In June 2018, I’m going to be exhibiting a graphic essay entitled My Brilliant Career? An Investigation at the Sociological Review conference Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edge. My Brilliant Career? is an experiment with a more performative mode of presenting research findings, in this case those of my current institutional, interdisciplinary research project Gender(s) At Work (Carruthers Thomas 2016-2018). The project investigates gendered experiences of work and career in higher education (HE) and considers the implications for gender-neutral, linear career metaphors (trajectory, pipeline, ladder).
The aim of Undisciplining is to “challenge the presumed mainstream of sociological thought, its geographical assumptions and disciplinary hierarchies”. My Brilliant Career?will takes its place alongside other visual displays and a programme of panels, workshops and films in the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. It’s a really exciting prospect – if somewhat nerve-wracking as I am still a novice at graphic social science.
This blog tracks my (slow and laborious) progress as I discover the challenges and delights of analysing textual data through visual means and learn to structure content across frames.
The uberplan below shows the start of planning out content across 4 x A2 panels, including the way each panel links to the next. I label each panel and the four frames within each, to help me keep track once I get into drawing individual sections.
I started this blog in March 2017 to reflect on gender from professional and personal perspectives. The blog is a companion to my academic work in the field of gender, my work with the Athena SWAN (gender equality) charter and my own daily gendered experiences, hilarious, horrendous, hopeful… a way of recording and reflecting on my experiences as a female academic and Athena SWAN project manager in a large UK post-1992 university. Increasingly, the blog will be reflecting on emerging findings of my current research project: Gender(s) At Work.
I meant to post weekly but in practice, posting became something I only managed to do whenever inspiration, dedication and free time coincided beyond the boundaries of my full time life! So six months on and at the start of a new academic year, here’s a whistle stop tour of what you may have missed – and a preview of some of the topics and debates I’ll be featuring in 2017-18.
why ‘the g word’? May 2017 I clearly remember starting in this role and encountering some colleagues’ genuine surprise that gender equality was still an issue – in the university, in the sector, in society in general. ‘Hasn’t all that been dealt with by legislation?’ they asked. …Other colleagues squirmed a bit at the mention of the ‘g’ word or rolled their eyes or even felt the need to tell a dodgy joke. see more
COMING UP: Gender and TEF! Gender and REF!
Athena SWAN March 2017 Time is ticking slowly away as we wait for the outcome of the university’s application for an Athena SWAN award. Since November 2016 I’ve progressed … through five post-application stages: Stage One: Utter Relief; Stage Two: Total Nonchalance; Stage Three: Niggling Thoughts; Stage Four: Studied Indifference! Now I’ve reached Stage Five: Counting the Days….Stage Six: Email Hypervigilance awaits!see more
May 2017 Collecting all the data we needed (for Athena SWAN) was an arduous process. Discovering what data we don’t collect in the first place was revealing. Presenting data which inconvertibly demonstrates the outcomes of structural embedded, tacit, unconscious gender inequality throughout the organisation has proved shocking – and constructive. This too is our starting point.see more
COMING UP! Does Athena SWAN rely on the goodwill and free labour of female staff?
Gender(s) at Work June 2017 As my current research gender(s) at work is revealing, little has changed in the underlying structure of the work environment of higher education. Universities and the academy in general still reflect the deeply internalised dualisms of Western thought … of academic work predicated on the absence of responsibility for others and social roles constructed masculine and feminine. see more
the glassed and gendered workplace July 2017 In an unexpected development I’ve begun using cartooning to explore the embodiment of those familiar metaphors – glass ceiling, glass cliff, glass escalator and twitter hashtags #glassedandgendered and #painsofglass to engage in discussion with a wider audience see more
COMING UP! More on performative modes of reporting and presenting research data.
The news is in and the news is good! The Equality Challenge Unit has awarded Birmingham City University an Athena SWAN* institutional Bronze Award, signifying the university’s commitment to the advancement of gender equality and an inclusive workplace culture. Success at our first application and under Athena SWAN’s expanded gender equality framework is no mean feat. As the University’s Athena SWAN Project Manager, I am delighted for the university, its staff and for all those who have worked hard towards this outcome, in whatever capacity.
Any institution that has been through the Athena SWAN process knows how much work and how many individuals are involved. In preparing the application I’ve worked with staff across the university: the Vice-Chancellor, senior management, academics, professional services, support staff, HR partners, data analysts, outreach, media relations, the unions … and more. The phrase ‘gender equality is everyone’s business’ is a cliché but happens to be true – theoretically and practically.
I’ve had this day in my sights since taking up the post in July 2015 and I’ll admit, it feels strange to finally reach this point. A Bronze Award is actually a beginning – of the doing rather than the saying, putting all the analysis and planning into action. But I’m taking a moment here not only to enjoy our achievement, but to reflect on why it matters.
Throughout the process, a number of individuals around the University voiced concerns that the Athena SWAN awards are simply a tick box exercise to make senior management look good; a version of what Sarah Ahmed calls institutional speech acts … which do not go beyond pluralist understandings of diversity and are non-performative in the sense that they fail to deliver what they have promised.** As a fellow sceptic, I understand colleagues’ caution, but I beg to differ. Others have labelled my work ‘politically correct’, ‘pointless’ or even ‘petty’. I beg to differ with them too!
I clearly remember starting in this role and encountering some colleagues’ genuine surprise that gender equality was still an issue – in the university, in the sector, in society in general. ‘Hasn’t that all been dealt with by legislation?’ they asked. ‘There are female VCs aren’t there?’ As ECU 2016 statistics show, progress has been glacially slow. Other colleagues squirmed a bit at the mention of ‘the g word’, or rolled their eyes, or even felt the need to tell a dodgy joke! Gender – it quickly became apparent – is something many simply don’t ‘see’; or only associate with female disadvantage (rather than male privilege) or think is something to do with maternity leave… Still others, far too many others, told me of daily, difficult, sometimes distressing experiences of sexism and discrimination in the workplace. I did a lot of listening in those first months.
In any Athena SWAN application, the data’s the thing! Not in its raw state, but analysed, reflected upon, selectively presented (NOT in pink and blue!). In working towards a Bronze Award, the quantitative data has become my friend (and I say this as a fully-paid up qualitative researcher!). Collecting all the data we needed was an arduous process. Discovering what data we don’t collect in the first place was revealing. Presenting data which incontrovertibly demonstrates the outcomes of structural, embedded, tacit, unconscious gender inequality throughout the organisation has proved shocking – and constructive. This too, is our starting point.
However, Athena SWAN is about more than data – and certainly much more than maternity leave! In requiring institutions to pay attention to their organisational culture, to intersectionality, to the gender profiles of, for example, REF submission and senior decision-making committees, Athena SWAN tackles gender and gender equality in a holistic way, acknowledging its complexity. Alongside my Athena SWAN work, I have begun a qualitative institutional research project Gender(s) at Work aimed at capturing this complexity in terms of experiences at work and career trajectories in HE for women, men and for those identifying as gender non-binary.
It’s fantastic to get a Bronze Award! Colleagues are already talking about Silver but at this moment I’m more interested in doing Bronze well. The proof of the University’s commitment to the advancement of gender equality and an inclusive workplace culture will be in our performance from this point on. I’m confident that this University has the people and the desire to make this happen.
*Athena SWAN is the national gender equality charter mark for higher education in the UK and Ireland.
**Ahmed, S., 2006. The nonperformativity of antiracism. Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, 7 (1), 104-126.