Images: Dr Jade Le Grice / Dr Siouxsie Wiles / Dr Pani Farvid
This year, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, we are celebrating our ‘daring dozen’ – a group of inspirational women kicking ass and proving that girls can do anything. We’ve asked them each the same questions, and we’ll be sharing their unique perspectives over the next few days.
Today we continue the ‘daring dozen’ series by presenting the collective wisdom of three formidable female academics: scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Māori Psychology lecturer Dr Jade Le Grice and senior Psychology lecturer at AUT, Dr Pani Farvid.
Villainesse: What has been the toughest challenge you have faced as a woman working in academia? How did you overcome it?
Dr Pani Farvid: Fortunately, my own personal experience has generally been very positive. There are a few structural things that I’ve noticed though. For example, there are possible remnants of “old boys” clubs across many academic institutions and there is still a lack of parity when it comes to senior governance roles and professorships across NZ and overseas. Sometimes senior women, or women in charge are not given the respect they deserve by some people, and I think this is usually gender-based. So I think much of the difficulty women encounter in academia, are things that we see in other large institutions and socially or structurally. They are part of living in a society that still does not have true gender equality.
When it comes to participation in classes and as staff, in my field of psychology, gender does not seem as pronounced. But when you look at the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), there is a definite lack of women, in comparison to men, who are students or working in the area as researchers or academics. This is slowly changing, but not fast enough. Many universities have programmes in place to try and address this gender imbalance and that’s great to see. We know there’s very little difference cognitively and in relation to mathematical ability between boys and girls – so there should technically be relatively equal gender representation. But something is kicking in during school that’s stopping that. We need dismantle and do away with entrenched and outdated, but often unconscious, gender stereotypes that lead to girls not ending up in traditionally male-dominated subject areas.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles: There are quite a few challenges! But there are two really tough ones which feed into each other. The first is not being taken as seriously as the men around you. It’s frustrating when something you’ve said isn’t listened to until its repeated by a male colleague. And the number of meetings I’ve been at where it felt like senior men were doing the verbal equivalent of patting me on the head! I’m still trying to work out how to deal with that one.
The second challenge is imposter syndrome – that feeling that someone will find out you don’t deserve to be where you are and it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out. This is almost getting worse as I get older. But each time I have an attack of it, I remember a wonderful tweet I saw from @rundavidrun that using a nice Venn diagram to show how people don’t know as much as you think they know.
Dr Jade Le Grice: It is difficult to isolate one challenge as ‘the toughest’ as the job is hectic and presents multiple challenges on a daily basis. As a Māori woman working in academia, my work means so much more to me than ‘just a job’ and the areas I research and teach from hold deep personal significance. I consider myself lucky to have a job where I am paid to be a ‘critic and conscience of society’, deconstruct aspects of the social world that constrains certain possibilities from view, and advocate on issues of social justice.
I often find it difficult to stop work. My expectations for myself and what I want to achieve can be unrelenting. Ensuring I create enough time for enriching interactions with my loved ones, and solitary time to replenish and re-establish my purpose amidst the minutia of daily tasks is crucial.
If you had a magic wand, what would you most like to change about the academic world?
Dr Siouxsie Wiles: I’d like it to be more open, more inclusive, more diverse and for everyone working in it to be aware of their privilege. I’d also like to see the idea of ‘leaning in’ banished and instead for those in academia to dismantle the barriers that exist and make it so difficult for some groups of people to succeed. That starts with owning the problem and all of us recognising our biases and how we contribute to the problem.
Dr Pani Farvid: I would love to see gender parity in all areas – in classes, in staff, in teaching and in research. In general much more diversity in terms of ethnicity, class, able-bodiedness and sexuality when it comes to these areas and especially those who are in charge or in senior positions. Greater intersectional representation at all levels of the university would be great.
Dr Jade Le Grice: I would most like to change the continual squeeze upon academics to produce, produce, produce, and the normative tendency to overwork. This is in addition to the great deal of work and care that is involved in Māori research, building meaningful collaboration and relationships with key communities and stakeholders, and there are additional challenges in engaging contentious and sensitive research.
We are fortunate to have a high level of autonomy over our work lives, which allows us to craft unique academic identities, and maintain community accountabilities, however it often requires working overtime. I am looking forward to reaching a point where I feel like I have enough ‘handle’ on the role, and can create space to introduce some children to my life!
