Zyra Evangelista, our Research Associate was involved with this fantastic event:
British Council Gender in research: Challenges and opportunities towards research Webinar I presented in (March 2022): https://www.britishcouncil.ph/programmes/education/news/gender-in-research-webinar
Zyra also took part in the British Council video to celebrate International Women’s Day back in 2021 and promote the British Council Scholarship for Women in STEM: https://twitter.com/phBritish/status/1368773561654145027
On STEM and gender equity as one of the many present struggles on March Women’s History Month
March 8th, and by extension the entire March, has become a global powerful month where women honour and render female and feminist struggles against all oppressions, persistent violence and precarity, and for all emancipations. March 8th – International Women’s Day- is a contested site for hegemonic masculine interests, privileged classes, and white supremacy. The days where mass media and markets’ male narratives of women’s day were infused by patronising and misrecognising attitudes such as giving flowers or chocolate to women as a celebratory gift for “their only day” are in the past for many. Yet, the global market is still full of catching happy flower deals for men to buy, though.
March is also a month where International Organisations’ (IOs) interests in women’s rights are at stake. These are powerful places where competing aspiring campaigns of what women’s day is about are worked out. Central themes for women’s equity are proposed and mobilised like #BreaktheBias – the World Economic Forum campaign calling out people to act against gender stereotyping and discriminatory situations-, or the United Nations’ proposed theme ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ aiming at ‘recognizing the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all’. Certainly, it is not for men to take part in these “definitions” nor in the market-masculine hands, or in the hands of IOs -although they take part in different manifestations towards gender equality- to define what they celebrate, what they commemorate, what they fight for. We want to support women in their fight for equality, justice and fair opportunities.
In all these themes and campaigns, including the market-male ones, it is hard to see the intersectional struggles as one of the founding histories supporting women’s day – that is, it is not emphasised women’s historical and actual struggles against simultaneous oppressions they face given their class and working conditions and status, their gender, and their racial/ethnic backgrounds; all of them working together reproducing women unlivable and unsustainable conditions. From its initial historical eruptions in 1857 and 1909 in New York -where working class, intellectuals, and migrant women risking and losing their lives conducted strikes demanding better labour conditions- women come together recognising different lines of oppression affecting their lives.
One of the struggles many women and feminists have decided to fight are gender inequalities in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -STEM- fields. These inequalities cut across class, gender, racial, and ethnic lines, are pervaded by masculine hegemony, and can be tracked from the global big numbers to the cultural which is experienced in the everyday life. These inequalities are more complex than just less women studying and working in STEM.
In higher education, we see an as yet unfettered masculine hegemony in all stages. According to the International Association of Universities just one in six higher education institutions are led by women across the globe. Globally, just 28% of professors (the most distinguished position in the academic career) are women, an unequal distribution more pronounced in research intensive institutions- (U-Multirank Gender Monitor 2021). In STEM focus institutions, males dominate. Proportions of female undergraduates in STEM focus institutions are much lower than in non-STEM focus institutions (36% to 56%), worldwide (U-Multirank Gender Monitor 2021). Following UNESCO data we also see that just 29% of the total researchers in science are women. When it comes to engineering and related fields inequalities get wider. According to UNESCO 1 in 10 female students are enrolled in engineering, manufacturing, or construction. In Electrical and Mechanical engineering, across all the academic career path -from students to Master and PhD studies, to professorial positions-, no more than 30% are females and in most of the stages, no more than 20% are (U-Multirank Gender Monitor 2021). But these are not just problems in the poorest, colonial and postcolonial countries. National data gathered in the 2016 The Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology (ASSET)as well as the 2018 SRUK Survey on Gender Equality in Research in Spain, show that most female researchers work in more precarious conditions than males. Less than 20% of professors are women, but they are more than 50% of the postdoctoral positions (one of the most precarious academic positions in higher education); and more women are in part-time positions than men. These translate into disparate gendered perceptions. These surveys show that women academics are more likely to perceive advantages towards men while men are more likely to misrecognise those situations having more “neutral perceptions”.
Covid-19 also exposed and deepened gender inequalities that intersect with postcolonial inequalities in higher education. U-multirank data shows that 60% of higher education institutions, in the beginning of the pandemic, were able to replace classroom teaching for online/distance teaching, most of them in the richest countries. For STEM subjects the data reveals that in Engineering and Sciences just 3% of the programmes (in more than 80 countries). This forces female students to deal with the gendered division of labour at home, demanding them care and domestic labour. Covid-19 also left females at risk of facing wider digital inequalities at home. While the Internet has expanded throughout the world population from 46% to 63%, especially during the Pandemic, around 3 billion do not have access to the internet, many more have poor connection and no computers, especially in ex colonial countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America (ITU, 2021). These digital inequalities are gendered, raced, and classed. Females from poorer countries are the most excluded. And yet, these inequalities are also shared by many women around the globe. A small survey carried out by STEM women in 2019, 2020 and 2021 in the UK give us a glimpse of the rising importance of diversity and equality measures during the Pandemic years. While in 2019 74% of female respondents thought these measures were very or extremely important, in 2021 this share increased to 89%. In the report we also see a loss of hope for positive changes in gender equity in IT and Engineering labour market.
