Belinda Brown from the Gender Equity Network explores the possibility that gender equality policies designed to correct gender imbalances at the top of academia may be obscuring far more serious inequalities occurring further down
Geoff Dench, John Barry and I set up GEN in order to have more open discussions about equality. One thing we wanted to question is the assumption that if there isn’t 50 50 representation then it is unfair. We wanted to explore the possibility that you could have fairness without numerical equality.
This is me. I have controversial views and am putting my head above the parapet
As I put my notes together I realised that this was really what I was going to be talking about.
For this presentation I have identified three basic types of argument for gender equality policies: Creating a level playing field – here I will argue that we may already have a fairly level playing field – if so where to we go from here in terms of equality?
Increasing the talent pool – that we need to look further down the education system to do so.
And the morality argument – the moral argument for gender equality should be based on what happens on the local rather than the global scale.
The Talent Pool Argument
The morality argument
So let’s start with the ‘level playing field arguement’. The argument here is that women are not competing on a level playing field. Social, economic and cultural factors mean that women are disadvantaged in a whole range of ways. I would like to focus here on gender equality policies which are aimed at correcting these inequalities in education and academia
Unconscious or implicit bias “Unconscious bias is a term used to describe the associations that we hold which, despite being outside our conscious awareness, can have a significant influence on our attitudes and behaviour. Regardless of how fair minded we believe ourselves to be, most people have some degree of unconscious bias. The means that we automatically respond to others (eg people from different racial or ethnic groups) in positive or negative ways. These associations are difficult to override, regardless of whether we recognise them to be wrong, because they are deeply ingrained into our thinking and emotions” (taken from ECU report http://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/unconscious-bias-in-higher-education/)
Parents or teachers could be steering girls away from engineering and computer science because they feels these careers are better suited to boys. Parents expectations could result in girls suffering from maths anxiety which then influences their performances in maths
The stereotypes which we hold will influence the subjects which we choose to study for example could explain why so few girls in computer science Also girls don’t seem so many women in STEM and this influences their choice of subject and career.
GENDER SIMILARITIES HYPOTHESIS – MALES AND FEMALES ARE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME AND DIFFERENCES ARE A SOCIAL, CULTURAL OUTCOME
GENDER STRATIFICATION HYPOTHESIS THESE SOCIAL DIFFERENCES CAUSE STRATIFICATION BETWEEN THE GENDERS
The practical reality of these differences
I would like to look at some studies which test these hypotheses. There is a strong correlation between achievement in maths reading and science literacy and success in employment and further education. I am combining the findings of these two papers in the following section
Some of the key questions Gijsbert Stoet addresses in his papers.
The findings of Wang compliment those of Stoet so I am bringing them in. So what we find is that people tend to study STEM subjects when they have less choice about what they can study. Girls are good at maths AND literacy so they have more CHOICE than boys and they use this choice to go to non-STEM areas.
What we find is that in affluent societies people have greater freedom to be guided by personal preference. It was quite interesting how Gerta Vrbova in her talk said one of the reasons she chose medicine was because she would have to support herself.
There are genuine differences in APPTITUDES, ATTITUDES AND LIFE PRIORITIES - So what I want to argue is that we do have a level playing field and that girls are CHOOSING differently
I found this on the UCL Women twitter account – the idea is that rather than changing women we should change society
We are moving away from the Henry Higgins “Why can’t a woman be more like a man!”
So this is what Athena Swan is doing – changing the context in which science and academia is operating in with the aim of increasing female participation in the higher echelons of academia and science in particular.
Family friendly policies other data – the strongest characteristic seems to be an attempt to turn universities into genuinely family friendly places of employment - in the future – if not already, universities could be seen as the place to be if you really want to combine commitments to your family with work. And this has a lot to recommend it.
Part of the Athena Swan programme strongly emphasizes family roles and representatives are chosen because of strong family roles. Extracts from Athena Swan application forms “12 successful applicants for training fellow ships over 12 years – 4 have taken maternity leave”. Almost getting to the point where this will be a boast.
