Sunday, 22 November 2015

Are Men really from Mars when Sisters are still Doin’ it for Themselves

Driving up to the House in Scotland last Friday I listened to Desert Island Discs. The guest was First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. Her penultimate choice of songs was the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin version of ‘Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves’. It was good to hear the song again and interestingly for me at least, it was a song that resonated well with my week.

Last week saw the completion of the final draft of our University application to gain the Athena Swan Charter Bronze award.  Many universities already have this award, an award which recognises the commitment of organisations to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine, the so called STEMM subjects, in higher education and research. The Charter was established in 2005, and was expanded this year to also recognise the work undertaken in the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law.

The Athena SWAN Charter is based upon 10 key principles that reflect an acknowledgement that academia cannot reach its full potential unless opportunities are created to benefit from the talents of all its members. Organisations who gain this award do so as they are able to demonstrate their commitment to advancing gender equality in academia, but in particular address the problems many women experience in developing their academic careers and being equally represented within all levels of academic endeavor.

Providing evidence of such 'commitment in action' is difficult and I think it’s a great testament to the work of colleagues in many parts of the University community that it has been possible to develop what I think is a strong application. The School is committed to gaining the Charter Award for itself by September 2017. We have an action plan that addresses where we need to improve our approach and actions. The email with the final draft application landed in my email in-box last Thursday morning. Last Thursday was also International Mens Day (IMD).

I struggled to find out how as an organisation, we were marking IMD. The simple answer appeared to be that we weren't. I am not even sure as to whether we were planning to do anything or whether like York University, the planned events had to be cancelled. Protests from various fractions eventually made it impossible for York university to mark IMD in any way. I can absolutely understand the protests, which in the main objected to claims that men are subject to the same stigma, prejudices and career and life restricting experiences as many women routinely face. Such claims border on the ridiculous, which is why I think the Athena SWAN Charter is so important.

However, one of the prompts to my thinking about this week’s post was a YouGov survey undertaken by the Movember Foundation. The foundation raises funds and commissions research into male cancers, but also is increasingly trying to raise awareness of male mental health issues. The study published last week reported that 2.5 million British men have no friends they could turn to for help or advice in a crisis. The study showed men’s chances of friendlessness almost treble between their early 20s and late middle age. It’s even worse for married men who are also significantly less like to have friends to turn to than their single counterparts.

The Movember Foundation study adds to the existing evidence base that men are still dying sooner than women (4 years on average); 12 men will take their own life each day; 90% of rough sleepers are men; 95% of the prison population are men; 70% of murder victims are male; 96% of people who die at work are male and men account for 84% of suicides linked to the recession. There are of course very complex factors behind these sad statistics, factors I can’t deal with in this post, but the degree of friendlessness of so many men will contribute of course. 

I was saddened that as an organisation we chose or perhaps omitted to mark IMD this year. Ironically, last Thursday as I was musing on this thought, my email pinged, and into my in-box popped a new email. It was from Donna, one of my Social Worker colleagues who was asking colleagues across the School if they were interested in thinking about next year’s International Women’s Day (8th March). This year (2015) the University joined forces with the British Psychological Society to facilitate the very successful conference ‘Social Media and Feminism’. It was an event that celebrated the social contribution of women. During the day my email inbox was flooded with enthusiastic and positive response’s to Donna's question as many of my female colleagues came up with ideas or said they wanted to be involved in some way. Clearly women are still doin' it for themselves.