Because women's experiences differ from men's in the same professional roles, policies that appear neutral can have different outcomes for men and women.

When Hana Cadzow visited Sierra Leone and talked with farmers there, she discovered that the experience of the women farmers was very different from the men. The women faced greater barriers including lower levels of literacy, and reduced access to water, to investment capital, and to law enforcement. The women also had greater responsibilities to provide for children, which limited their ability to take risks and be more entrepreneurial.

Women's professional experiences in New Zealand also differ from men's. Hana and another female lecturer, Joelle Peters, compared their experiences with their male colleagues teaching the same students. Hana and Joelle asked their male colleagues to actively listen for inappropriate remarks made by students during their classes - for example swearing, sexist or homophobic comments, or remarks about drugs or alcohol. The lecturers' tallies revealed that the female lecturers were subjected to worse behaviour from the students.

This is likely to be attributable to the degree to which the students perceive their lecturer as someone with authority and to be respected. Hana hypothesises that men are more likely to be accorded that authority automatically, while women need to prove themselves. Being young as well as female probably compounds this problem. Anecdotal feedback from other women lecturing in STEM subjects confirms that Hana and Joelle's experience is not unusual. They have identified two responses to help female lecturers and other professionals:

  • Understand it's not personal to you, so you should not doubt your own competence.
  • Call out the behaviour, for example pointing out that it would be inappropriate in the workplace, or questioning whether the student really wants an answer to that question or would ask it of another lecturer.


August 2018