“Departmental seminars are arranged well in advance and typically in the early afternoon. The timetabling of teaching activities has in the past always taken into account nursery and school drop offs/ pick-ups”
“Staff work very hard in the department but there is no culture of long working hours and members of staff are not normally expected to be available outside normal college working hours.” “Members of staff in particular are reminded of its importance by their mentors and head of department”
In fact having family commitment seems to be a prime criteria for participating in the Athena Swan Self Assessment Team “She has the experience of pursuing a very successful academic career while bringing up a young family. She has had two periods of maternity leave since she joined the department and since the birth of her first child in 1997 she has always worked part-time either 0.6 or 0.8….” Core hours University activities seminars, meetings, social events (as far as possible) scheduled around school and nursery drop off and pick up times. Home working Working from home and flexible work hour s are encouraged. Home working is seem as an efficient and helpful strategy in maximizing staff’s productivity reducing travel time and balancing the demands of the job with home commitments including parenting.” All academic and research staff make use of flexible working and work from home on a regular basis. The arrangements for this are informal and are flexible as long as any core commitments are covered and their whereabouts is known to the department” Teaching fellows to help deal with teaching and administrative duties while staff are on maternity leave. Part-time working Very supportive of mothers returning to work part-time after maternity leave.
Meritocracy – this is the idea that social positions should be allocated on the basis of merit. However merit is not just innate talent it is also the amount of effort being put in
This is Edison a great inventor.
I sometimes wonder whether the emphasis on creating family friendly working environments could undermine effort. A QUESTION FOR YOU
Athena Swan is very influential
“…when we next run the competition for NIHR [funding] we do not expect to short-list any NHS/University partnership where the academic partner (generally the Medical School\Faculty of Medicine) has not achieved at least the silver award of the Athena Swan charter”
Other funding bodies are also moving towards a position where ‘evidence’ for gender equality is required. “The Statement sets out RCUK’s expectations and provides suggestions for evidence that institutions may wish to use. At this time, RCUK does not require formal accreditation, such as Athena SWAN, for grant funding; however, we will be reviewing and may consider such measures if there is no evidence of improvement.”
Athena Swan is quite heavy handed
So they make it absolutely clear that it is not enough too have supportive policies in place – to get silvers which is necessary for funding you have to get RESULTS. So it isn’t enough to do you unconscious bias training, field women only teams on open days, have 50:50 recruitment panels You have to be able to show that the number of women in Senior positions is going up
I CAN’T HELP WONDERING WHETHER THIS PRESSURE TO ENSURE GENDER BALANCE COULD UNDERMINE THE PRIORITIES OF STEM DEPARTMENTS TO DO GOOD SCIENCE I have heard female scientists privately discuss some of the problems which these family friendly policies cause. Maybe we should discuss this more openly. For e.g. what happens to a project when a P.I takes maternity leave. In fast moving fields like genetics an 18 month maternity leave can actually mean that you are not in touch with most recent developments.
“…….in a recent case, it was possible to suspend a research study until the member of staff returned from maternity leave to enable her to contribute to the whole of the project which was seen as important to her career” (extract from application form)
ANOTHER AREA WHERE WE ARE CHANGING SOCIETY TO ACCOMMODATE WOMEN
CHANGE IN THE A LEVEL CURRICULUM
NOW IF THIS WAS REALLY INCREASING THE NUMBERS OF WOMEN DOING PHYSICS - MAYBE IT COULD BE HAVING A BENEFICIAL EFFECT. BUT AS FAR AS I KNOW THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED.
ARE THESE CHANGES TO THE CURRICULUM A GOOD THING OR NOT?
I AM NOT A PHYSICIST AND I DON’T KNOW BUT I LIKE WHAT MY PHYSICIST FRIEND SAID - POETRY NEXT SLIDE
Grasp this: the whole power of science, and physics in particular, is its strict objectivity. By adhering to rigorous objectivity we can uncover absolute facts about the world. Objectivity is achieved by the exclusion of the subjective. Therein lies the power of the experimental method, prior to which sophists would simply debate their prejudiced endlessly
There is no social context in physics. It’s about electrons. It’s about the motion of planets, which is not noticeably influenced by the existence of homo sapiens. It’s about the primordial fireball in the first fraction of a second of the universe’s existence. It’s about pure mathematical constructs of awesome elegance which turn out, amazingly, ineffably, numinously, to align with the behaviour of inanimate matter. It is gloriously austere and deeply mysterious. It is supposed to be forbidding for it reveals the face of God , in as far as it can be apprehended by mortals… http://mra-uk.co.uk/?p=379
This would certainly make me much more likely to study physics!!
Iris Bohnet does great work on finding ways of increasing gender equality looking at behavioural change
She finds that 8 billion is spent annually on diversity training in the US and there is no evidence of effectiveness
Equality Challenge unit Income £2,624,443 Spending £2,733,319 ECU SUPPORTS UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES TO BUILD AN INCLUSIVE CULTURE THAT VALUES THE BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY, TO REMOVE BARRIERS TO PROGRESSION AND SUCCESS FOR ALL STAFF AND STUDENTS, AND TO CHALLENGE AND change unfair practices that disadvantage individuals or groups.
