Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

What to do next about #WomeninELT Part II

So, continuing from yesterday’s post, the main issue is not, and never really has been, plenaries. They are a very visible reminder of a balance that is not quite being achieved but is, I am fairly optimistic, on the way to being. Initially, Russ and I chose plenaries as they were relatively easy to measure and keep track of. They present figures that are harder to put down to interpretation or bias in the counting or the way the counting is done — not that my counting is perfect.

What we were more interested in was who people associate as being the most important contributors to ELT and that we had to find out using a survey that had more in common with market research surveys than hard science. Who were the names people carried around in their conscious and subconscious?

It turned out that those names did not have a 55:45 male:female split.

Far from it. Those names were overwhelmingly male.

We wondered if maybe plenaries were part of what gave rise to that and what maintained it. But we concluded that the names on the front of required texts on CELTA and TEFL and DELTA and MA courses were probably more responsible. Whatever the reason, the solution is probably to focus on admitting we all suffer from gender bias because it is instilled in our culture. And we see that bias in the absence of female CEOs in ELT publishing, in the tech companies as well as the “titans” of ELT as one conference described their “surprise” booking of David Crystal. Titans, one Twitter user noted, are always men. Strong women are gorgons, harpies and sirens, or, more commonly, weak and in need of rescue.

I still see and hear things that irritate me about ELT conferences, not least of which is women arguing that they wouldn’t want to be chosen to speak as part of a quota. Or when people act offended that their event — which I absolutely understand was a huge effort to organise — has been singled out for not being gender balanced. Or when people insist that women turn down roles or don’t put themselves forward enough. Is it true? I don’t know. If it is, why is that the end of the conversation and not the beginning?

I want it to be the beginning of the conversation and I am wondering who wants to participate in that conversation.

One way is to nominate women for the Women Speakers in ELT list that is very much a work in progress. Ultimately it wants to be a reference point for conference organisers and link through to a profile and means of contact for each speaker. It’s a long way off that now but, as it is crowdsourced, it can only become that with crowd participation so please, head over and nominate yourself and other women you’ve seen speak.

It’s notable that only one big name ELT guy has nominated anyone. Only one. And I would put that down to the call just not being heard widely enough except that I’ve had this conversation in a Facebook thread with those men involved. I’ve had conversations about this topic with some of those guys directly too and I have heard from people that have spoken about it, and me, to them.

And in that age-old bit of gender bias I have been judged as not conveying this message in the right way. Which adds up to not “nice” enough, too aggressive. Women are not supposed to be unsympathetic, nor ambitious. I have not treated these guys with the deference they are used to; I have suggested they are part of the problem. And that’s not “nice” so they don’t want to hear it and can hide behind the “she makes a good point but it’s the way she says it that’s the problem.”

My second proposition is to create a space where this issue is the sole focus of conversation. And by “this issue” I mean anything to do with women in ELT and their lives, including empowering women. I was surprised to find that the talk I did at Innovate ELT had women coming up to me thanking me for doing just that. Even one who subsequently accepted a plenary role she says she otherwise would have turned down. I wasn’t expecting to make any kind of impact on anyone really, but, if I did that in ten minutes, what can a group of women all doing that for each other achieve?

A lot I would bet. I happen to be in a plethora of women’s writing groups on Facebook, set up specifically to network, share resources, editing contacts and jobs between women and overcome the gender bias in many areas of publishing and media. It has single-handedly taken me from blogging, fiction and ELT materials writing to getting bylines in places like Cosmo and The Wall Street Journal, and taught me how to ask for more money and to pitch for things I wouldn’t have dreamed I could.

But how to organise a group like this? Should it be only for women is a huge question. On one hand, a female only group can network and exchange opportunities and have a space to speak up. I have seen many times, especially when a conversation gets aggressive, that men are dominating it and the women are … more cautious? Or intimidated? On the other hand, gender bias is something that can only be solved by both genders working together and is a problem that also affects men. Then there is the more practical aspect of whether such a Facebook group should be public, closed or secret. And if one admin should approve requests or whether people can invite who they want. And whether a moderator has to step in and make sure group policy is being followed. And what should that policy be? I hummed and hawed about all this for weeks, stymied by how complicated it was. And then I realised, I don’t have to decide. The group itself should.

So, if you want to be a founding member of the group, write your email address in the box below.

NOTE: Founding member applications closed as of Oct 17 but, once everything is set up we’ll begin opening up to new members based on whatever we decide the group is to be.

At this stage I am only asking women. I don’t think it is unfair to found a group about Women in ELT with only women. The first 25, or the number on the list by Monday October 17, will be the founding members and I will add you all in one go to the new Facebook group. (One person has signed up already, the second she heard about it!) Then, that group are going to decide on some of the aspects above and we will start trying to grow the group, share resources, start conversations. So, I have no idea what it’s going to be like, but it seems like a good place to start.

The final thing I had wanted to do was organise a Women in ELT conference. I had a wishlist of speakers and other ideas for sessions and topics and was starting to think how on earth to go about such a huge feat. I realised that plenty of other steps needed to happen first, not least of which being how to pay for it and whether there would be sufficient interest. Which is another reason why the conversation is only just beginning.

Looking forward to see the other 24 founders in my inbox!




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This entry was posted on October 11, 2016 by in ELT and tagged .
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