Is STEM Racist and Sexist? Investigating why BAME Women get the Shortest End of the Stick

by
Reham ElMorally, PhD Candidate in International Development, SAPD
Billy Wong, Associate Professor, Institute of Education
Meggie Copsey-Blake, MA Education Graduate, Institute of Education

 

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees and work environments were traditionally male dominated, as the belief that males have a higher capacity to rationalize and problem solve. Females, on the other hand, are perceived to have higher cognitive verbal abilities, stereotyping them as unsuitable to engage in public deliberation and better, thus supposedly they are better suited to dominate the private sphere. Throughout the past decades, not only was this hypothesis debunked by numerous scholars, particularly psychologists, but it was also rescinded as it was proven that females can have just as high, if not higher, cognitive functionality than males(Steward-Williams & Halsey, 2021). While the prejudicial and biased accounts of cognitive aptitudes have been challenged by the academics and scholars, the social cycle of female inferiority is still prevalent.  Furthermore, an archaic but dominant belief that people from minority ethnic backgrounds do not have an aptitude for STEM (MacDonald, 2014) can still be experienced in the labour market at worrying rates. This notion can be attributed to colonialism and imperialistic cultural exportation, it was perpetuated in the West by the White social hegemonic bloc to maintain White supremacy and protect the seemingly beneficiary status quo.

 

In the SESTEM research project, we analysed 69 interviews (51 minority ethni cand 18 White British students) from undergraduates in STEM degrees asking them to reflect on the racial and gender dynamics with their respective degrees.

 

In our previous publication ((Wong, ElMorally and Copsey-Blake, 2020 and  2021), the data revealed and supported a de facto institutional bias against minority ethnic students. This is manifested in terms of microaggressions, tokenism, and lack of substantive representative diversity in terms of faculty and staff. We examined the intersectionality of race and gender to better understand why minority ethnic students, specifically female students, are less likely to graduate with a 1st or 2:1 as compared to their White male counterparts, and also less likely to apply for STEM-related employment. The premise of our study is that women and ethnic minorities are subjugated to a variety of institutional and social barriers, including gender roles and expectations, and reproduced by the value for labor as commanded by the capitalist system embedded in the UK system.

 

Firstly, we investigated microaggressions students face during their studies. The literature supports that some microaggressions can result from a general disinterest in utilitarianism, which may include a heightened interest in profit. Other examples may include institutional and political agendas with capitalist objectives, where ethical questions such as effects on the environment and the social wealth distribution are simply irrelevant. However, for this research, microaggressions with a racial and gendered undertone are of interest. Microaggression can also manifest itself in terms of gender discrimination. Melony, a White British female, for example, discussed the gender role division in the STEM workplace:

‘I think, obviously you hear comments like sexist comments. When I was at work, one of the managers was saying, we have to go and lift something and they’re always like, we’ll get the boys together, lift it. The girls were always made to waitress, not be seeing out of the front, whereas the boys do the room service and things like that. There’s still like a pay gap and things.’

 

Secondly, we investigated institutional biases and their effects on student performance and predicted attainability of a STEM degree. We particularly examined how the lack of symbolic and substantive representation affects learning. We have found that an internalized sense of superiority and inferiority  exists among the students we interviewed. For example, Chetachi, a Black British male, felt that these negative stereotypes are not susceptible to change due to the lack of existing role models for Black students. Describing his experiences, Chetachi shared:

‘I barely see any black staff. There’s only one in [my department], and sometimes I ask myself, ‘How does he feel being the only black person in the whole building full of maybe Europeans and whites? How would you feel?’

 

He continued to add there is a lack of role models for black students to guide and substantially tip the scales in favour of ethnic minorities. Respectively, Katherine, a Black British female, touched upon the double-burden of being an ethnic minority and a woman, stating:

‘So many BAME students do come from a working-class background, not all of them, but it could be once again that just not relating to someone [other Black women]. Or maybe the institution itself, maybe, cos obviously uni is a middle-class institution, so it may be hard to just kind of reach to that level.’

 

These accounts led us to propose a more intersectional approach to race and gender mainstreaming at the university level to counteract the effects of historic marginalization and break the socialised inferiority-superiority cycle. We stress that a glass ceiling does exist for minority ethnic students which puts a barrier to entry and achievement. This ceiling is comprised of internalised emotions and unconscious biases towards ‘The Other and Otherhood’. The study also revealed how double-burden (Patimo and Pereio, 2017) of the Stereotype Threat (Dunderson and Li, 2020) negatively affect female minority ethnic students the most.

 

Our study negated the supposed biological predisposition of males and females, as well as reviewed the literature negating racial superiority in relation to cognitive aptitude. We exposed the shallow institutional efforts to appear diverse but in fact exploit tokenism to raise the profile of the institution. Sequentially, we recommend that Higher Education institutions must either substantially reform their approach to closing differential degree outcomes on the basis of race, as well as recognise the shortcomings of the institution in terms of its ‘zero-tolerance’ and ‘affirmative action’ efforts to provide minority ethnic students, especially female students, with a comparative advantage to counter historic, social, and institutional marginalisation. Should HE institutions fails to substantively reform their organisation, we propose that ‘Real-life sessions’, such as ‘Racism and Sexism in the work place’, ‘How to be assertive’, and ‘Your rights as an employee under UK law’, be streamlined and offered to all students, but particularly to ethnic minority ones. This is meant to prepare minority ethnic students for the barriers to entry and challenges they will inevitably face in the capitalist-labour market and improve their chances of success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

AdvanceHE (2020). Students statistical report 2020. Advance-HE, (accessed online):  https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/guidance/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/using-data-and-evidence/statistics-reports

