International Women’s Day 3: whistleblowers need protection
Whistleblowing is the main theme of the third and final article looking at gender parity in library and information professions as part of CILIP’s celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2018.
It is the topic that raised the greatest concern among contributors as the scale of the Harvey Weinstein allegations clearly show the difficulties all women face when speaking out about abuse related to their livelihoods.
The information professions have a majority female workforce, a significant gender pay gap and men are proportionately more likely to occupy management roles. (CILIP and ARA Workforce Survey). It means many women in the sector may be in a position where whistleblowing is not an option.
Rita Marcella, Professor of Information Management, Robert Gordon University: “There are also huge failings in whistleblowing policies, not just related to gender, which discourage and deter many who would otherwise raise an issue. We have that manifest in the revelations around abuse in Hollywood in the last year – abuses about which people remained silent for fear of career damage that would transpire from a complaint. I would like to see whistleblowing being something that staff of any organisation feel far more comfortable engaging in – currently one has to be fearless and frankly almost have nothing to lose to become a whistleblower.”
Imrana Ghumra, Professional Advisor, Library and Knowledge Services, Health Education England and Co-chair CILIP HLG Committee: “Luckily, I’ve not been in a situation where I have not been paid the salary advertised, but have been a listening ear for many who don’t want to rock the boat and maintain the status quo so they do not want to put their job at risk. It is a real shame they are unable to do this but real fear immobilises them.
Human Resources departments are very adept at confusing people with policies and procedures and because people have loyalty towards their organisation and can’t believe they’re being treated in this way, are unable to articulate what they feel. And if they bring a union on board they are seen as troublemakers.”
Gill Furniss, Former librarian, now Shadow Minister for Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection, and Chair of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group: “When women invoke legislation and policies to challenge discrimination they are often punished, and those facing the most discrimination face the greatest risks, should they whistle-blow. Migrant, BAME, LGBTQ, disabled and working class women face intersecting prejudices, single mothers supporting families have more at stake when confronting employers, and low or unpaid women workers often do not have contracts with which to protect themselves, enabling employers to act with impunity.
There is not enough protection for women in the workplace. Women (and men) can and should unionise to protect themselves, and organisations should be more open about their data, and more supportive with childcare.”
Sue Wills, Library Service Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council: “I agree absolutely about the least able to afford to take the risks of whistleblowing. Personally, I have been in a situation in the past where I was made redundant after coming back from maternity leave. I was glad to have the redundancy money so I went quietly. If the maternity package had been more generous I would not have struggled financially and would have challenged that situation. But I felt vulnerable with a young baby and had no idea what I could do about it. But that is an issue that is still live today. That is not right and helps explain why women are often not in senior positions in the workplace.”
Orit Kopel, Co-founder, Wikitribune: “Taking risks in the workplace is a privilege that isn’t equally available to all employees and we should be thankful for whistleblowers who are able and willing to take such risks in order to shed light on corruptions and create a better society for us all.”
Contributors were asked to comment on the role of information professionals and libraries in achieving gender parity.
Adele Patrick, Co-founder Glasgow Women’s Library: “The evidence that libraries can play a critical role in addressing gender inequality is abundantly clear each and every day at Glasgow Women’s Library… our visitors and those that access our resource tell us time and again that we are making a meaningful impact on them… Libraries remain the key anchor organisations for communities and are ripe with the potential to influence society for the better in so many respects and gender equality is a critically important terrain where ground-breaking work can be done. Libraries house the information that can bring about the equality ‘epiphanies’.”
Gill Furniss: “Libraries can be hotbeds of resistance and their employees can be instrumental to social change. Libraries have often faced the brunt of council cuts, and so are often only kept open through the hard work of active individuals and communities. These people and professionals are also the people campaigning locally in their spare time to save the NHS, to increase educational provision and resources for local disadvantaged children. They are often at the forefront of equalities campaigns. I expect this struggle and resistance will continue as yet more funding is slashed from council budgets. Libraries are vital spaces of social change, and I think that information professionals have the potential to lead the way in making the workplace more equal.”
