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.
— Nicola Prentis (@NicolaPrentis) November 2, 2016
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