Otherwise academic institutions will not only continue to squander talent but also become increasingly out of step with a society that is changing and modernising.” Sarah Teichman There was significant variance in the extent to which women saw their gender as relevant to them as they pursued their careers.
We have described this as a ‘relevance spectrum’, with the poles represented at one end by those who saw their gender as not at all relevant and at the other end by those who felt it was always and inevitably relevant in every situation.
Most noticeable was the shift that took place when women became parents, which tended to move their gender from the background into sharp foreground focus.
Across all points of the relevance spectrum there was a consistent desire to be rated based on one’s competence and ability, not based on one’s gender.
There was reference to be being described as anything from shrill, stroppy and hysterical through to frivolous and chatty.
There were also examples of feeling voiceless in meetings where they were often in a minority to start with: they didn’t get space to speak, colleagues talked over them or a male peer was given credit for a point they had raised.“It is usually not acceptable for a woman to be seen to be angry, as she is regarded as hysterical and out of control, whereas a man can get away with it.” Deborah Howard When the women described their workplace experiences, there seemed to be a discrepancy between the behaviours that a man could demonstrate without negative consequence – and sometimes even exploit – and those seen as acceptable for women.Outspokenness, assertion and even anger were ways of behaving that seemed to be judged differently when coming from a man.“Gender is in the grain of all we do: sometimes it makes one an irritant but it also allows you to contribute fresh experience.” Gillian Beer “It would be a lie in my case to say that gender has held me back.But it has sometimes been a case of feeling in a foreign country.” Mary Beard “I would say not at all, up until the point at which I got married and had children.“I have just begun to realise that a lot of gender inequality becomes embedded at an early stage at school.Therefore it is important that not only all staff, but also all our students are trained in gender equality and best practice as soon as they arrive in our care.” Val Gibson Some people talked about having parents who created an expectation that girls and women could do anything they set their minds to.“Having the confidence to ignore prejudices has been crucial, as has a strong belief in my own abilities.I have to thank my solid upbringing for this.” Nicky Athanassopoulou Beyond parents, early formative experiences at school were also mentioned as having an effect on how women viewed the possibilities or limitations of their gender.For women, there was the risk of being seen as frightening, aggressive, strident or disruptive when holding a reasoned but determined position.“I have clearly caused some of my colleagues to feel that I am ‘dangerous’ in ways I have never understood, possibly because I am fairly outspoken and that isn’t consistent with how women are stereotypically meant to behave.” Athene Donald Women also talked about how their ‘voice’ was heard – or not – in the various organisations for which they had worked.