Early “While there is a marked improvement of women succeeding in medical schools during the sample period, early Athena SWAN adopters hav n’t increased female participation by mre than other schools whoses institution sighed up later. In addition tying funding to ATHna SWAn silver status has yet to have an impact on female careers, although medical schools have invested in efforts to achieve silver status (the Impact of Athena SWAN in UK Medical schools Ian Gregory-Smith March 2015 Abstract)
So we could be wasting money
The talent pool argument
The arguments for increasing the talent pool - we know these
– IT IS DEALING WITH THE LEAKY PIPELINE The aim of Athena Swan is to deal with what is called the leaky pipeline. There are more female students than male, more female postgraduates, more researchers. But when it comes to the level of senior lecturer, reader and professor – women seem to be ducking out and leaving it all to men and so Athena Swan is there to correct that.
The focus on increasing the talent pool deals with the very top echelons of academia. This is the area where women are most under-represented. However I would like to argue that if we really want to increase the talent pool we should be focussing on lower down in the educational hierarchy.
This is a pictorial representation of the education system in this country from primary education through to the professors at the top. I have derived the numbers from which I have derived the percentages from various sources – I would say they give a fairly accurate ballpark..
And I would like to ask how you would feel if in each of these levels girls were underperforming, I imagine that you would be feeling indignation at the wasted talent of females at all these different levels and you would want to do something about it. THE TROUBLE IS THAT IN EVERY OTHER LEVELS WE LOOK AT IT IS NOT GIRLS WHO ARE DOING BADLY IT IS BOYS .AND NOTHING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IS DONE ABOUT THIS.
This is what equality policies are dealing with….
The top less than 1% … Creating equality in 0.3 percent of the education system
Following tables from UCAS report
Gijsbert Stoets paper http://volition.gla.ac.uk/~stoet/pdf/stoet2015-boys.pdf
This is a graph of the averages of the numbers of boys and girls getting grade A at A level in each year The gap shown has not been growing and fortunately isn’t large but amounts to a couple of percentage points. What is however perhaps more important is that the number of boys taking A levels is smaller than the number of girls by 20 %.
So this is the numbers of boys and girls getting particular grades at A level
Gijsbert Stoets paper http://volition.gla.ac.uk/~stoet/pdf/stoet2015-boys.pdf
The exam results were retrieved from the website of the JCQ which collates exam results from all school children in England Wales and Northern Ireland. The proportion of male to female students was analysed and their grade marks. He used the number who enrol for English so that was on average 697, 826 per year. For A levels it was 85, 113 per year.
The number getting A grades continuously goes up. This is part of a different story (it doesn’t happen with the PISA grades) So here you can see that the overall gap between boys and girls has grown from a 5.3 percentage points gap in in 2001 to a 7.2 percentage gap in 2013
Taken from the Telegraph – nothing absolutely nothing has been done about this.
Then GCSES by the age of 16 girls are over 20% more likely to achieve five GCSEs including English and maths at Grade C or better
In the last two years the dominance of women has become clear the excess of women over men now stands at 8% (the absolute numbers being 104,175men and 112380 women an excess of 8205 women)
http://mra-uk.co.uk/?p=731 So if we look at the upper quartile where there are the biggest differences between the numbers of men and women we are only addressing one of the subjects with a big difference IT AND SOFTWARE. This is the arena where women are in the minority. And there is nothing to suggest that the other subjects are any less important in terms of gender representation – E.G teaching, Nursing and Psychology.
The disadvantage in favour or males at the top at the very very top - the 0.3% of our education system – this disadvantage is used to justify or utterly ignore inequalities all the way through…
The focus on girls lower performance in maths has obscured the fact that if you look at overall performance girls do very much better than boys. It is only in certain (4) stem subjects that females lag behind males and it is only in the very higher echelons of academia that women lag behind men yet the whole system is structured to address these inequalities.
It is also possible that in the future as women have more and more qualifications we may argue that women need to be more highly represented in the workplace to reflect the fact that they have more qualifications. But all the evidence I have seen suggests that women want to work less not more. (men might want to work less too – but we don’t ask them!)
Iris Bohnet “Gender equality must rest on a moral argument. It just is the right thing to do . Full stop.” She bases this claim on the economists argument that there are 200 million girls missing world wide. See slides on male deaths
Implicit is a rather spurious claim that somehow achieving gender equality for women in the west – through for example female representation in the highest echelons of business and academia will somehow have an impact on societies from which the 200 million baby girls are missing. This seems a bit of an opportunistic link and it would make more sense to focus on the poverty and disadvantage in our own society rather than in other countries
SO WHAT MIGHT BE A GOOD WAY OF ASSESSING POVERTY IN OUR OWN COUNTRY – THE DEATH RATE - NOTHING MORE UNFAIR THAN DEATH….
