by Hugh Dellar
Last year, I spoke at the first International Language Symposium in Brno in the Czech Republic. Prior to the conference, I’d agreed with the organisers that I’d be doing a plenary and a workshop and then thought little else about it until a few days before I was due to leave, when I ran through my sessions and made sure I was ready.
Once there, I was asked if I’d take part in a panel discussion that would bring the first day to a close. I agreed and at 6pm found myself sitting on a stage next to Jeremy Harmer, Philip Kerr, Huw Jarvis, and Stephen Krashen. The session was based on questions from the audience.
Before bed that night, I had a quick look at Twitter and found that a photo of the panel had elicited angry responses: “The old white man lineup strikes again”, one began, before asking “What are your excuses this time?”
When attacked like this, my immediate response is to kick back. I railed against the idea I was old, I reasoned that as a lower-class kid myself I’d hardly been handed privilege on a silver plate, I noted that I’d only agreed to do the panel at the last minute and anyway, the discussion had been popular, OK?
In the end, though, another Tweet hit me hard. “Privilege is intersectional”, it read, “and you can be privileged in some regards and lack privilege in others. White male panels are a systemic problem.”
This rang true and allowed me to step back and ponder how I could be part of the solution. Around the world, ELT is a female-dominated profession, yet male-only panels are still conceptualised and allowed to come into existence.
Much has already been done to raise awareness of these issues, but more is desperately needed. Whilst it clearly needs angry voices shouting from the sidelines, it also needs men with at least some degree of power to do more than simply play gesture politics or write defensive blog posts.
What my co-author Andrew Walkley and I decided was simple: henceforth, we’ll refuse to take part in male-only panels.
In an ideal world, we’re told before a conference if we’re expected to be on a panel. At this point, we can ask if a gender balance has been considered and explain our red line re. participation. This in itself will hopefully change things, but if, by some chance, we end up being asked on the day or turn up to find we’re still only sitting next to men, we’ll simply politely refuse to take part and suggest our place go to a female speaker instead. Should this occur, you’ll know as we’ll tweet about it.
If every man in ELT does the same, male-only panels in our professions immediately become a thing of the past.
We hope this persuades a few more to take a similar stand.