Gender inequality and bias in ELT Conferences: An IATEFL interview

Does it really matter if an ‘ELT celebrity’ delivering a keynote address in an international conference on English Language Teaching is a man or a woman? Have you ever scrutinized the ‘big names’ in ELT and tried to find out how many of them are men and how many are women. For me, a plenary speaker speaking at an international or national conference is just an ELT professional, it hardly matters if the said speaker is a woman or a man. But, for Russel Mayne of the University of Leicester and Nicola Prentis, a Freelance ELT expert, the issue of gender equality and bias is a serious matter in ELT. They have come to IATEFL Manchester conference to share their research findings with the fellow delegates.
In an interview on IATEFL online at Manchester on 13 April,2015, Russel and Nicola talked about research they had done into gender equality and bias particularly among the range of conference speakers on the regular ELT circuit. They think that the ‘big names’ in ELT are the names of men, not women. They opined that there was sexism and gender bias in ELT seminars and conferences. Women disappear from plenary speakers, they asserted.

The research topic seems to be paradoxical. Russel and Nicola admitted during the interview that women are everywhere in ELT and they outnumber men in classrooms and conferences. But when it comes to ‘big names’ in ELT and when you count the names of plenary speakers of ELT conferences around the world, you are surprised to note the underrepresentation of women. Why do women disappear entirely from plenary speakers in a hugely female dominated profession of ELT, Russel and Nicola wondered.
During the interview, Russel and Nicola referred to some of the remarks made by the ‘big names’ in ELT who lacked gender sensitivity. One ELT specialist once wrote in his blog, “ I feel uncomfortable with the fact that I am a man standing in front of a sea of women”. A plenary speaker in an international conference once asked his audience, “Everybody sit down if they are women.”
What is the basis of their research? Facebook groups and twitters, Russel and Nicola told the interviewer. They further stated that 520 respondents from at least 30 countries took part in the research.
Why do women ELT professionals face discrimination in the selection of plenary speakers around the world? Is it due to the mind set of the men controlling the ELT organizations or is it due to some barriers faced by women alone? Why is it that the ‘big names’ in ELT include the names of more men and fewer women? What can we do to help women overcome the sense of sex discrimination? Russel and Nicola talked about a website which addresses the issue of gender discrimination in ELT.
The IATEFL online interview of Russel and Nicola was quite interesting. I wish I could attend their session to learn more about the ‘perceived’ gender discrimination which prompted them to undertake an innovative research project. All the best.

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