Gunderson, L. & Li, G. (2020). Racist Stereotyping of Asians as Good at Math Masks Inequities and Harms Students. The Conversation, (accessed online): https://theconversation.com/racist-stereotyping-of-asians-as-good-at-math-masks-inequities-and-harms-students-132137

MacDonald, A. (2014). “Not for people like me?” Under-represented groups in science, technology and engineering. A Summary of the evidence: the facts, the fiction and what we should do next. WISE Campaign, (accessed online): https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/not_for_people_like_me-full-report.pdf

Patimo, R., and Pereiro, T.C. (2017). from the double role to the multiple burden of women: career or carer?. In Fussell, E. (Ed). Research in Progress Population, Environment, Health. (Italy: Cacucci Editore)

Stewart-Williams, S., & Halsey, L. G. (2021). Men, women and STEM: Why the differences and what should be done? European Journal of Personality35(1), 3 39. https://doi.org/10.1177/0890207020962326

Wong, B., ElMorally, R., & Copsey-Blake, M. (2021). ‘Fair and square’: What do students think about the ethnicity degree awarding gap? Journal of Further and Higher Education, https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2021.1932773

Wong, B., R. ElMorally, M. Copsey-Blake, E. Highwood, and J. Singarayer. 2020. “Is Race Still Relevant? Student Perceptions and Experiences of Racism in Higher Education.” Cambridge Journal of Education. doi:10.1080/ 0305764X.2020.1831441.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Guest blog by Matthew Searle, Head of Employer Relations, Henley Careers and Professional Development

A few years ago, one of my former colleagues took me along to a #heforshe event. I’d never really heard of it, so was quite curious. It turned out to be one of the most powerful events I’ve been to in my career. My key takeaway was that male/female equality was something that everybody could have an impact on, regardless of their gender.

So, when the Henley Careers team were discussing activities around International Women’s Day and deciding who should be the host, I really didn’t have much hesitation. When designing the event, we wanted it to look and feel different to what we’ve done before: we wanted to focus on celebration, we wanted real-life stories and we wanted a common theme that would unite everybody in the room. The most important aspect, though, was a chance for our students to build relationships with those working in industry.

There is so much to talk about in gender equality, so throughout the planning Cristina Marcu, a final year Finance and Investment Banking student joined us to help us hone our content to our audience. We scoured our little black book of industry contacts and identified two Henley alumna from BT and Kia Motors, plus a Partner at EY Reading with great career stories to inspire students.

We wanted to have an interactive event, with obvious learning points, so we used the Hampton-Alexander Review to form a discussion. Led by Professor Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj, the audience discussed steps we can all take to increase the number of women in executive leadership roles in the corporate world.

In terms of facilitating relationship building, I’m a big fan of joining people together across both student cohorts and years of experience. Everyone learns something from someone, no matter their background or length of career. We invited all students, from our first year undergraduates, right through to our Executive MBA students and of course those in between. The little black book came out again (it’s really a sophisticated GDPR compliant database, I promise) and we also extended an invitation to some of our most trusted employer contacts. The result? A wonderfully diverse audience, all willing to listen, collaborate and take action on the evening’s discussion.

Cristina really pushed us (nicely) to offer prizes to students. We talked about books and vouchers and then finally settled on trying to source “money-can’t-buy experiences” and on reflection that really added to an event with a different feel. You could really feel the excitement when five of our lucky students won lunch and office tours with senior staff at BMW, BT, ADP, SHL and PRA Health services.

Our guests provided some great anecdotes, stories and career advice. The themes which most resonated for me were:

  • how to determine work/life balance at various stages of your career
  • how to put together a set of trusted professional colleagues to support career progression
  • recognising your own personal style and how to draw on your strengths

The great conversation flowed into the evening, with a packed networking reception. We were joined by Smartworks, a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need.

It was a truly inspiring way to celebrate International Women’s Day and I really hope that in some small way, I used my privileged position to do #heforshe proud.

LGBT+ intersectionality with race and disability

Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).

Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR),  David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network),  and Debi Linton  (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.

This is one of several blogs (see also here and here) reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on learning from the session at the conference on workplaces that are inclusive of LGBT people who are also Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME), and the session on understanding the experiences of LGBT disabled people.

Creating workplaces that are inclusive of BAME LGBT people

The Stonewall Work Report 2018 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) gives clear examples of how being BAME LGBT is different from being white LGBT. For example, 1 in 8 BAME LGBT employees have lost their job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to 1 in 25 of white LGBT staff. One potential reason for this difference could be the barriers that BAME LGBT people face in being able to perform to the best of their ability at work. In the BAME LGBT workshop [that was part of the Stonewall workplace Conference], it was shared that one reason could be lack of wider support and that 1 in 2 BAME LGBT individuals do not feel part of the wider LGBT community. This in turn could affect wellbeing and the ability to perform well at work. Other points were the role of unconscious bias and racial harassment. In relation to combating this at Reading, unconscious bias training is delivered as part of recruitment training and via online modules, and the University has clear policies and reporting processes around harassment and bullying.

In relation to improving practice, it was stated that it is important for BAME LGBT individuals to feel able to contribute in meetings, be praised for work ethic, and to have visible role models. It can be argued that these points apply across Diversity and Inclusion and protected characteristics (Equality Act, 2010). Exploring this further, the first two points strongly rely on the dynamic within meetings, those you work with and the approach taken by the line manager. These points should be consciously considered by leaders/managers to make all staff feel able to contribute in meetings and to acknowledge work that has been completed well.