In terms of the inequality stakes being dead takes some beating http://mhrm.uk/wiki/comparative-longevity-and-excess-male-deaths/
So in the UK there are more male babies born so 2012 417,058 live male births to 395,912 live female births but the greater attrition of males means that there are over a million more females than males so an excess of females over males of 3.9%
For each age range the total number of deaths of males exceeds that of females. This is not simply biological The greater the educational or economic disadvantage of a subset of society the greater is the excess of male deaths over female deaths. In areas of greater wealth men can locally exceed the life expectancy of women. In affluent areas the gender gap in life expectancy is virtually zero. But in the poorest areas men’s life expectancy is up to 10 years less than women’s which suggests the discrepancy is therefore a result of environment and life style not biology.
“Educational opportunity is the main source of social justice and education is virtually the sole key to valued social participation “
Yet Boys have poorer educational outcomes than girls around the world independent of social equality indicators a gap that has grown – this will lead to lack of engagement with the labour market.
This has strong implications for national economic prospects as well as social stability as young men who are not well integrated into the economic structures of their society are prone to crime and violence.
Women will be under increasing pressure to be economically productive as they will be more highly qualified. This might be okay for well off women who can get great childcare but it puts enormous pressure on less well off mothers who Don’t have flexible employment Can’t afford decent childcare This makes coordinating work and family life so much more difficult. This may be why the majority of mothers when asked about work life balance what to reduce – and often quite significantly the amount that they work. There is also evidence to suggest that higher levels of male unemployment lead to single parenthood among disadvantaged women. Ultimately the effects impact on women themselves but this tends to not get noticed because it is further down the hierarchy.
RECAP WHAT I HAVE SAID SO FAR….
Solutions Focussing on those areas where it will actually make a positive difference to the outcome of that area of productivity having a man or woman…E.gs Trading floor Psychology Teaching Architecture
2. Apart from the very highest achievers boys have poorer educational outcomes than girls around the world, independent of social equality indicators and the gap has grown over the past decade. This needs to receive attention and investment and psychology research.
3.To close the maths and literacy gap we need to focus on the reading of boys at the lowest level of achievement and the maths of girls at the highest levels of achievement. This will work better than a blanket approach which could just lead to increasing inequalities
4. We need to stop attaching value to highest paid highest status jobs as if this is what we should all be after. We need to value flexibility, job security, people centred work as highly – we need to see it is as equal just different (much inequality is in the eye of the beholder)
UCL women's group presentation final version
IF IT’S UNEQUAL IS IT UNFAIR?
The Gender Equity Network
Whose Lives Do Gender
Stoet, G and Geary, D.C., 2015 “Sex differences in academic achievement are not
related to political, economic, or social equality”; Intelligence 48, 137-151
Stoet, G., Bailey, D.H., Moore, A. M., Geary, D.C., 2016 “Countries with higher levels
of gender equality show larger national sex differences in mathematics anxiety and
relatively lower parental mathematics valuation for girls”; PLOS ONE.
PISA - Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD)
Maths, Reading, Science Literacy
First paper a sample of 1.5 million 15 year olds
Second paper 761,665 15 year olds
GGI - Global Gender Gap Index – (World Economic Forum )
GEM – Gender Empowerment Measure (UN Development Programme)
What does he look at?
• Is there a linear relationship between the size of the sex
differences in maths performance and the extent to which
men and women have equal social, economic and political
• Are sex differences in maths anxiety (a predictor of maths
performance) related to a country’s level of gender equality?
• Are sex differences in maths anxiety and maths performance
related to the ratio of mothers to fathers in STEM?
• Are parental attitudes towards sons’ or daughters’ maths
interest related to a countries level of gender equality?
What did he find?
• Higher levels of gender equality were associated with larger sex differences in
mathematics anxiety and maths performance.
• In most countries girls were better in reading than maths and boys were better in
maths than reading.
• The ratio of mothers in STEM was not correlated with any decrease either in
differences between boys and girls in levels of maths anxiety or maths performance
• In developed countries girls reported that maths was less important to their parents
than boys did.
• Girls significantly outperformed boys in overall achievement in 70% of the countries
and boys significantly outperformed girls in 4% of the countries.
• However at the highest levels of achievement in developed countries boys
outperformed girls in maths and in their overall level of achievement.