How does the word ‘feminism’ apply to you personally?
Dr Jade Le Grice: Feminism applies to me through the various intersections of identities that comprise my social world. Feminism is also constituted through my relationships with women, in academic and whānau circles. The writings of Helen Moewaka Barnes, Tracey McIntosh, Leonie Pihama, Linda Smith and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku opened up my mind to how being a Māori woman has shaped my life in a myriad of different ways.
Privileging Māori women’s analyses in the full theatre of the diversity of their lives in an academic context where these aren’t well represented is a political act. This allows aspects of Māori women’s lives that are silenced, unspeakable, and misconstrued by colonial discourse to be illuminated. I am fortunate to have learnt about feminism that held relevancy to my life through fantastic supportive academic women – Virginia Braun, Nicola Gavey, Margaret Wetherell, and Pantea Farvid who is also interviewed here. Invigorating conversations with further Māori women scholars – Shiloh Groot, Terryann Clark, Lily George, Alayne Hall, Pikihuia Pomare, and Linda Nikora has also assisted me to understand the diversity of Māori women’s experiences, academic and social priorities, and the potential of mātauranga Māori to develop the discourses of feminist scholarship.
Of course understanding how feminism applies to me personally would not be complete without mention of my mother Robyn Le Grice, grandmothers Constance Morgan and Phyllis Le Grice, our wider whānau and tūpuna, who through whakapapa have undoubtedly shaped (and continue to shape) my feminist research agenda.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles: I am just one version of what a feminist looks like. To me feminism is about being a decent human and applying the same rights to everyone regardless of their gender, race or physical abilities. It beggars belief that we are still fighting to have real autonomy over our bodies and to be considered equal to men.
Dr Pani Farvid: I’m a feminist and have had a feminist sensibility since I was about 15. So feminism describes a prominent aspect of my identity, but also feeds into the work, teaching and research I do. Feminism for me is the awareness that girls and women are discriminated against based on their socially ascribed gender, and it’s the commitment to do something to change this on a personal, social and/or political level. Feminism is not just about gender equality, but about gender equity.
What advice would you give to young women who want pursue a career in academia?
Dr Siouxsie Wiles: Just like everywhere in life, sexism is rife and you will face barriers you aren’t expecting. Find yourself some allies and mentors who will help you navigate the choppy waters. They do exist, although they may be hard to find! And they may even be men!
Dr Jade Le Grice: Don’t take yourself out of the game before the game has started. Believe that you have the right to be at University irrespective of your ethnicity, social class, history, present circumstances, or aspects of your identity that are different – no matter what other people tell you!
Don’t be afraid of lecturers and professors – you might find they are enlightened by, or could at least benefit from hearing, what you have to say. Surround yourself with others in your personal and professional lives who believe in your potential. Thank your supervisors for giving you plenty of feedback that allows you to keep growing and developing.
Keep your career options flexible and open, you never know what possibilities might open up! Don’t take set-backs and/or failures too hard, they are an ordinary part of this work. Keep up with publishing and protect your time from other demands and pressures.
Dr Pani Farvid: To quote Nike: Just do it! Academia is a hugely rewarding space where you get to ‘think’ for a job and produce new knowledge in areas that you are interested in and also teach about it. It’s time more women were producing the science and knowledge that shapes our sense of truth and reality. It is an important social role, but one that is hugely rewarding.
If you are thinking of academia, do seek contact, advice and mentorship from other women who are in the area you are interested in. They will have great advice. I think the main thing is, although there are still some hidden obstacles in the way sometimes for women, especially women of colour, those new to the country or those who are not affluent, there are options, possibilities and lots of support if you seek it out. It’s easier to try and achieve, and make a difference, collectively rather than as an individual. For example, at AUT, we have a women University Director of Diversity, and many groups and factions that support women, those who are Maori, Pasifika as well as international students. There is also Women on Campus and the Gender and Diversity Research Group.
Women at times underestimate their capabilities and I think you really have to let go of self-doubt. You need to be in the game to achieve and make a change. So, remember: you can do it! You have the skills and are most likely much more talented and intelligent than you give yourself credit for. Follow your passion and believe in your abilities. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance and support. Be part of a collective. And most importantly, don’t give up!