In relation to visible role models, Stonewall run a BAME LGBTQ role-model programme, which is free to attend. The next programme is in Manchester on the 29th August 2019 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/get-involved/get-involved-individuals-communities/bamepoc-lgbtq-role-models-programmes). In the videos provided on this webpage, the speakers discuss the benefits of sharing experiences with others to realise that you are not alone in the difficulties faced. At Reading, we promote role models through the ‘Faces of Reading’ project. This project shows the diversity of our staff by considering LGBT+, disability, parental or family leave etc. If you would like to put yourself forward for this project, please contact diversity@reading.ac.uk.

A final area of good practice was cross-network discussions to target as many considerations for BAME LGBT people as possible. At Reading, we have both a Cultural Diversity Staff Group and the LGBT+ Staff Network (https://www.reading.ac.uk/diversity/diversity-networks.aspx), and are looking at setting up cross-network discussions and events. If you have any ideas for how we could approach this, please contact Al Laville at a.laville@reading.ac.uk.

 

Experiences of LGBT+ disabled people

Disabled LGBT+ also reported feeling excluded from the wider LGBT+ community. Part of this is the accessibility of the community itself; meetings in inaccessible places and a lack of support for the individual needs create barriers that prevent any interaction with the rest of the community. As a specific example, much NHS literature on the transition process is presented in ways that is inaccessible to blind people.

It also emerged that, because of the effects disability has on quality of life, sometimes disabled people can come out to themselves or their family later in life, as their disabled identity takes precedence. The effects of inaccessibility can often be more impactful and more stressful than any lack of LGBT+ inclusion, though of course they can exacerbate each other. LGBT+ people are more likely than others to lack any familial support outside the workplace, and this can have a massive impact for disabled people.

However, there are many ways in which the LGBT+ and disabled communities can work together. As with the Cultural Diversity Staff Group, we also have a Staff Disability Network, which is open to both disabled and non-disabled staff. At the Workplace Conference, we were reminded of the Social Model of Disability: the idea that “disability” isn’t a thing a person has, but rather, they are “disabled” by society’s lack of accessibility. This was brought up as a comparison to diverse LGBT+ identities, who are often brought together by a shared experience of oppression, despite varied experiences across the spectrum (touched on in an earlier blog).

When thinking about best practice, it is important to recognise that accessible work practices benefit all of us: many people undergo periods of being temporarily disabled, through acute injuries, or become disabled during adulthood, so having practices and infrastructure in place can save stress and harm later on. We are required by law to make reasonable adjustments (https://www.gov.uk/reasonable-adjustments-for-disabled-workers) and if there are any needs required for specific disabled employees that aren’t covered, Access to Work (https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work) can fund any additional requirements.

 

LGBT+ Inclusion in the University’s Supply Chain

Guest post by David Ashmore, Procurement

As many of you will be aware, the University’s procurement department‘s job is to get the right products and services at the right price at the right time. A less well publicised area of focus for us is our work to ensure that those goods and services we procure are bought in line with the University’s ethics, one aspect of which is the aim to support diversity and inclusion.

Why Should it Matter to Procurement?

As a public sector organisation, the majority of the money we spend comes from… well… the public. Hand in hand with this public funding comes the responsibility to ensure that the choices we make are supportive of the interests of those who we represent.

As a major employer and consumer in the local economy, the University is in a great position to be able to influence those around us, and by demonstrating role-model behaviour, we can help to drive change in areas which might not be within reach (or perhaps even aware) of organisations such as Stonewall.

Another reason to promote diversity and inclusion in our supply chain is to ensure that we support our students by providing an inclusive environment where they feel safe and respected. We expect our suppliers to uphold the same principles (especially important where those suppliers work on campus and have roles which bring them into contact with our students) which helps to keep the University’s campuses a place where discrimination, of any form, is unwelcome.

Asking the Right Questions

Over the last few years, in partnership with Stonewall, the University’s procurement team have been working to change our working practices, policies and procedures to promote inclusion in the supply chain and have made some great progress:

We have built up a suite of specifications and questions which we can include in our tendering documentation. Here are a couple of examples of statements and questions which give an idea of how we go about this. We often try to tailor the questions to the specific goods or services being procured.

  • Statement – The UoR expects its key suppliers to have a diversity policy equal or superior to its own. Our policies can be found at https://www.reading.ac.uk/diversity. As part of our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, the UoR proactively monitors the Diversity and Inclusion of its supply chain. As a more significant supplier to the UoR, we would hope that the successful bidder would be willing to take part in our monitoring programme which would include periodic questionnaires and round-table meetings with other suppliers to the UoR.
  • Question – Has your company had any employment tribunal claims brought against it in the past 3 years relating to gender, race, religion or belief, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender reassignment? [No=5 marks; Yes=0] If you answered “yes” to this question, please provide details and the action plan(s) your organisation has put in place to prevent recurrence. [recoup 5 Marks]

Monitoring Our Partners and Suppliers

It is all well and good to be asking all the right questions when it comes to tendering, but it’s no good if we don’t keep an eye on our suppliers once we are working with them, and LGBT+ considerations are no exception. Procurement meet with our key suppliers on a regular basis and one standing item on the order of business is what that supplier is doing in the area of diversity and inclusion. This is always an interesting topic, as the work our partners carry out varies from sector to sector.

Sharing Best Practice and Influencing

The University made a great leap forward this year and made it into Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers, and a portion of the scoring comes from our procurement evaluation. Last year we scored 7 out of a total of 17 marks available. The average for a Top 100 Employer is 10, but the average for the HE sector is only 4.5! So, what this tells us is that, whilst we are doing well when compared to our peers, we still have some way to go!

