In answer to some of the views we’ve heard, or seen online, in discussions about the original ‘Where are the women in ELT?’ talk at IATEFL 2015.
1. Your talk was called ‘where are the women in ELT?’ why? they are everywhere!
Russ: Yes, we know. In fact, the first line in the talk was ‘this may seem like a stupid question because they are everywhere’.
Nicola: That title can be read two ways. ‘There are no women in ELT’ or ‘In which places are the women?’. It is the latter that was the topic for our talk and, in my intro, I clarified further that it was about where are women not. The point was that, in an industry where women dominate at certain levels, how is it possible that they are not as well represented at the higher levels?
2. You didn’t talk about publishing and there are lots of women in publishing! And what about ados, dos, teacher trainers …
Russ: We intended to talk about publishing. We wrote to all the major publishers and asked for a list of best selling materials and course books which we hoped to draw some kind of conclusion from. The lists that came back to us were all varied and different. Some were by category and some were overall lists. We had no way of putting the lists together in any meaningful way. As Nicola noted in the talk ‘whose list do you use?’ Even if we had a list of best-selling books and authors and found that they were all male, what exactly would that show us? Plus increasingly books, particularly course books are being written by teams of authors whose names may not even appear on the covers.
There are of course, many women who work in publishing and have contributed to it. We found we couldn’t make a coherent picture of the data so we removed this section from the talk.
Nicola: We also hoped to confirm what we think are high numbers of women in the editing side of publishing by getting figures from the HR departments of the main publishers but they weren’t willing to give that information! Women definitely hold senior positions in publishing but are less commonly found at CEO level. But without data, we couldn’t say much meaningful about this in the talk.
3. You should be talking about NNS not women.
Russ: Sure there are lots of issues we didn’t deal with. We didn’t talk about NNS or race or disability. We chose to focus on one issue for a 25 minute talk. There are lots of things we could have talked about which we chose not to. Are those issues more important? perhaps they are. This is what we focused on.
Nicola: NNS women are the least visible of all! Who are the female equivalents of Herbert Puchta and Peter Medgyes?
4. Your research was bad!
Russ: Well, neither of us are researchers. If you watch the talk we say that, I also say ‘this research might not be stellar’… I’m also not sure this can be properly called research. Asking a bunch of teachers who they think are the most ‘well-known’ people in ELT is hardly double blinded peer reviewed kind of stuff, is it? Considering the survey was based on a idea from Julie Moore’s blog, I think people are somewhat missing the point here. More details about the research here.
Nicola: I think the word ‘research’ here refers more to market research style research than science, which is appropriate for the question we were trying to answer. In terms of sample, over 30 (though mostly UK) nationalities responded and the survey was posted in as many ELT related places as I could find. It was limited to ELT professionals who use social media by the nature of the way the survey was shared and this probably accounted for the fact the majority of respondents were TEFL qualified and a high number had been in ELT more than 5 years.
5. Your talk was just a thinly veiled attempt to further your own careers (especially YOU Nicola)
Russ: I can’t speak for Nicola, but my interest in being an EFL ‘star’ is exactly zero. It’s probably right up there with having to gnaw my own arm off (no offence to the guys who do it, but it’s not my bag).
Nicola: I answered this more fully on my own blog than I could here.
6. You had a biased list of names in the survey you sent out!
Russ: Ah, the infamous question 9!
Nicola: Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, Q9 never made it into the final version. It wasn’t mentioned in the talk and none of our conclusions were based on it.
Russ: See more in the research section here.
7. You disapproved of The Fair List!
Nicola: Quite the contrary. We’re both supporters of The Fair List, Russ even went to their awards night during IATEFL. In fact, after corresponding with Tessa Woodward during the planning of the talk, one of my suggestions features on the site’s page about how presenters at conferences can work towards gender balance:
If you are a well-known male speaker, have been invited (many times) to speak at an event and know that the balance of speaker gender is not great, you might consider suggesting that the organisers give your place to a woman this year or at least have another plenary speaker who is a woman.
Russ: I re-listened to the talk and I clearly said “We think the fair list is a great initiative”. So I’m not sure where this is coming from.
8. The conclusions you drew were ageist!
Nicola: When I watched the talk back, having made the mistake of doubting myself and listening to people who had not even been at the talk, I distinctly heard myself say that no disrespect to anyone because of age was intended. The audience all drew the conclusion that age was one thing everyone in the top ten had in common. The emphasis was on them having been at the top for twenty years rather than how old they are. I did mention that Michael Swan had retired and that maybe some slots should be opening up. I think that was obviously light-hearted but making the point that sooner or later the names will change. The reference to the “Rolling Stones of ELT” — well they’ve been around for a long time and still headline festivals and I don’t see any disrespect in a comparison there either.
Russ: I don’t think, in the year we spent planning, we discussed age once, did we?
9. You’re saying the top ten are dining out on the glory of one book and dismissing the huge body of work they’ve amassed!
Nicola: This is one place I think I should have been clearer and I can see how it has come across this way. What I meant to convey was that the thing that made them a “name” or an authority in ELT in the first place was one particular work/methodology that teachers come across on their CELTA/DELTA/MA. With the exception of Ray Murphy they all have far more under their belt than one work and I’m sorry what I said was open to misinterpretation.
Russ: If it was understood that we were saying this then that’s our fault and we apologise. If you managed to catch the interview beforehand (here) you can see that we explicitly state that we do not think this is the case. I think this was just a case of unclear expression on the day.
10. There are lots of significant women in ELT that you haven’t mentioned!
Nicola: The names we’ve mentioned come from the results of the survey question asking people to state the first names that come to mind. Any names not on there reflect names that are less known to our respondents.
Russ: I think if the survey were more precise or included different countries there would have been different results.
11. Just because women aren’t doing plenary talks that doesn’t mean they are ‘nowhere’!
Russ: I don’t think that was our message. There are a lot of great women doing great things out there. The current president and ex-president of IATEFL are both women. But I have to wonder if you aren’t a little curious that, considering the number of women, that men seem to be standing up there doing a lot of the talks?
12 You’re anti-IATEFL but IATEFL have a great record.
Russ: We’re not anti-IATEFL. IATEFL are in fact a great example of inclusivity.