Week in Review Feb 14

I don’t really know how to write about this week. BCNet, after 2 or 3 years of having 1/3 keynote slots for a female speaker, went back to an all male keynote panel. Over the years I’ve provided no less than 9 names of potential speakers, spoken directly to an organizer who told me how “hard” it was, left comments on feedback forms and online surveys. For what? So much of rattling the cages and pointing out this nonsense is tiring.

But it’s just a keynote right? Unfortunately, this complicit blindness extends upwards to our entire sector who still feel that in 2020 it’s ok to have senior leadership teams composed of mostly white males, that it’s ok that shortlists for senior positions are a package that resembles themselves, and that when one of the few female leaders moves on, the diversity-at-the-top badge has been earned and a traditional replacement would feel good again (3x this year in the VPA role in BC, in case you’re wondering).

I’ve come to realize that so many women in leadership – if we get past the shortlisting that systematically works against our lesser years of experience – hit a wall at some point. We get angry and bitter in the workplace, and sometimes that is visible to others. There’s always a toxic corner of every institution, and sometimes we adapt to the toxicity and become complicit. We burn out, we get sick, we retreat, and we cocoon for a while. We can ask a lot of questions about why this happens, but at the end of the day it’s hardly a career booster, and it’s generally not something we want to talk about openly, in the event that the whispers of “she had to go on leave at her last job” hit the next hiring committee. Senior leadership jobs often put women as the primary breadwinners of the household, so the stakes are high especially when there are kids and aging parents to add to the mix of life events. Once we hit the glass ceiling we exit through the glass door and become executive coaches or consultants. The problem is so pervasive that an *entire Special Issue of the Social Sciences journal was dedicated to it in 2019. Is this just Academia’s problem? Of course not. In fact, a local meet up group in Vancouver called WIMDI – “a resource group and community of intermediate and senior professional women building ambitious careers in male-dominated industries”- has 3700 members, and their events that hold 200 seats regularly waitlist. And yes, intersectionality is important and if you look around you won’t see a lot of indigenous, disabled or POC at the top layers of our institutions. (Dr. Malinda Smith is the expert in that area and worth a follow on Twitter. )

Since a blog post is only one step above a twitter rant I’ll share that I feel ready to do more about this. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’m in the fortunate position of not caring whether I have tons of followers or achieving Educelebrity status. In fact, I’m taking a page out of Jason Toal’s book and culling my Twitter stream. I have no desire or need to be on the keynote circuit (having achieved my 4 or 5 opportunities), and if I’m going to be consistent, I have to be willing to step aside and let the keynote light shine on other people. And I have to work harder to ensure that good people don’t become erased, and that invisible people who do the work but don’t do social media aren’t left aside.

Of course, I blogged about one or more of these things in 2012 and again in 2014 and again in 2014 and again in 2019 and again in 2019 and again in 2019. So there’s a big So What? that I have to confront. What do I hope to achieve by blogging about this? What are my motivations? Is this the best I can do or is it the path of least resistance?

Fortunately this week ends on Valentine’s Day, which I “celebrate” by stocking up on a few boxes of Lindor chocolates. I have hugs to give, virtual and in person, for those of you feeling like you’re getting knocked back a bit.

*much of focus on this problem has been on universities, but colleges and institutes have their own conditions that lead to this


  • ammienoot

    Thank you for writing this Tannis, and for writing about the issue over and over again. I wish there was a magic bullet in here, but I honestly think it’s just going to take decades of dogged persistence. I was reminded again recently that it took WW1 and over a million women working for less pay in jobs that men would have done in order to achieve the vote for women in the UK. That was 1918. It’s over a hundred years later and we still need to talk about the gender pay gap, and whether women should have power in society.

    My own experiences have been sobering. I believed at the start of my career that the world was different but as I’ve progressed into more senior roles I’ve been “enlightened”. It’s not different. It’s just at the lower levels of the career ladder you’re swimming in a bigger pond and the stakes are a little lower. Once I found myself in direct competition for senior roles with guys I’d worked with (and sometimes for) it got nasty. I was apparently putting my own ambition before the good of the work by pushing myself forward. The first time I was promoted by a woman was the first time I’ve ever had anyone question whether I was actually promoted on merit. I’ve watched targeted campaigns against female colleagues, I’ve watched female colleagues systematically disregarded, especially those in more technical roles. The feeling that every-time you fuck up gender is a subtle sub-text doesn’t really go away.

    So whilst I don’t have a magic bullet here, or any sort of easy response, I’m sure as shit not going to sit down and take it quietly either. Like you, I’m going to continue to call it out when I see it, boost the women who need support (particularly when you’re the only woman in your leadership team – that support needs to come from elsewhere), and I’m going to continue to call on our male colleagues to walk the walk. “Don’t be that guy”, as someone said recently.

    • admin

      Thank you, Anne-Marie for leaving such a personal story that opens a whole other side of the conversation. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced and been a witness to some of these things as well. And I totally agree that when the stakes are high, the game changes. Temporary advances are made, and I think my increasingly my disappointment is around how temporary some of these advancements are. The work doesn’t stop when an institution or conference or whatever has ticked off a gender or diversity box.

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