It is for exactly this reason that we have started work on an information sharing network. We are hoping that through this network, we will not only be able to learn from organisations who are further along than us, but also to pass on what we have learned to others who are just setting out on their own journey.

One area which we are hoping to embark on shortly is to foster links between the University’s own LGBT+ staff network with those from our suppliers. We have started to get in touch with all the suppliers who have expressed an interest in working more closely on diversity initiatives and we are looking forward to making some tentative first steps in the coming weeks!

Isn’t “LGBT+” enough? Why do we need to discuss each letter separately as well?

Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).

Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR),  David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network),  and Debi Linton  (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.

This is the first of several blogs reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on supporting inclusion for employees representing particular letters of the LGBT+ community.

The LGBT+ “umbrella” exists because many people of diverse gender identities and sexualities share similar challenges and experiences of discrimination, and the community has historically faced these difficulties together. However, every identity within the community also faces their own specific challenges, and especially gender identity and sexual identity are different parts of a person’s identity: your gender identity is not necessarily linked to who you find attractive.

Some key identities within the LGBT+ community include: lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and asexual, but not everyone within the community identifies fully with any one of these. At the Stonewall Workplace Conference, we attended workshops specifically focusing on inclusion of trans, non-binary and bi employees.

Stopping to enjoy the view on the way to the Stonewall Workplace Conference at the QEII Centre

Trans inclusion

Stonewall’s “LGBT in Britain” (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) report in 2018 painted a bleak picture for being trans in the workplace. One third of trans people report having been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues because of being trans, compared to “only” one fifth of LGBT staff as a whole (still an unacceptable figure.) More worryingly, one in eight trans people reported having been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the year preceding the report. 15 percent were also not being addressed by their correct name or pronouns.

These various experiences obviously contribute together to a potentially stressful and hostile working environment for trans people, often exacerbated by stresses and difficulties outside the workplace, such as discrimination from friends and family members and within faith and cultural groups, which might otherwise be relied on to provide support in times of difficulty. Access to healthcare, and sports and physical activities which can help reduce stress in cis people present their own barriers to trans people, and the current hostile media environment is an additional burden on its own. So it’s important for us as colleagues and employers, to help contribute to an inclusive and welcoming environment for our trans colleagues.

The benefits to having an inclusive and friendly workplace are self-evident: if everyone feels comfortable being themselves and can come to work without fear of discrimination and harassment, we can all work more effectively and, as a University, provide a safe and inclusive space for our students as well.

According to the Stonewall report, one in four trans people aren’t “out” at work, so it’s important to recognise that we may currently have colleagues who are trans but haven’t told us yet, and we can help to improve their working experience by creating an inclusive workplace without knowing everyone’s precise gender identity. There can be a perception that trans inclusion doesn’t matter if no one in the office is visibly trans, but without asking everyone we cannot be sure, and it’s always best practice to have working structures in place when new colleagues join.

Non-binary inclusion

Non-binary (often abbreviated to nb, or “enby” to prevent confusion with other uses of the abbreviation) people are those that do not identify as either of the two predominant “binary” genders (male or female). Some nb people identify as trans and some don’t, but they face many of the same challenges trans people face (see above) as well as some that arise specifically from not conforming into two specific genders.

There are many different identities within the non-binary “umbrella,” including people who identify as having more than one gender (e.g. bigender or pangender), no gender (e.g. agender or genderfree) a specific third or other gender, or fluctuating between genders (genderfluid). You don’t need the specific way a person identifies in order to use their correct name or pronouns, but it helps to be aware that not everyone will have the same needs or expectations.

In addition to the challenges faced by trans people in general above, the Stonewall report showed that 31% of nb people didn’t feel comfortable wearing clothes to work that accurately reflected their gender expression (compared to 18% of trans people) and two in five aren’t “out” at work (compared to one in four trans people). There is clearly additional stigma attached to nb identities on top of that associated with being trans.

As a University, we’re working to put in place policies and procedures that are inclusive of all gender identities: for example, there are trans awareness training courses available, and of course there are the pronoun badges many of us now wear. (See an earlier blog https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2019/02/26/pronoun-badges-at-the-university-of-reading/ for more information on these, including why cis people also choose to wear badges.) Additionally, many buildings around Whiteknights and London Road campuses now have gender neutral toilets, which can be identified on the campus maps https://www.reading.ac.uk/about/visit-us.aspx.

For those people who require flexibility in the way they are identified, duplicate employee cards are available to wear over your main campus card, showing the photo and name that most fits your current expression.

As a university community, we can support our trans and nb colleagues by recognising the range of gender identities and expressions within our community. The University and RUSU have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment (#NeverOK: http://student.reading.ac.uk/essentials/_the-important-stuff/values-and-behaviours/never-ok/never-ok-campaign.aspx) and we can support our colleagues by standing up for them, which includes gently correcting when a colleague is misgendered. (For guidance on how to do this, see the University’s online Diversity and Inclusion training session.)

We can also help by normalising the use of gender neutral language. If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, and it’s not appropriate to ask, “they” or “them” is often a safe alternative. When talking to groups of colleagues or students, be aware that terms like “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys” do not always apply, and gender neutral language such as “everyone,” “folks” etc make sure no one is excluded.

Bi

We use the term Bi as opposed to Bisexual here as following Stonewall’s guidance: ‘Bi is an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pan, queer, and other non-monosexual identities’.

According to Stonewall’s work report (link at beginning of article), nearly two in five bi people (38%) aren’t out to anyone at work. A potential reason for this is biphobia. Stonewall, the largest LGBT charity in Europe, states that bi individuals suffer from dual prejudice. This is from within the LGBT community and outside of it. This prejudice can lead to mental health problems and risk taking behaviours. A related concept is that of the ‘bi erasure’, which is when your bi identity is ‘erased’ as others can view your sexual orientation to be one and the same as your current relationship status. For example, if someone who identified as male was in a relationship with another male, often the conclusion is that they are a gay man. These assumptions are dangerous as the individual has not shared their sexual orientation, which could well be bi.