Wang, M. T., Eccles, J.S., & Kenny, S. 2013, “Not lack of ability but more choice;
individual and gender differences in choice of careers in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics”; Psychological Science, 24(5), 770-775.
• Research showed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal
skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than individuals who had high maths skills
but moderate verbal skills
• The group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males.
So what is really going on?
• The stratification hypothesis suggests that as gender equality is achieved sex
differences in maths and will disappear. There is no evidence for this.
• The differences are global in scale suggesting that they are innate and that the
gender similarities hypothesis could be wrong.
• Mothers in more gender equal countries could be responding to their daughter’s
attitude towards math rather than daughters responding to stereotypes held by
• As boys are better at maths than girls at the highest levels this could explain the
preponderance of boys in STEM.
• As those who have better verbal skills (even if they have great maths skills) are
more likely to choose non-stem this could explain why girls are in the minority in
• There is a “High achievers male advantage gap” in developed countries at the
highest level - here boys are over-represented. This could explain their greater
presence in higher status jobs.
The evidence suggests that economic considerations may be
playing a more prominent role in STEM related interest for
individuals living in less developed countries and Intrinsic subject
interest may play a more important role in education and
occupation attitudes and choices for individuals living in more
Engineering equality: Athena SWAN
Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)
is a centre of the gender
Promotes schemes such as:
• Career networks for
• Career workshops for
• Career mentoring (now
open to men)
Comply or lose funding
• “…when we next run the competition for NIHR
[funding] we do not expect to short-list any
NHS/University partnership where the
academic partner (generally the Medical
SchoolFaculty of Medicine) has not achieved
at least the Silver Award of the Athena SWAN
Charter… as a condition for short-listing for
the next funding round.” Letter from Chief
Medical Officer & Chief Scientific Advisor to
the government, Professor Dame Sally C
Get your Athena Swan Silver award or
Patricial Murphy & Elizabeth Whitelegg, “Girls in the Physics Classroom: A Review
of the Research on the Participation of Girls in Physics”, Institue of Physics June 2006
The Murphy and Whitelegg report describes the need for
curriculum change and change in the teaching and
assessment of physics in order to engage girls better. The
curriculum should be “ context based” or “humanistic”. It
should: Use a variety of social situations and contexts to
organise and determine the scientific content of the
course; Represent science as something that people do,
influenced by historical, political , cultural and personal
factors, not just as a body of knowledge; Use values
inherent in science as topics for discussion and critique.
THE A LEVEL PHYSICS CURRICULUM IS CURRENTLY BEING CHANGED TO
ACCOMMODATE GIRLS INTERESTS
There is no social context in physics. It’s about
electrons. It’s about the motion of planets, which is
not noticeably influenced by the existence of homo
sapiens. It’s about the primordial fireball in the first
fraction of a second of the universe’s existence. It’s
about pure mathematical constructs of awesome
elegance which turn out, amazingly, ineffably,
numinously, to align with the behaviour of
inanimate matter. It is gloriously austere and deeply
It is supposed to be forbidding for it reveals the face
of God , in as far as it can be apprehended by
Being able to recruit from widest
possible pool of talent
• The main definition for Equal opportunities people
• “The royal society fosters excellence in science. But
this can only be achieved if we select from the widest
range of talent and that’s not possible if unconscious
bias is narrowing down the field for non-scientific
• “RCUK promotes and supports equality and diversity
within research at all levels. The rewards of diversity
are significant: recruiting staff from, the widest
possible pool unlocks talent and thus contributes to
the success of research and brings major benefits to
the UK’s economy and society”
IT and software 0.16:1
Teaching and education 1:0.17
Languages and Cultural studies 1:0.35
Engineering Technology and materials 0.38:1
Sport and Exercise 0.39:1
Animal Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences 1:0.45
Medicine dentistry 1: 0.50
Architecture and Building 0.60:1
History philosophy arts 1:0.64
Biological Sciences 1:0.65
Physical Sciences 0.71:1
Economics Finance and Accounting 1:0.80
“it could be argued that the widening
gender gap” [in educational achievement]
“does not matter if this advantage either
disappears by the time the girl enters the
labour market or if it helps to ensure
greater equality for women in the labour
Age range men women ratio (m/w)
<25 7,452 4,235 1.76
25 – 44 6,279 3,726 1.69
45 – 54 13,625 9,449 1.44
55 – 64 28,214 19,534 1.44
65 – 74 54,073 38,960 1.39
75 – 84 86,332 81,794 1.06
85+ 77,372 137,979 0.56
All UK Deaths 2012