By Sumita Chatterjee
The Gendered Journeys project is a 3 year ESRC-funded project investigating the experiences of women in India and Rwanda entering a STEM field through higher education, graduation, and their progression into skilled employment. The project hopes to understand potential experiences, factors, and events that may be contributing to the gender inequality seen within these fields; however the project simultaneously aims to bring together a cross-disciplinary network of people to a space in which ideas, experiences, and support can be exchanged. To reflect that aim, the Gendered Journeys Happy Hour was created as a way to bring together the minds of the diverse many, in hopes to learn from, and with each other.
November 26, 2020 was the commencement of our first Happy Hour event which brought together 15 individuals residing in various parts of the UK, India, and Nigeria. These 15 individuals carried with them a knowledge base that ranged across STEM, gender identity, gender inequality, and education. The Happy Hour also brought together representatives from other research and network groups such as FemEng, UofG Phd Society, and STEM Equals, giving us the opportunity to become aware of each other, and the other resources available to us.
The evening was spent compassionately sharing our experiences with one another. Some explained their experiences of being a woman in STEM and the moments in which they came to not only see the inequalities happening to themselves, but also the moments of recognition in which they, themselves, had unknowingly enabled, and even perpetuated, the biases present. Some went on to describe their experiences of actively choosing to no longer participate in dynamics that kept them from expressing their true potential, and the backlash that came with such a choice. Others talked about their experiences of being men who have dedicated their life’s career to studying gender inequality and the negative commentary that came from their peers for being more “effeminate” as a result. This experience they described came juxtaposed with having to manage such commentary, while simultaneously actively exploring the responsibility that came with their position of privilege within such topics. For others, this came with the added intersection of sexual identity, and their feelings of extreme vulnerability as a reflection of the level of acceptance for their orientation in their society. Finally, some came to listen; to be present for those opening up, thus upholding the space for those wishing to share.
The evening ended leaving many with a smile. The event had successfully allowed connections to be formed and a wider perspective to be gained for the multitudes of experiences of those from such diverse realities. It had re-enforced the importance of open dialogue and the necessity for the presence of varicolored voices during such discussions in order for us to understand how to lift up and move forward together. Ultimately, those of us in Gendered Journeys were left feeling optimistic and hopeful that the trend of this event would extend into our future events, and that our network of people would continue to expand within the UK and internationally, thus continuing to broaden and clear the path towards more equitable and sustainable solutions.