In relation to improving bi visibility and awareness, the University published in 2017 a blog (https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2017/09/22/seeing-the-b-in-lgbt/) on Bi Visibility Day, which is 23rd of September each year. There are various events held across the UK (as well as internationally) to encourage and promote bi visibility. At these events, you will often see the Bi Pride flag which was created by Michael Page in 1998:

The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian), The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi). The key to understanding the symbolism in the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”

 

Therefore, it is very important to have bi awareness training within the workplace. However, according to Stonewall, only 5% of workplaces currently provide this. At the University, we are exploring the possibility of creating and subsequently delivering bi awareness training. If you are interested in contributing to this training, please contact Al Laville (LGBT+ Staff Network Co-Chair and Stonewall Bi Role Model) at a.laville@reading.ac.uk for an informal conversation.

Pronoun Badges at the University of Reading

by

Debi Linton (LGBT+ Staff Network representative on the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group), Nozomi Tolworthy (Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Diversity Officer), and Parveen Yaqoob (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and University Executive Board (UEB) LGBT+ Champion)

Members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group have been working with the Diversity Officer 2018/19 at Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) this academic year to launch pronoun badges to the university community of both students and staff. These pronoun badges aim to create positive cultural change across our campuses.

In this blog we explain why we want to introduce pronoun badges, and what they are for. We end the blog with a brief glossary of some of the terms we use.

The badges are available from RUSU Reception, and very soon from receptions across the University, in They/Them, He/Him, She/Her versions, plus a version that you can complete as you wish.

What are pronoun badges and why are people wearing them?

Pronoun badges are exactly what they sound like: badges that inform people you are talking to the correct third-person pronouns to use when referring to you. For example “the correct person to contact about this is [xxx], here are her contact details” or “this person is looking for the library, can you show them the way?”

The most common pronoun when talking about people are he/him, she/her, and the singular they/them, but many people use another pronoun altogether. This is why the RUSU & University’s badges include an option with a white space for people to write in their own with a permanent marker.

Why does using the correct pronoun matter?

For many people it seems that the right pronoun should be obvious: if someone is clearly presenting as male, for example, you may default to using “him.” However, for many people it’s not always obvious; where people use gender-neutral pronouns, or when trans people don’t look or sound exactly how we expect a man or woman to do. This also applies to cis people who don’t fit into expectations for their gender, even if it’s the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Pronouns are such a common part of our language that it’s common and understandable to not even think about using them. However, each usage carries an assumption about the person’s gender identity and can reinforce that assumption to anyone listening. When you are frequently misgendered, the effort of correcting every incorrect usage can be tiring. The practice of using pronoun badges normalises the idea that gender shouldn’t have to be assumed, and recognises that diverse identities and expressions are welcome in our University.

Some examples of pronoun usage

  • She wrote her group’s project submission by herself.
  • He may not have written his thesis entirely by himself.
  • They ordered business cards for everyone in their school but forgot theirself.
  • Ze has offered to help hir school on Open Day but doesn’t want to do it by hirself.

Do I have to wear a pronoun badge?

Pronoun badges are completely optional. However, by wearing one, even if your pronouns are rarely or never used incorrectly, you are sending a message to colleagues, visitors and students that you recognise the validity of pronouns other than what is immediately obvious.

What if I make a mistake?

Mistakes happen all the time! If you use an incorrect pronoun and are corrected or later realise you were wrong, then you can treat it like any other error: apologise and correct yourself. You don’t have to draw attention to yourself or to the other person by drawing out the apology.

If someone uses the wrong pronoun for a colleague, you can also gently correct them at the time, for example, “actually, I think Alex uses ze” or later in a private conversation where appropriate.

What should I do if I don’t know the right pronoun or I’m being hypothetical?

If you don’t know which pronoun to use, but you don’t want to assume, then you can get used to checking politely when it’s relevant; for example, “can you remind me of your pronouns?”, before introducing a speaker.

If it’s not appropriate or possible to ask, then “they/them” is a useful neutral pronoun. You probably already use it when talking about people you haven’t met, for example, “your personal tutor is there if you need them”.

What are some other ways I can show my support for gender diverse colleagues and students?

Try to spot times in your language where you are making assumptions about gender. For example, rather than using “he or she” when talking about a hypothetical situation, substitute “they.”

When leading group discussions or meetings with people who don’t already know each other, you can also normalise the practise of sharing pronouns by including them in introductions. For example, “My name is Chris, I work in SAGES and my pronouns are he/him.”

When creating forms or collecting personal information, include gender-neutral options. For example, when asking for personal titles such as “Dr/Mr/Ms,” think about including “Mx” (pronounced “Mix”) [this option is available, for example, when you complete the standard online University of Reading job application forms] and if asking for gender is relevant, include an “other” option.

You may also want to consider putting your pronouns in your email signature, after your name.

If you would like to learn more, you might like to sign up for the Trans Awareness Training coming up on 16 May (see the Diversity and Inclusion Events page for more details and how to book), and there is further “Trans and Gender Identity” guidance available on our diversity and inclusion policies and procedures page.

Glossary of terms

AFAB / AMAB
“Assigned female at birth” / “assigned male at birth” relates to the sex a person is assigned when they are born. This is independent of a person’s lived gender identity.

Cisgender or Cis
Someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Non-trans is also used by some people.

