Gender Balance in the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Webinar Series
Before the Annual IATEFL Conference in Liverpool in 2013, I contacted Marjorie Rosenberg to see if she could send me information regarding IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group (BESIG) events in the UK, in 2012. What happened after that made me invite Marjorie as a natural choice for Guest Blogger on this site!
Marjorie says, ”As the only event we had was our Pre-Conference Event at the Annual IATEFL conference in 2012 in Glasgow, we submitted the list of speakers and were delighted to be placed on The Fair List for 2012. At that same conference, I officially became a member of the IATEFL Membership Committee (MemCom) and was given the task of setting up webinars with experts in the field of ELT. All of us in the field can probably rattle off a list in no time of those people we consider gurus but having just been honoured by being on The Fair List, the question for me was ‘How many of the experts that first come to mind are women?’ The original suggestions I received from colleagues included a fascinating collection of names but from my point of view the collection just wasn’t balanced. So I got to work and began to devise a new timetable.
We began the webinar series in May 2013 with the patron of IATEFL, Professor David Crystal, who answered questions about language. In June, we had Penny Ur talking about higher order thinking skills. Then, in July, Jeremy Harmer asked the question ‘Yes, but why do we need teachers at all?’ and Claudia Ferradas joined us in August to talk about literature for intercultural awareness. In September, Adrian Underhill held a lively session on the jazz of teaching and learning and in October Vicki Hollett enlightened us on how to speak ‘Merican. The final webinar for 2013 had Scott Thornbury sharing his views on fossilization. We kicked off the 2014 webinar series in January with Tessa Woodward talking about creativity, to be followed by Mike McCarthy discussing spoken fluency.
Are you noticing a pattern here? I personally feel finding a gender balanced group of speakers to be important for a number of reasons. There are areas in ELT in which women still dominate, such as in early education and it is important that we provide role models for women working in the field who do not yet see themselves as people who teach or train other teachers. When they see mostly men presenting on the ‘world stage’ this does not give them the feeling that they could be doing sos as well.
Unfortunately a number of UK conferences still tend to invite more men than women to give the plenary talks, although there may be an equal number of men and women giving parallel talks and workshops, and there are often a very large number of women delegates.
The IATEFL webinar series will continue to have a good gender balance. I have been looking for speakers and slotting them in so that we alternate between male and female speakers every time. You can find the list and log in information for IATEFL and SIG webinars here.
What has been fascinating to notice is that there are a great number of talented women out there who have agreed to give talks and share their ideas and I keep getting suggestions for more. This project has also made me look more carefully at conferences I organize and to start thinking more ‘outside the box’. No one could possibly argue that our teaching profession is male-oriented at the classroom level but often those in the limelight are men. And having the opportunity to do something about that has truly become a mission which I am delighted to fulfill.