November 15

Gender Discrepancy at Conferences

There’s a lot of talk at the moment in the world of TEFL surrounding gender discrepancy with regards to plenary and keynote speakers at conferences.  Nicola Prentis and Russ Mayne set up the blog Gender Equality ELT which aims to raise awareness of this issue on a global scale, whilst Tessa Woodward et al set up The Fair List which promotes gender equality at UK events.

One of my arguments against discrimination occurring was that perhaps there are less female conference presenters and whilst I understand that plenaries are invited to speak, if women aren’t making a mark for themselves as speakers, when will they be seen as good candidates for plenaries?

Hoff stamp @NicolaPrentisAs president of a local TEFL association and organiser of events, to (hopefully) avoid being awarded the not-so-prestigious Hoff stamp, I looked into the numbers to see whether TEFL del Sur is promoting fairness at our events.  We’ve been running mini-conferences for five years now and I think we’re doing fairly well in the gender stakes: of our 16 presenters, 7 are female and 9 male.  What is interesting to note, however, is that over the five years those female speakers have presented on more occasions than their male counterparts (17:14).  It would seem then that, certainly in Cádiz, women are keen to present.

I decided to look a little further afield (though not too far!), towards Sevilla, where ACEIA hosted its annual conference yesterday.  This year, 67% of speakers are male.  Whilst on the face of it this could easily look like discrimination, of all the proposals received, 60% were from men so in fact the programme reflects this fairly.¹

Considering that most people say that in our profession women are in the majority², it seems a little surprising that this isn’t reflected in their desire to talk.  Is the issue with conference organisers who aren’t iniviting women to be plenary and keynote speakers?  Should we be doing more to encourage women to get onto the conference circuit?

Personally, my answer to both these questions is “no” – in my opinion, I don’t feel that women are being consciously discriminated against by conference organisers at the moment of contacting plenary and keynote speakers and I don’t feel that we should change proposal policy or make moves to positively discriminate in favour of female conference speakers as by doing so, rather than seeing and treating both sexes as equal, we’re merely highlighting that inequality is an still issue.

You can read many other blogposts on this topic by following the links on the GenderEquality ELT Resources page.

¹Kind regards to Borja Urunuela from ACEIA for supplying the figures

²I can’t find an exact figure, but here are some quotes:

You will probably have noticed the one common denominator that us plenary speakers shared – despite the fact that the conference organisers were both women. They defended their selection of speakers robustly, but then, as on similar occasions more recently, us 5 men on the final panel had the grace (?) to feel uncomfortable sitting there faced with a large crowd of Mexican teachers, the majority of whom, were, of course, women.

(Are plenaries ‘gender-ed’?, Jeremy Harmer, 2010)

…if the stage is otherwise dominated by men as is all too often the case in many industries but, unfortunately, even in one where women make up 60% of it.

(The Future of ELT #eltpast, Nicola Prentis, 2015)


Posted November 15, 2015 by Teresa Bestwick in category Professional Development

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