Privilege and the lack of diversity
I attended a seminar on Open Access Publishing yesterday. The seminar was actually very good and the organisers Taylor and Francis packed a huge amount into one day but that’s not what this post is about. From the minute I arrived I had that ‘this isn’t for me’ sense that still strikes every now and again. I walked into the room at Lord’s Cricket Ground (it was tempting to go watch the MCC women play the rest of the world women instead) and instantly felt far too young. Most people in the room, nursing their coffee cups and trying to eat pastries without getting crumbs everywhere, were men, all were white. And not just that, they all seemed so much older than me and they were all in suits of varying shades of grey. I got a glass of water and sat at a round table where there was still lots of space and buried my head in my phone to check twitter. I didn’t feel like this was a crowd I wanted to network with. Once in the seminar room I had the chance to look around and was surprised to see that there were actually quite a few women in the room. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the gender balance was close to even. It didn’t feel like that though and I have been thinking about why. For starters the first panel after the welcome was all male and somehow that set the tone. There were lots of people there that clearly knew each other and it felt a little exlcusive and it was difficult to break into the little groups which had formed. It felt very old boys network. There was also a big difference in average age between the genders. On average the men were far older than the women. The other thing that bothered me was that there were almost no non-white faces amongst the particpants but almost all the staff at Lord’s were non-white creating quite an uncomfortable sort of dynamic which was exacerbated by an unfortuantely rather typical rudeness towards the staff. Mostly they were not acknowledged at all and if they were it was with a sort of superior impatience which I see far too often. When I thanked one of the staff clearing our table, he actually did a double take.
So why am I rambling on about this, what’s my point? I’m not sure really. I have not felt that out of place and uncomfortable for a long time. And it didn’t have anything to do with the content of the speeches etc, the seminar itself was very good. Objectively, I did belong there, as deputy editor of a learned society journal as well as as an academic but it just didn’t feel like it. I did speak to a couple of people and they were very pleasant but… I felt uncomfortable. I wonder whether that was more about me than the other participants? Was it more about my own insecurities than what was actually taking place? But then what triggered those insecurities? When I walked into the room it was (white, suited) male dominated, they knew each other and were not welcoming to anyone they didn’t know entering the room. The atmosphere was not hostile or unwelcoming by any means, it just wasn’t inclusive. Walking into a room like that and feeling at home takes a particular sort of attitude and maybe that’s a male attitude or maybe it’s not male, maybe it’s a privileged attitude and while I am privileged in a lot of ways, yesterday I felt very keenly that there are areas of the academic and related worlds that are a very very long way away from even contemplating equality and diversity, never mind engaging with those ideas in any meaningful way.