There is also an increasing circulation of sexual violence and enduring language colonialism through platforms that has affected all students, including those in STEM. The former can be observed in the intensification of stalking and sexual harassments during the last years, affecting LGBT communities and women, principally (Pew Research Centre in 2020), while the latter has been indicated in the State of the Internet Language Report (2022) led by Dittus and Graham, showing dominance of English in programmes, learning platforms, and webpages widely used in higher education. They reported that the most excluded languages come from African countries, leaving more than 90% of their potential users compelled to deal with a colonial language if they want to be “included”.
And yet, what is often missing from these data are the complex misogynist environments female and non-gender conforming graduates navigate in higher education and STEM fields. They are part of the culture that sustain the data presented above. Research sensitive to this patriarchal culture points out how females as well as non-binary people are often represented in binary terms, like in positive/negative or superior/inferior style of thinking. For instance, men are believed and treated as having more capacities, attunement, or dispositions for STEM than females, and positive images link men with the use of technologies and technical skills, positioning females in the negative pole of these relationships, often associated them with devalued capacities for caring, as if caring was not at all needed nor part of the skills all people should apply in their STEM field.
These binaries reiterate norms that are detrimental to non-masculine genders and women because they arbitrarily reinforce values that vest superiority to men and relegate women and other groups to inferior status and positions controlled by those rules that allow men to govern and accrue prestige and respect. There is also what is known as tokenism. It refers to a superficial, cosmetic understanding of inclusion. We have seen this in higher education institutions focusing primarily on counting more women in, or in making women academics more visible because they need to fill in gender parity indicators, or when females are continuously summoned to participate in several events and roles, thus exploiting them and making them responsible for their own inclusion. All of these, without changing the assumed male dominance, cleverness, and leadership. This chilli environment is even more dense given the endless microaggressions. These are quotidian, unquestioned, and deemed subtle actions and situations such as sexist jokes, insults or stereotyping stories around females and gender that often circulate in higher education and STEM departments. Currently, higher education is pervaded by sexual aggressions and harassment, which are experiences difficult to speak out. This makes higher education plainly dangerous for female individuals around many parts of the world.
While research data is available on women’s representation in STEM fields. The gendered journeys of university STEM students and their progression into employment remains underexplored. Our project, Gendered Journeys, investigates the multidimensional and intersecting challenges that STEM students face in India and Rwanda with some comparative research in the UK. Gender equality is not limited to women’s participation in higher education or STEM areas; it includes examining and addressing institutional, societal and cultural barriers that restrict women’s advancement. For example, we need to consider how caring responsibilities and gendered sensemaking of technology shape women’s decisions to pursue STEM subjects and the material and cultural conditions available for them in those fields. Do work environments support career progression for women? Do women get supportive mentors in STEM areas? These questions and considerations do not stand alone, as they are linked to power structures in an organisation and societies. Finally, we believe that despite all of these impediments that women encounter in their daily lives, they have the aspirations, capabilities, and skills to pursue and sustain careers in higher education and STEM areas, alongside multiple collectives making important efforts for equality in STEM and other areas involved in these politics of knowledge.
Daniel Leyton and Preeti Dagar, Research Associates. School of Education. University of Glasgow
Gender in STEM and beyond: the implications of precarity in the academic workforce for gender diversity in STEM fields
On June 22nd I gave a presentation as part of a seminar series run by the Education, Leadership and Policy (ELP) Research and Teaching Group, School of Education, University of Glasgow. In the paper I discussed the issue of gender equality in STEM fields, making example references to the UK, India and Rwanda, the three countries where fieldwork is being conducted by the Gendered Journeys project team. I combined this focus with another key topic of interest and concern for me and other members of the Gendered Journeys team – precarity in the academic workforce (i.e. the situation and experience of academics of fixed-term, temporary insecure contracts – also known as ‘casualised’ staff). My goal was to explore the extent to which casualisation affects issues of equality and diversity in terms of academic experience in STEM fields.
I defined precarity as people’s experience or feelings of insecurity or destabilization, of ‘slipping over the edge’. In exploring the issue of precarity I’ve found the work of Judith Butler (2009) helpful, who uses the term social precarity to refer to precarity that is not simply the product of accident (e.g. slipping on an icy pavement) but is connected to, or indeed induced by, wider sociopolitical policies and practices (e.g. being moved onto a ‘zero hours’ contract). Social precarity can be experienced by a wide range of people but is more likely to be felt (and experienced more severely) by those in less advantaged groups.
In HE, pre-existing patterns of social inequality are intensified by the dynamics of precarity (Leathwood and Read, 2020; Read and Leathwood, 2020). For example, in relation to the casualisation of academic posts, the U.K.’s Equality Challenge Unit’s (2016) analysis found that women, under-35s, academics with disabilities, and black and minority ethnic academics are more likely to be on temporary and/or ‘teaching-only’ contracts.
