Gender parity 2: Trolling, transparency and transformation
With a majority female workforce, a significant gender pay gap and men proportionately more likely to occupy management roles, the library and information sector is one to watch.
In this second of three articles observing International Women’s Day (IWD) 2018 contributors look at online trolling, personal transparency, and whether change or rediscovery is the best way forward.
These articles take their lead from this year’s International Women’s Day campaign #PressforProgress. This year the focus of the day is a report by the World Economic Forum that says parity is over 200 years away.
Rita Marcella, Professor of Information Management, Robert Gordon University: "On a personal note the abuse that has been enabled by open communications networks in the last 30 years has made it very easy for people to target you. The only time I have ever been subjected to abuse online – during a long career of visibility online – was when I was quoted as arguing in favour of quota for women on boards. As a result I found myself under attack by a self-styled representative group who took issue with such a view. I think it’s interesting that the only time I’ve been attacked for my views was when I was standing up for the rights of women."
Adele Patrick Co-founder Glasgow Women’s Library: "It is evident from the collections we house of anti-suffragette propaganda that there is a continuum of discriminatory misogyny that has striking counterparts in the attempts to silence feminist campaigners through online trolling. From the perspective of our Library we can see this as the effect of threats to the powerful who are unwilling to relinquish their privileged place in society. Since power is still unequally wielded by men in politics, economics, technology and education (and although change is undoubtedly underway with fresh perspectives now surfacing from many quarters and across genders) the momentum needs to be sustained and the battles are likely to be hard wrought."
Rita Marcella: “I always feel it’s really important for senior women in academia and beyond to talk openly about the challenges that we have faced as a result of our gender and how we overcame these personally. There is a great danger in women not being open enough about these things and for others to assume that any challenge has been exaggerated and/or that all issues have been resolved. They most definitely have not. One of the key things for me is enabling women to return flexibly to work when they have additional caring responsibilities (whether these are children or other).”
Personal transparency may also involve sharing more subtle observations that could also be helpful to others facing similar problems.
Imrana Ghumra, Professional Advisor, Library and Knowledge Services, Health Education England and Co-chair CILIP HLG Committee: “I have always believed that I have progressed through my career due to my skills and abilities and not through my very visible racial/religious/cultural persona. However, in recent times I have come to notice that my personal behaviour due to my cultural upbringing may have let me down. For instance, in my culture, those who are older than you or those who have been doing the work for longer are automatically given due respect and reverence and their advice and wisdom acted upon and therefore it is difficult to challenge them even when you have the evidence to do so; it seems disrespectful."
Many of the women contributing to the article hold management/leadership positions. Most provided examples of how they support women they employ and the challenges of putting their beliefs into action at home as well.
Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO Wikimedia UK: "I frequently feel that I should be doing more about the issues I feel strongly about, including gender equality. At a personal level, as the mum and stepmum of four boys (including one in utero!) it feels important to model gender equality within my own life and relationships, but I’m conscious that there’s so much more I could be doing… As a female leader I feel a real responsibility to ensure that I’m proactively supporting the development of the women that I manage, and ensuring a fair, equitable approach to pay, promotion and other opportunities."
The lack of representation of women in collections shows that women’s contributions are systematically overlooked,
Adele Patrick: “I think that those who have held the reins on data capture and the records of history have systematically excised, ignored or edited women out of the picture. Any audit of the records of men and women in National Collections illustrates this. After centuries of habits of collecting that were designed and expedited in ways that minimised the value of women it will take some time for the records to start to better reflect the diversity of people and the contributions of women to our culture/s. This will change rapidly if women and men who understand and act upon the institutional and attitudinal impact of gender discrimination revise systems and methods that enable more plural representations."
Does this mean that the value of women’s contributions needs to be rediscovered, not redirected?
Jess Haigh, Subject Librarian for the School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield: "There needs to be greater recognition of the work that women already do, rather than added pressure to achieve “more” professionally. Stop telling women to smash the glass ceiling…
There seems to be a big push at the moment to get us (the 80 per cent of librarians that are women) to join leadership networks, future leadership networks, get leadership skills, but we can only realistically become managers if these roles become available and it can sometimes seem as if you are been told to take on extra labour with no reasonable expectation of reward at the end. With the wide diversification of the skills base of information professionals it is hard to achieve professional recognition in all the areas relevant to your career or job role, whilst also being involved in strategic and people management, and not suffer professional burnout. This is before you take into account the emotional labour and caring responsibilities that some women choose to take on, or are culturally pressured to experience."
Naomi Korn, Managing Director of NKCC and former CILIP trustee, focuses on building women’s confidence in what they are already doing, rather than building confidence for its own sake.
Naomi Korn: “This year, as the programme organiser of CILIP’s Annual Copyright Conference, the keynote and most of the presenting slots are filled by women who are both established and also up and coming. For previous CILIP Copyright Conferences, I have also invited women to speak who may be inexperienced speakers, but who have extremely important points to make. Similarly, as the Chair of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, I actively invited more women to join LACA, including those with little high level exposure to copyright, so that LACA could become a mentoring space for the next generation of sectorial copyright specialists who are women. As the Managing Director of my own company and an employer, I work with equal numbers of women and men, providing opportunities for women and men who might show great potential but lack confidence.”
Other contributors see a redistribution of power helping, rather than a change in roles.
Sue Wills, Library Service Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council: “There is a gaping power gap in so many organisations. Women are so often working as middle managers but if there was more devolved management and empowerment through budget control throughout the hierarchy of an organisation that might go some way to empower those staff, so many of which are women.”
And where glass ceilings have been smashed, the positive role models are encouraging.
Ciara Eastell, Chief Executive, Libraries Unlimited: I see increasing awareness of the need for positive role modelling of strong female characters in children’s books. I see a growing number of women in the top jobs. Carla Hayden at the Library of Congress is a terrific example, as is Jessica Gardner, only the second female University Librarian at Cambridge University in 600 years.
She also raised the point that society and the economy could benefit from recognising the value women already provide.
Ciara Eastell: I was really interested in a recent presentation from Dame Vivian Hunt from McKinsey on their new research Delivering through Diversity. The extensive data they reviewed reveals that improving gender equality at all levels is not only a good thing in itself, it has a demonstrable positive impact on the overall financial success of organisations.
The previous article looked at momentum, ageism and confidence – the following one looks at whistleblowing and the role of libraries in the campaign for equality.
The fourteen women who contributed to these three articles come from sectors including academia, public libraries, commercial sector information professionals and health:
Mary Beard: Classicist, author and broadcaster
Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO Wikimedia UK
Ciara Eastell: Chief Executive, Libraries Unlimited
Gill Furniss: Member of Parliament, 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 former CILIP trustee
Hannah Russell: Head of Operations and Engagement, for the House of Commons Library