Gender inequity in ELT | Reflections

Gender in ELT.jpg

A couple of days ago Nicola Prentis tweeted a link to her article in the EL Gazette on the skewed gender scene in ELT events.

I’d read through a more detailed post on her blog so the data she was using to drive her conclusion wasn’t new to me. It was only when I got to the very end of the article that I got a bit of a jolt.

In fact, when Leicester University’s Russ Mayne and I surveyed 520 people and asked them to think of ‘big names’ in ELT, only three of the top twenty were women

I faintly remember taking this survey and the names I supplied were all the usual suspects: Scott Thornbury,  Adrian Underhill, Jim Scrivener, Jeremy Harmer, Nik Peachey … some other male names and Penny Ur. I may or may not have added Nicky Hockly.

I am, of course, familiar with ELT thought leaders who are women. I can see them on the spines of the books I own. I know them from webinars I’ve attended. I’ve read their work. But I’m embarrassed to admit I couldn’t think any one other than Penny Ur in response to that survey question. I’ve been reflecting on whether this was just a momentary lapse or whether it reveals something more.

I may need to step back from the conversation around gender and consider why I think someone might be a ‘guru’. Tessa Woodward has contributed enormously to our profession and her ideas on teacher training have been very influential. But, she’s not a name I associate with the term ‘big name’. Why? I’m not completely sure but I suspect I might subconsciously perceive these ‘gurus’ as highly visible (almost celebrity like) because most of the ones I’d listed are indeed very visible, promoting themselves and their ideas. The exception is perhaps Penny Ur. Is there a pattern here? Do male thought leaders engage in a lot more self-promotion relative to their female peers? Is that affecting how I receive their ideas because if it is, I’m not evaluating ideas on their own merit.

Prentis suggests that some of this might be down to the names (generally male) that get reinforced on teacher training courses. But that doesn’t excuse me from a pressing need to reflect on my biases.

Image attribution: Gender Neutral by  A.L. Hu | Creative Commons | Nounproject 


5 thoughts on “Gender inequity in ELT | Reflections

  1. I personally have a problem with the word *guru*. If you google the term, you mostly get pictures of male gurus. That’s pretty obvious if you look at it from the historical/cultural point of view. If you ask me to picture a guru, I’ll picture a male guru, which doesn’t mean that I have something against female gurus or women in general. So, maybe, by using the word *guru* we are actually perpetuating the status quo. In other words, I think that it really depends on what question you ask during a poll. If you asked, for example, “Can you name some of the most influential men and women of the ELT industry?”, the ratio might change.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Our original question in the survey was to think of the “Big Names” in ELT, and came up with the 3/20 result, so I am not sure how much it matters whether we use words that are gendered or not, like guru. I wonder, for example, what the word “expert” conjures up (though suspect it too is male). I think the problem is that as soon as we use any word that denotes expertise or authority, we are biased towards picturing a man. Which is the root of the problem in the first place, or rather part of the cycle. After all, why is “guru” a male word other than that gurus have usually been male?

      i would be very curious to see what a question that forced people to think of men and women threw out. That would be VERY interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I was chewing over the word guru because from the western lens, the stereotypical image is probably of a saffron-clad bearded mystic. But in the land of its birth, guru just means teacher. We have other words that we use far more frequently than guru to convey the English sense of the word. When I equated big names with gurus, I suppose (in keeping with my my plurilingual identity), I was perhaps looking at that hazy area between the Indian and English connotations of the word. For me, a guru is a teacher who counts, someone who significantly influences my intellectual and professional development.

      Nicola makes an interesting point about why we might erroneously associate qualifiers like expert and guru with men.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What I love about your post is that it shows a position of reflection. I think this is too often a missing stage (and I am sure I am guilty of jumping in too) as most of the time people feel the need, when challenged, to argue back, explain or defend themselves or the idea. If we all just sit back and think about our biases or automatic responses, we’d see so much more. I’ve very rarely encountered such a thoughtful response and, even if it doesn’t contain “An Answer” think it contributes more than the arguments I usually hear.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by. I was a bit worried when I was writing the post that I didn’t have a smart retort about why my response had been so very biased (and you’re right we – especially in the ELT blogging world – are ever so primed to defend our views). I’m glad I decided to be honest and introspective. Thank you for investing time in researching and highlighting this issue – it’s something that we should all be talking about.


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