Hannah Russell, Head of Operations and Engagement, for the House of Commons Library: “Separating fact from fiction can be difficult. The rise of social media and the sheer volume of information at our fingertips means it's hard to work out what information we can trust. Trust in politicians, experts and the media has declined in recent years too… Information professionals and Libraries play a vital role in acting as a vehicle for accessing, demystifying and untangling information, both inside of Parliament and out. Factual, unbiased information can lead to greater awareness of issues, and can galvanise society to take action -as the Women’s Social & Political Union [WSPU] once said- “deeds not words.
“It is not just about sharing information, it is about shouting about it and this can only happen with people. Empowering them to feel comfortable to confront the issues and become changemakers; armed with facts and figures then helps to strengthen an argument and make it more powerful. In summary, finding and attaining knowledge is where the information professionals come in - we can open minds and through discovery tools, invite access to new truths, this is where the change process begins.”
Commentators discussed how they put their collections to work to achieve gender parity. While most libraries have top down control over content, that’s not the case for all of them.
Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO Wikimedia UK: “At Wikimedia UK, one of our strategic goals is to increase the quality and quantity of coverage of subjects that are currently underrepresented on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. We are therefore committed to developing projects that help to address the gender gap (less than 10% of editors on Wikipedia are women); and as well as promoting and advocating for the involvement of women and other underrepresented groups on Wikimedia, the charity works proactively with our partner institutions and other content holders to encourage them to consider how their own activities and collections could support this work. For International Women’s Day in 2018 Wikimedia UK will be participating in Art+Feminism for the third year. Art+Feminism is a campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia.”
But as is the case for Wikimedia, actions taken to raise the profiles of collections are likely to be actions that make collections more relevant to the communities they serve. Helping achieve gender parity should strengthen the connections between collections and communities.
Jess Haigh, Subject Librarian for the School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield: “There is often talk about the lack of representation of women in STEM, I think there should be an equally loud conversation about the opposite imbalance working within early years education and childcare, and caring professions generally…. So what I can do to help achieve gender parity is to encourage my early years education students to fight for recognition as skilled professionals. I do this through encouraging critical, evidence based practice during their degrees, and promoting the representation of research by women within my collections and in my information skills classes.”
Kathryn Parry, Development Officer CILIP Cymru Wales: “There is a role to play in how we all share our collections… We need to use the evidence we have and the power of storytelling to empower to justify the reasons they want change. Telling a story is a powerful tool. We have a huge role to play- in the building of individuals and thus a community which supports its members at all stages of life, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. It is only when you understand your worth and understand that your voice is important and you can make a difference that you are able to challenge situations- if you choose to- whoever you are.”
These articles take their lead from this year’s International Women’s Day campaign #PressforProgress. This year the day focuses on a report by the World Economic Forum that says parity is over 200 years away. (2017 Global Gender Gap Report).
This is the last of three articles in the series. The previous articles were:
Part 1: momentum, ageism and confidence
Part 2: trolling, personal transparency, and what needs changing
Mary Beard: Classicist, author and broadcaster
Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO Wikimedia UK
Ciara Eastell: Chief Executive, Libraries Unlimited
Gill Furniss MP: Former librarian, now Shadow Minister for Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection, and Chair of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group.
Imrana Ghumra: Professional Advisor, Library and Knowledge Services, Health Education England and Co-chair CILIP HLG Committee
Rita Marcella: Professor of Information Management, Robert Gordon University
Sue Wills: Library Service Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council,
Jess Haigh: Subject Librarian for the School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield
Adele Patrick: Co-founder Glasgow Women’s Library
Orit Kopel: Co-founder, Wikitribune
Ceri Hughes: Head of Learning at KPMG
Kathryn Parry: Development Officer CILIP Cymru Wales
Naomi Korn: Managing Director of NKCC and CILIP trustee
Hannah Russell: Head of Operations and Engagement, for the House of Commons Library
Headline image: Arrest of a suffragette on Black Friday1910-11-18 from the LSE Library Cropped and re-sized via Wikimedia Commons