Cissexism
The assumption that being cisgender is the norm, often resulting in discrimination towards and erasure of trans people.

Gender
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.

LGBT+
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and others’. The ‘+’ is inclusive of other groups such as asexual, non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex etc.

Mx (Pronounced ‘mix’)
This is a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.

Nonbinary
Term used for people with gender identities other than male or female, thus outside the gender binary. Those who identify as nonbinary may think of themselves as both men and women (bigender, pangender), may identify as neither male nor female (genderless, agender), may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes (genderqueer), or may simply feel restricted by gender labels.

Sex
Assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions. Sometimes the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are interchanged to mean ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Trans
An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.

 

Chinese New Year 2019 – Year of the Pig

Guest post by Nozomi Tolworthy 雷希望, Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Diversity Officer 2018/19

(This article includes Chinese words and phrases with Cantonese and Mandarin pronunciations respectively)

When is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year as it follows a traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar whose dates indicate both the phase of the moon and the time of the solar year. This coming Chinese New Year is on Tuesday 05 February 2019.

Why is 2019 the “Year of the Pig”?

Each year is represented by one of 12 Chinese Zodiac animals. 2019 is the year of the pig.

Chinese Zodiac: https://banner2.kisspng.com/20180328/fxw/kisspng-chinese-zodiac-chinese-calendar-chinese-new-year-zodiac-5abc0167b80006.4694013715222705677537.jpg

The zodiac system was originally connected with worship of animals and has existed in Chinese culture since the Qin dynasty which was around 2,000 years ago! As such, the zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture. Each animal has different characteristics and meanings which is often used to determine a person’s fortune and luck for the coming year and even their compatibility with other zodiacs. This is the order they are in: rat (鼠 – syu / shǔ) ox (牛 – ngau / niú) tiger (虎 – fu / hǔ) rabbit (兔 – tou / tù) dragon (龙 – lung / lóng) snake (蛇 – se / shé) horse (马 – maa / mǎ) goat (羊 – yeung / yang) monkey (猴 – hau / hóu) rooster (鸡 – gai / jī) dog (狗 – gau / gǒu) pig (猪 – zyu / zhū)

How do people celebrate?

Chinese New Year is celebrated by more than 20% of the world. The celebrations are not limited to China. Hong Kong, Laos, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and many Asian countries celebrate Chinese New Year as a national holiday. Usually, celebrations begin on Chinese New Year Eve and can last around 15 days.

Before celebrations kick off, it is tradition for people to clean their houses thoroughly, almost like having a big ‘spring clean’. Decorations are then displayed once the house is clean. Chinese New Year is a time for family, and this is seen as the most important part of the holiday.

What do the decorations mean?

Decorations for Chinese New Year are predominantly red, as the colour red represents happiness and good fortune. Here are some popular decorations used for Chinese New Year:

Fortune ( – fuk / fú)

Fortune pin badge, Photo credit Nozomi Tolworthy

Certain words are displayed during Chinese New Year. The most common is 福 meaning happiness and good fortune. It is often displayed on square red paper and put up on doors, windows and walls around homes and commercial buildings. Many like to put 福 upside down. The word for ‘upside down’ (倒 – dou / dào) is a homophone of the word for ‘here’ (到). This pun represents that good fortune is coming, or is already here.

Paper Cutting Arts (窗花 – coeng faa / chuāng huā)

福 is often incorporated into other decorations such as paper cutting arts. This is a folk craft that is usually seen on windows with the literal translation meaning ‘window flower’. The images on these decorations often include fish (a pun for blessings), grains (representing hope for a good harvest) as well as dragons and peaches (symbols from folktales and legends). The zodiac for the year is often the image on these decorations too.

Lanterns ( – dang lung / dēng lóng)

There are often different activities for each day of the Chinese New Year holidays, often including the lantern festival. Some places still release lanterns for the festival, but for environmental reasons, many people choose to simply display their lanterns at home. There are many different styles of lanterns that are displayed ranging from red spheres to dragons!

Red Packets

https://marketingweek.imgix.net/content/uploads/2018/02/15170414/chinese-new-year-750.jpg?auto=compress,format,&crop=faces,entropy,edges&fit=crop&q=60&w=750&h=400

Red packets / red pocket / red envelope… There are many names for these little red gifts! But all of these 红包 (hung bau / hóng bāo) contain money. The money inside is known as 压岁钱 (aat seoi cin / yā suì qián). This translated means ‘money to anchor the year(s)’ hence it’s known as ‘lucky money’. It is tradition for elders to give them to children in hope of passing on good fortune and blessings for the year to come. Younger generations also commonly give their elders red packets as a sign of gratitude and as a blessing of longevity.

New Year’s Visits

Red packets, fruit, candy and cakes are often gifted when you go on a New Year’s visit 拜年 (bai nin / bài nián) to see friends and family. Upon giving and receiving red packets, of course one will say 新年快乐 (san nin faai lok / xīn nián kuài lè) meaning Happy New Year and another very common phrase is 恭喜发财 (kung hei fat choi / gong xǐ fā cái) meaning to ‘wish you wealth and prosperity’.

Food

With family being at the heart of Chinese New Year, family feasts are extremely important. Families often have a large reunion for a New Year’s Eve dinner. Although every region and household will have different customs, there are often some common dishes seen on every dinner table: Spring Rolls (春卷 – ceon gyun / chūn juǎn) These are eaten to celebrate the coming of the first day of spring. They are a wish for prosperity and wealth because they look like bars of gold!

