Reactions to gender balance at UK ELT events, from a presenter



Isn’t it strange, I sometimes think, that we accept as completely normal the sight of a male ‘expert’ standing in front of a group of say 1,000 teachers, only a small handful of whom (sometime less than 1%) are also male. Doesn’t it feel uncomfortable, sometimes, to realize that the ‘high profile’ talks (e.g. conference plenaries etc) are so often given by men, not women? Or perhaps it doesn’t matter that a largely female profession is so often ‘preached at’ by men who enjoy some kind of specially privileged position, men (yes, I know, I’m one of them!) who almost come to expect this state of affairs. Surely there are women who could do the job just as well?

Let me put my cards on the table here: I love presenting at conferences. I hope people don’t stop asking me. I have seen many other men (good friends, some of them) do a fantastic job of presenting and am inspired by the ways they do it. But I have also had the great pleasure of watching some incredible female presenters wow their audiences and inspire me with their insights, passion and style. Of course I have.

But not that often. Or so it seems to me. And it worries many of us (men) that this should be so. It’s not that female presenters should be ubiquitous, just that there should be as many of them as there are of us. Because, when this is not the case, it feels (to me at least) uncomfortable. Unbalanced. And I am not alone in feeling uneasy about this. When I blogged about the topic some time ago 63 people came along to offer comments and suggest reasons for the imbalance (there are, by the way, some teachers’ organisations that go out of their way to try and ensure speaker parity). You can read the post and the comments here.

Some of the imbalance is not anybody’s ‘fault’ exactly. I know a few amazing female speakers who just don’t take the same pleasure in travelling and speaking as their male counterparts do. But I have also heard specious arguments about female teacher audiences preferring men. I don’t buy that one. When you watch a good presenter you watch a good presenter.

In the end it is all about equal representation (it seems to me). It is, quite simply, about basic decency and fairness. It is about reflecting the world we live in – where so many teachers are women. And when that equality is achieved and demonstrable it is not just the female presenters that feel good, it’s most of the men I know too. For in education men and women should meet on a level playing field. Anything less than that diminishes us all.