There have been long debates as to the differing dynamics of precarity in global north and global south – with writers such as Scully (2016) noting that working conditions that are seen as quite new in the north have a lot longer duration in the South. That being said, a number of writers in the global south have linked the rise in influence of neoliberalism in HE, particularly since the 1990s, with an exponential growth of casualisation in the academic workforce (see e.g. Chattarji (2016) and Jagannathan and Packirisimay (2019) in the case of India).
We also need to consider disciplinary differences in the way precarity might be experienced by academics. Within universities and society more broadly, there are strong associations between the hard sciences and masculinity, and the social sciences, and esp arts/humanities with femininity – with the former often being more highly valued. Steinþórsdóttir. et al. (2018) argue that this dynamic can lead to STEM disciplines being more favoured by university decisionmakers in relation to funding/resource decisions. Many national governments also place investing in STEM disciplines as a priority.
The benefits of this valuing of the sciences of course benefits all STEM academics regardless of gender – although there are complex patterns of inequality within STEM disciplines as well. As well as being in a numerical minority overall, women are particularly under-represented in some disciplines rather than others – e.g. computing and AI, and engineering (WEF, 2018). Moreover, as we have mentioned, women and BME academics are disproportionately working on precarious contracts both within and beyond STEM, and so are less able to capitalise on disciplinary advantage such as the increased possibilities of institutional support and external funding.
Finally, new reporting seems to indicate that pre-existing inequalities are being compounded since the onset of the pandemic. In an article last year in the THES (Buckee et al., 2020), a group of 35 women scientists working on Covid-19 research stated that “even […] lifelong battles for a place in science have left us unprepared for the gendered and racial inequalities we have experienced in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic” – citing for example that women and BME scientists chosen far less often to speak to media and being brought in as experts; and childcare and other caring responsibilities falling disproportionately on women over the lockdowns leading to what is being called as ‘the productivity divide’ (Kitchener, 2020) – with journal editors reporting far fewer articles being submitted to journals from women since the start of the pandemic.
Again, STEM disciplines have not been the hardest hit in terms of academic job losses since the pandemic- where job losses in the arts and humanities seem particularly prevalent (see e.g. History UK, 2020). However within STEM as well as beyond, it is those already with fewer resources, capital and security that are hardest hit when hard times come along, with many universities concentrating job cuts on their casualised staff (McKie, 2020). If we’re serious about gender diversity in the STEM disciplines then we also need to address the inequalities engendered by short-term contract culture.
A webinar if the session is available on the video below
March 8th, and by extension the entire March, has become a global powerful month where women honour and render female and feminist struggles against all oppressions, persistent violence and precarity, and for all emancipations. March 8th – International Women’s Day- is a contested site for hegemonic masculine interests, privileged classes, and white supremacy. The days where mass… Continue reading On STEM and gender equity as one of the many present struggles on March Women’s History Month￼
On 23rd November 2021, Barbara Read, PI of the Gendered Journeys project, gave the keynote at the special issue launch for ACCESS: Critical Explorations of Equity in Higher Education. The title of the talk was ‘Precarity and authoring gendered knowledges in the Academy’. Barbara spoke about challenging higher education structures to tackle precarity in the… Continue reading ACCESS journal Special Issue launch featuring Dr. Barbara Read
Our paper is online on CR&DALL published as part of their briefing paper series. In the paper, we talk about the context in India and Rwanda related to STEM and gender inequalities, and we describe how Gendered Journeys’ research will contribute to tackling these inequalities.
Please take part in our University of Glasgow ethically approved research funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), that looks at inequalities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and the transition to STEM employment in India, Rwanda and the UK. Participation in the research is anonymous, voluntary, and confidential. You will have… Continue reading The Gendered Journeys survey is open now!
By Sumi March 18th, 2021 marked the gathering of our second Happy Hour with 21 attendees tuning in from various places. The connections formed during our first Happy Hour had rendered us full hearted and ready to collaborate with others to continue engaging in gender and STEM issues. As hoped, we were able to work… Continue reading An Evening with Angela Saini
On April 29th, 2021, Srabani Maitra, Co-I on the Gendered Journeys project had organised a workshop in collaboration with the College of Social Science’s (CoSS) Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) network. The workshop was titled, Doing knowledge exchange during the COVID 19 pandemic – What lessons have we learnt? and was geared towards researchers, PhD… Continue reading Doing knowledge exchange during the COVID 19 pandemic – What lessons have we learnt?
Dr Barbara Read Dr. Marie Chantal Cyulinyana Dr. Saikat Maitra
By Emma Seddon Our timely Gendered Journeys project, supported by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, will contribute to ongoing debates around gender inequality in STEM, where women are routinely underrepresented. Our international, interdisciplinary team will explore this area holistically and longitudinally, viewing the journey through higher education (HE) and onto skilled employment. It is at… Continue reading Gendered Journeys: mixing methods, datatypes, and contexts to explore gender in STEM
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… Continue reading The First of Many Happy Hours
By Barbara Read, Jane Umutoni and the Gendered Journeys team International Women’s Day comes hot on the heels of the UN-sponsored International Day of Girls and Women in Science, held on 11th February. This day is held in recognition not only of continued gender imbalances in the field of Science and other STEM fields, but… Continue reading International Women’s Day: The Gendered Journeys Project
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