Dumplings (饺子 – gaau zi / jiǎo zi)

Photo credit Nozomi Tolworthy

The word for dumplings in Chinese sound like 交子. 交 means ‘exchange’ and 子 is the midnight hours. Placed together, 交子 means the exchange between the old and the new year. By eating dumplings, you are therefore sending away the old and welcoming in the new. Dumplings are also shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots and as such, symbolise good fortune. There are steamed as well as pan-fried dumplings that are eaten during Chinese New Year.

Noodles (面 – min / miàn)

For Chinese New Year, people like to eat long noodles, also called 长寿面 (zoeng sau min / cháng shòu miàn) which means ‘longevity noodles’. The longer the noodle, the longer your life will be so you shouldn’t cut them nor bite them. Needless to say, this calls for lots of slurping!

Parades & Performances

Each holiday has its own set of activities and traditions. During Chinese New Year, there may be the releasing of lanterns for the lantern festival, firework displays and often parades that include a dragon dance or lion dance. Fireworks are set off as it is thought that the noise and lights will scare away any evil sprits. The dragon is a symbol of China, and is an important part of Chinese culture. Chinese dragons symbolise wisdom, power and wealth, and they are believed to bring good luck to people. As such, dragon dances are an important cultural activity during Chinese New Year as well as Mid-Autumn Festival.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/iqremix/12025364133/

Similarly, lion dances can be seen at many festive events from Chinese New Year to weddings. The lion is meticulously designed, with movable eyes and mouth. Each lion is operated by 2 performers, one as the head and one as the body. Lion dances often involve crowd interaction where the lion may open its mouth asking for food and the crowd are given cabbage leave to throw to the lion.

How will we celebrate at RUSU & UoR?

This year we are hoping to make Chinese New Year a campus-wide celebration. As such, we have created pin badges with 福 (fuk / fú) meaning happiness and good fortune printed on them. These will be given out to staff and students around campus in the first week of February to be worn on lanyards, jackets and backpacks alike to show your support for the celebrations and participation in the festivities on campus.

For any enquiries regarding the Chinese New Year celebrations, please feel free to contact: Nozomi Tolworthy 雷希望 RUSU Diversity Officer 2018/19 diversityofficer@rusu.co.uk  or Ellie Highwood, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (e.j.highwood@reading.ac.uk)

Jessica Lynn’s Transgender Journey at the University of Reading

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou (School of Law) for Trans Day of Visibility, 31 March 2018

On 9 March 2018, the University of Reading had the great pleasure of hosting Ms Jessica Lynn, an international speaker and outspoken advocate for transgender issues and a Global Ambassador to the Kinsey Institute. Jessica has been on a tour series in the UK during February and March and has visited Reading to give a talk about her experience as a transgender woman, testifying to the hardships as well as the ultimate fulfilment of gender transition in legal standing and in her personal life. Jessica’s excellent talk was followed by a Q&A session, whilst members of the audience subsequently had the chance to speak to Jessica during the drinks reception that followed the event. The event was supported by the University’s LGBT Plus staff network and the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde.

For about one hour and a half, Jessica shared her life journey with us all, by vividly describing all its brutal twists and turns and challenges, but also the joys and victories and the kindness of people who had the courage to stand by her side. It was particularly moving to hear Jessica speaking about how much she loves her three sons and how painful it has been for her to have her parental rights (for her youngest son) redacted by a Texas court, simply because she is a transgender woman. This has reminded us how important the socio-legal sphere has always been in determining patterns of parent-child relationships and how this has deprived many members of the LGBT community of their parental rights. Jessica told her life story with openness, warmth and wit and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our mixed audience of academics, students, and visitors from outside the University – for many, it was their first opportunity to have an open dialogue with a transgender person.

This was a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking talk which had as its aim to educate the audience – and initiate a conversation – about the transgender experience: it was eye-opening and deeply moving as it showed how even today, powerful institutions and social norms restrict trans people’s opportunities for self-development and full interaction with the world around them. Jessica’s talk has led to reflection on how society and the law has changed through the years and how that change is in small steps forward but, also – and, recently, quite often – small steps backwards. It is painful to realise that there is still widespread transphobia but this also reminds us that it is important that we all act as strong and outspoken allies for the trans community and that we must fight to make the world a better, fairer, place for all.

International Women’s Day Talks and Debate

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The School of Literature and Languages (SLL) International Women’s Day Talk and Debate has become established as an annual celebration. I first organised this student-facing event with RUSU FemSoc in 2010, and I have led it with the help of DEL students and staff from around the university since then.

Our celebration of IWD takes the form of a series of short talks followed by a student-led debate on the issues we’ve raised and on other issues that matter to the attendees. What is so positive about this event is that it involves joining our students in conversations about equality, diversity, and social justice: it involves not only talking but, more importantly, listening to each other’s views.

In 2018, IWD assumed particular resonance because February marked the centenary of the extension of the franchise in the UK to include (some) women. It would be another 2 years before women could graduate from Oxford University, and women would have to wait until 1948 to graduate from Cambridge University, but female householders over the age of 30 could vote for an all-male parliament from 1918 (though the first female MP was elected in 1918, as a member of Sinn Fein she did not take up her seat). Despite the limitations of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, it undoubtedly gave women a ‘foot in the door’ and, as such, International Women’s Day 2018 linked with an important historical landmark.

Our IWD celebration this year was the culmination of the ‘Feminism 100’ series (see my previous Diversity and Inclusion blog-posts here and here) and was generously supported by the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund. Dr Carol Fuller (IoE) joined me in delivering the talks and presented a fascinating discussion of the intersection between gender and class focused through her work on the ‘Whitley Mums’ Programme. The talk was a crucial reminder that issues of ‘privilege’ have to be factored in to all discussions of feminism and equality: race, gender and class are core determinants of disempowerment and IWD encourages us to remain mindful that ‘us’ must mean ‘us all’.

