Posted on: June 18, 2021
Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 7
The status of women in academia has changed considerably over the last few decades, with more opportunities and careers contributing to a more level playing field. But there remain obstacles, and the situation varies from subject to subject, from institution to institution. We spoke to a range of women from across the world about their perspectives on academia, how the situation in higher education for women has changed over the years, and the issues they still face.
Our final interviewee is Dr. Yaz Osho, a senior lecturer in entrepeneurship at the University of Westminster and founder of BAMEWA. Find her on Twitter at @DrYazO.
What would you consider your primary motivations for entering academia?
I became increasingly motivated to enter into an academic career when I saw other BAME academics on the teaching team while studying for my first degree in 1997. The presence of BAME academics was a key motivating factor in my becoming an academic. It cannot be underestimated, the importance of having a teaching team that all students identify with. In my experience, BAME academics acted as role models for me during my studies. I was very fortunate to be given my first university teaching opportunity by one of my BAME lecturers at 21 and this early lecturing experience stayed with me and motivated me further whilst undertaking an MA and Ph.D.
What, if anything, made you reluctant to enter academia?
The only thing that made me reluctant to enter into academia after obtaining my Ph.D. was the observation that many BAME academics were employed in hourly paid roles or on fractional contracts and tended to find it more difficult to secure full-time permanent posts.
Could you briefly describe the route you took to arrive at your present position?
I spent nine years consecutively studying at university for a BA, MA, and then completing the Ph.D. I left academia briefly once I graduated and worked in industry and then as a freelance researcher. I did some hourly paid module leader work at a number of universities then completed my postdoc at Kings’ College, University of London. I took some time out to have my twins and returned to lecturing. In 2020, I took up my current position at the University of Westminster.
For many courses, men make up the majority – or even entirety – of the staff, while even for some subjects that are generally more popular amongst women, such as literature, men tend to be overrepresented in the faculty staff. Do you think that men are, on the whole, more attracted to a profession in academia than women are?
I do not believe that men are more attracted to a profession in academia compared to women. Men statistically outnumber women in senior management positions within academia. Varsity has gone further to highlight that senior academic promotions favour men by almost 300%. There is also an idea of a gendered ‘prestige economy’ in academia which Kandiko Howson et al (2018) developed to explain why male academics are more likely and able to develop research-focused and high-profile activities compared to women academics.
Do you feel that there are any challenges you have faced that your male counterparts have not?
Academic life can be challenging for individuals who have a life outside of the academy – for instance, those juggling parenting, caring responsibilities, multiple employment posts because of hourly-paid contracts, etc. The aforementioned makes it difficult to develop research-focused activities and forge crucial forms of ‘networking capital’ necessary to ‘get on’ in academia. In my case, it was a challenge returning to academia after having my twins as my maternity leave inevitably created a gap in my research trajectory and work history. Nevertheless, whilst on maternity leave, I was conscious of these gaps and the impact it might have on my career so took up voluntary roles in research with Marie Curie and social media management posts with TEDxBrixton and the childcare charity, NCT.
In your time as an academic, have you noticed any changes in women’s roles in the university environment?
I have witnessed a gradual increase in women in senior leadership roles in academia. This, however, has not translated into seeing more BAME women in senior roles in university environments. I have been acutely aware of this issue for several years and BAME women’s underrepresentation is impossible to ignore. This observation led me to start up Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Women in Academia (BAMEWA – www.bamewa.com) because of the challenges and barriers experienced by BAME women in academia.
Some universities have recently proposed to diversify their curricula by prescribing books and articles from a more diverse range of authors. Do you think it’s important to include a variety of male and female authors on the reading list for your course?
It is incredibly important to diversify curricula beyond including more female authors in course reading lists. Diversifying the curriculum does not go far enough to ensure that students are exposed to new and challenging perspectives and curricula that incorporates historically marginalised or suppressed knowledge. The movement for the decolonisation of university curricula has been active for many years. The decolonisation of curricula is important for social justice and a move that all universities should be supporting and facilitating at an institutional level.
What advice would you give to women entering academia today?
I would advise women who are seeking to enter into an academic career to find a mentor that will be on hand to guide them through the various stages of academic life. Lastly, I would advise women entering academia today to assess the benefits of their activities to further and support the inclusion and progression of all women in the academy.