgan, Highlands and Islands Students’ Association Vice President for Further Education
One of my personal bugbears in the further and higher education sectors is the lack of support and recognition offered for the extra burden placed upon people who study and additionally have caring responsibilities. This can hugely affect a person’s ability and capacity to study.
We know that caring is often a silent or hidden responsibility. It is often an unpaid position, done through love and, more often than not, falls to the women of the world. This year I wish to celebrate all women studying who have caring responsibilities on top of seeking out an education.
Tracy Kennedy, Humanities Lecturer, Inverness College UHI
There are studies showing that female academics are coping with extra pressure and sacrifice in the current pandemic. There was one female academic, for example, who asked on Twitter whether 4am to 6am was an appropriate time to be recording lectures. She is not alone. Female academics and students are often the ones home schooling or looking after very young children as well as working/studying.
In a recent class, I had an additional student (a four-month-old) who was not well and was being comforted by her mother while mum was trying to complete her work. I also teach a mum who has two lovely, lively boys, both under school age, who demand attention from their mum and have often joined in lectures! This has, of course, led to extra stress and strain as these, and all the other amazing mothers out there, try to work, study and teach their children at the same time.
Dr Natalie Jester, Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology, University of Gloucestershire
Gender-based inequality still pervades further and higher education; whilst awareness has definitely improved in the last few years, this alone will not be enough.
An important starting point is to ask who holds the (top) jobs and who gets the grant money. Rollock finds that there are only 25 Black female professors in the UK, for example. A feminist approach to education means ensuring that all marginalised groups get a seat at the table and, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is arguably more important than ever because marginalised groups suffer a disproportionate burden.
Women – who often have primary responsibility for childcare – suffer disproportionately, with much less time for research (Smith and Watchorn), whilst Morgan makes the case that BAME staff (his own framing) are often more precariously employed and, as a result, more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic.
The equalities impacts of COVID-19 are vast and still being explored. Further thought needs to go into examining this intersectionally, however, otherwise we risk shutting out people multiply marginalised by gender, ‘race’, class and/or disability.
Donna Clark, Human Resources Systems and Records Manager, University of the Highlands and Islands
I recently saw a reference that described the past year as ‘the corona-coaster’ and that is certainly apt. It has been a relentless and dizzying rollercoaster of continuous change and adjustment amidst the full spectrum of human emotions. It has been the most challenging year of my career.
COVID has pushed the boundaries of leadership and management and highlighted how important it is to have a strong organisational structure in place. People management (also referred to as line management) can often be seen as an ‘add-on’ to someone’s role, almost an afterthought, but I believe that people management should be recognised as a job in itself. These skills help to cement the stability of an organisation and are essential at a time when many employees are feeling isolated and overwhelmed.
Training, mentoring and other forms of support can be invaluable in helping to develop those who have people management responsibilities, but perhaps we need to stop and rethink how we view people management as part of the wider organisational structure. Are we prepared to recognise it as a job in its own right and not just an ‘add-on’? COVID has provided an opportunity to push this question further up the agenda.
Keith Smyth, Professor of Pedagogy, University of the Highlands and Islands
In advancing gender equality in education, we need to recognise the means through which the male voice has been the privileged one within the academic and related work of educational institutions. Historically this has included the technologies of printing and publishing being harnessed by male-dominated organisations, to distribute knowledge produced predominantly by males who were already in privileged positions. This links forward to the dominance of the male voice in learned societies, on journal editorial boards and within the structures and hierarchies of universities.
However, there are a number of approaches through which we can take directed action in tackling these and the myriad other ways in which women’s voices have been marginalised and underrepresented in learning and teaching, research and professional practice. Male colleagues who recognise this can have an important role to play in supporting the amplification of women’s voices in education, including through gender-balanced approaches to curriculum design, scholarship and research, and to supporting women in educational leadership.