Lexicoblog

The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Men at the top of ELT?

Okay, so I'm going to jump on the International Women's Day bandwagon like everyone else seems to be today ... And my question is, why do so many of the movers and shakers in the world of ELT seem to be men? Now, before you jump down my throat with examples of influential, talented women - of which I know there are many - I'm talking relatively here. Considering language teaching is such a hugely female-dominated profession at grass roots level, it seems to me that there are a disproportionate number of men in positions of power and influence - whether they be managers or just 'names'; men who write books, speak at events and are just generally known and respected within the ELT community. Try and come up with 5 names in ELT (without consciously trying to think of women!) and I bet more of them will be men than women. Just taking this year's IATEFL plenary speakers as a random, unrepresentative example - four out of five are men.

It's something I often think about in relation to my own career. Generally, I tick along fairly quietly, trying my best be competent at what I do, but without really creating any waves. I'm known amongst my, mostly female, colleagues as being fairly proactive; I do a bit of networking, I go to the odd conference and event, I give the odd talk. In short, I put myself out there and I'm quite happy to talk enthusiastically about what I do and what I'd like to do. But when I occasionally cross paths with those male movers and shakers, I suddenly feel terribly unambitious. Instead of waiting for work to come to them, for others to recognise their talents, for opportunities to come along, they go out and actively make stuff happen. They start up their own projects, they promote their ideas, they take risks. Some do it from the comfort of an established base (with a publisher, a university or other organization), others are more entrepreneurial, going out on a limb.

So why don't I do that? I don't think it's about discrimination and I don't think it's as simple as confidence. I think it's more subtle than that. I guess that largely it's about motivation. I love my job, I have lots of ideas and opinions, and I'm not shy about sharing them, but somehow I just don't take that next step - it's not my whole life. As in any area of life, I think the people at the top, the big names, are those people who've thrown themselves into it completely. Those guys work hard, they put in the hours, they give it their all. Does that make me lazy? Maybe, but I prefer to think of it in terms of balance. My health has already made me think about how many hours I work - I just can't afford to throw myself into a project that sees me working 18 hours a day. But also, I value the rest of my life - at the end of the working day (usually around 6), I like to switch off, to do other things, to forget about work. You won't find me on #ELTchat at ten o'clock in the evening discussing the latest apps for use in the classroom!

Do I feel guilty or frustrated? Occasionally. Do I want to be a 'big name'? No, not really ... especially if it means giving up my cup of tea and afternoon cake sitting on my roof terrace in the sun. Is that to do with being a woman or is it just me?

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