My talk raised some of the noteworthy and notorious news stories of the year and included Trump’s attacks on the Planned Parenthood Programme in the U.S. and his re-imposition of the ‘global gag rule’, sexual abuse scandals, and Carrie Gracie’s campaign against systemic, sexist pay disparity at the BBC. Plenty of positive stories were included as well, including progress (if limited) in Saudi women’s campaigns for human rights. I led a toast to all the women of the world who work so hard to make a difference to other women’s lives; included in this was Jess Phillips MP who visited us at the university in November 2017 and who reminded us that brave, clever women are fighting on our behalf every day.

The second half of the event was given over to a student-led debate. Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde, one of our Diversity and Inclusion Deans, attended and engaged with students’ contributions (several emailed me afterwards to say how much they appreciated his attendance). The RUSU Diversity Officer Leen Al Najjab also joined us and connected with the ‘Feminism 100’ students, offering her help and support for the re-formation of FemSoc. The generous contribution of £200 from the Endowment Fund allowed us to conclude the ‘Feminism 100’ series, on International Women’s Day, in style:  the money was spent on a party where our students could strengthen relationships with staff in a ‘feel good’ event.

‘Feminism 100’ has had clear demonstrable outcomes: RUSU FemSoc is going to be re-formed after two dormant years, and new events and campaigns are being planned. Inter-disciplinary collaborative relationships have been forged between Humanities and SLL, and the RUSU Diversity Officer and the Diversity and Inclusion Dean are in contact with our students – productive, exciting conversations and actions will be produced by this network.

SLL students and I are extremely grateful for the support of the Endowment Fund for this event: the positives generated from the evening, and from the ‘Feminism 100’ series as a whole, speak to the value of extra-curricular staff-student collaborations. The funding we received to celebrate in this important centenary year was particularly welcome: the conversations triggered by the three ‘Feminism 100’ events, and the networks arising from them, suggest that, at UoR, ‘we will persist’ via deeds and words.

Celebrating Forgotten Women

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies, School of Literature and Languages

Thursday February 8th 1918 marked the Royal Assent to the Bill that gave the vote to property-owning women aged 30 and over: on the evening of the same date, 100 years later, staff and students gathered in the Edith Morley Building to hear a series of talks and to enjoy an exhibition and a party, ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’.

The evening was the second in a series of three events organised from the Department of English Literature and the Department of History and supported by the Diversity and Inclusion Fund. We called the series, ‘Feminism 100’, and the first event, ‘Debates and Doughnuts: Is Feminism Dead?’ involved a rigorous student-led debate which achieved the revival of RUSU FemSoc, inactive for two years.

‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’ was also student-led: Part 2 English Literature student Imi Snell contacted Dr Jacqui Turner and myself in relation to an idea she had for a work placement on the SLL module, ‘Literature and Education’. Imi wanted this placement to be informed by Vote100 and to celebrate the centenary of the extension of the franchise. Because the placement required an emphasis on both ‘literature’ and ‘education’, Imi’s idea involved an exhibition of Suffrage material and a series of talks in which the forgotten women of literature, history, science, and culture could be discussed and celebrated.

Up to 100 staff and students, including the D&I Deans, braved the discouraging February night to join us for the celebration. Colleagues from English Literature and History contributed fascinating talks on a variety of ‘forgotten women’. Dr Mary Morrissey (Lit) spoke with great wit about the first known published English female poet, Isabella Whitney; Professor David Stack (History) discussed the work of palaeontologist Mary Anning; Dr Natalie Thomlinson (History) discussed Jayaben Desai; Dr Jacqui Turner (History) introduced the evening and spoke of the suffrage movement, and I discussed the neglected significance of the work of translator Constance Garnett. Part 2, Part 3, and PhD students from English Literature, History and Classics delivered confident, reflective and inspiring talks on Harriet Tubman, Cloelia, Emma Gifford, Libby Lane, and Ching Shih, and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our largely UG student audience. WSPU-Coloured lanyards and commemorative postcards were given to our guests, a badge-making operation in the exhibition space produced highly professional badges of our ‘forgotten women’, and an exhibition managed by Guy Baxter from Special Collections displayed the Cliveden House visitor’s book and a Suffragette ring amongst other exhibits. WSPU-coloured balloons festooned the Edith Morley First Floor Foyer, Blackwells ran a book-stall, and the wine flowed. The event ran for three hours in and outside the Van Emden Lecture Theatre.

A Twitter feed commented on and responded to the talks, and Facebook live streaming of the Q&A section was managed by Part 3 English Literature student, Victoria Matthews, who had led ‘Debates and Doughnuts’. The Twitter feed produced a steady stream of very positive feedback, Imi was interviewed by Radio Berkshire, ‘Spark’ is writing about the evening, a Press release was produced with Pete Bryant’s help, and Jacqui Turner took three samples of our lanyards to the Vote100 Project Team at the Houses of Parliament where they will be on permanent display. In terms of ‘impact’, the event exceeded all expectations.

Perhaps the most positive impact of the 2018 celebrations at UoR is the close partnership that has developed between the staff and students of English Literature, Classics and History, all of whom are working together to revive feminist debates on campus. ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’ showcased the benefits to learning of work placements, and demonstrated the strength of the staff-student partnerships and inter-School collaborations at Reading. Above all, it has showcased that of which we are most proud at Reading – our students.

Our sincere thanks to the Diversity and Inclusion Fund for making ‘Feminism 100’ possible. The celebrations are not yet at an end and we hope that students and colleagues will join us at more events and discussions as this important centenary year unfolds.