Picking Your Battles, Collective Action and Fighting Tokenism: A Talk with Professor Farzana Shain

Read on for a write-up by Laura, a first year PhD student, Postgraduate Decolonise Rep and WOKE Champion

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On the 22nd November 2018, Dr. Farzana Shain (Professor of Sociology of Education) gave a talk as part of the Women Of Keele Educate (W.O.K.E) series.

When I heard that Farzana was the speaker for this week I jumped at the chance to write up the event for the W.O.K.E blog. I have been lucky enough to meet with Farzana a handful of times now, as part of the Decolonise Keele project, and at various events around Keele.

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Whenever I talk to her, she instills in me this drive and passion for academia.

In fact, she was featured in my last W.O.K.E blog post as a person who offered me some important words of wisdom.

 

Farzana’s talk was about Tokenism, specifically tokenism in her academic career. She very kindly provided a definition of tokenism:

 

Tokenism is likely to be found wherever a dominant group is under pressure to share privilege, power, or other desirable commodities with a group which is excluded. Tokenism is the means by which the dominant group advertises a promise of mobility between the dominant and excluded classes. The token does not become assimilates into the dominant group but is destined for permanent marginality. The token is a member of an underrepresented group, who is operating on the turf of the dominant group, under license from it (Laws, 1975: 51).

 

Farzana explained that in any given situation, the dominant group would cover approximately 60% of the overall group of people, whereas the token group would be made up of only 15%.

She also explained that tokenism can be displayed and ‘felt’ in three different levels – individual, institutional and systemic.

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On an individual level, Farzana explained that people are assumed to represent a specific culture or group more than they represent the work that they complete and because of this she has encountered a number of situations throughout her academic career that have placed her specifically within a culture group.

Farzana told us of a time when she was working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and completing research in local schools.

She was contacted by one of the local schools to ask if she would be willing to give a talk to the students that attended that particular school.

Believing that this was research related, she was interested in this opportunity. That was until the organizer asked her if she could produce examples of Asian Cuisine for the students to try, or give a talk on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

 

 

Another more recent example Farzana gave was when she was speaking at a Gender and Education conference.

A chance encounter in the bathroom after the talk led a woman to explain to Farzana that she was the ‘token black person’ on the panel.

Similarly, Farzana received an email from a member of staff inviting her to participate in a project due to it having an equalities dimension.

These types of encounters bring with them a whole host of questions that Farzana openly shared with the room.

 

Mainly, the question of being chosen for the work and research she has conducted, or simply to make the panel diverse.

 

So how does Farzana aim to combat this tokenism?

She deliberately goes for ‘mainstream’ roles such as a Research Director position to show that she can perform in these roles and perform well.

But within these roles there is a level of institutional tokenism.

Farzana pointed out that women are generally hired for ‘women’s jobs’ such as teaching and learning jobs that require a certain amount of administration.

These roles contain work that is not only unpaid and unrecognized, but also takes time away from research and scholarship, which are the areas that are required for recognition, pay rises and promotion.

As well as this, generally being called upon to represent a culture, or as an expert in equality, is also unpaid or under-paid.

Tokenism is also present on a systemic level.

Farzana used the example of Further Education (FE) to detail this point.

She explained that FE underwent some changes that caused a mass exodus of male employees to leave their professions, causing the number of female employees to rise from 3% to 17%.

But with this came a reduction in salary and an increase in workload where women were expected to shoulder the burden for change in the FE environment.

Once the crisis was settled, the number of men working in these roles began to increase again.

It is only recently that the number of women Vice Chancellors has risen as high as 29%, with it sitting at around 16% for a long time. Still an unequal number for the role, but maybe a step in the right direction.

So, Farzana tries to take more ‘mainstream’ roles wherever she can.

This in itself presents challenges, people just don’t expect women to be interested in these roles, and to be able to complete them as well as their male counterparts.

She also engineers her research to reflect this attitude.

As well as researching topics such as race and gender, she continually stays in the loop with policy research, so that she is known in an area outside of race and gender equality.

Farzana advised us to pick our battles, some things just aren’t worth the fight. But when they are it is the collective voice that will shout the loudest.

Institutional networks such as the Decolonise Keele project and W.O.K.E are challenging power struggles that threaten everyday issues. To read more about Decolonise Keele click here.  

If you could be part of the departmental lead for the Decolonise Keele Project read the below poster:

call for working groups decolonise

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Together, the collective voice can help combat issues such as tokenism.

 

Farzana’s talk made me reflect upon my own academic life.

It made me think of a time when I was applying for academia and I was told that I would definitely be given a place because universities love ‘mature students’ and mothers.

Not that I had achieved ten distinctions above the required amount for my course.

I research about migrant mothers and, although I’m not a migrant, I’m a mother.

But I also look at the way people are represented, even throughout academic study. I’d like to think that my research will someday pave the way for a different type of representation, for the way migrant mothers, working mothers, and mothers who study are perceived.  

And I’d like to think that one day this will enable me to write about more than motherhood, postcolonial science fiction and soap for example.

Farzana makes me believe that we do not have to be just one tick box on a form, we can  jump around and tick every box if we want to.

 

If you would like to join us in the women of Keele Educate project or if you are interested in more information about Decolonise Keele please fill out the below:

 

 

Meeting Professor Iyiola Solanke: Realising my Own Ambitions

Who Says Women Are Not AMBITIOUS?

Women have their own passions and aspirations.

It was the last summer of high school, and my class had organized a farewell party.

At that time students were asked about their plans after completing twelve years of compulsory education.

There were thirty-six students, twenty girls and sixteen boys.

I was surprised by the answers.

All the boys replied that they were going  to  pursue higher education, while the girls had doubt about their ambition for study, their ability to study continuously and the social expectation from the girls regarding getting married. 

The girls expressed all these doubts and barriers that made it difficult to reach their goals.

I asked myself, the question “why should women choose to spend time studying?”

I am now finding the answer for this question.

On 29th November 2018, I was so privileged to meet, listen, talk to and have tea with Professor Iyiola Solanke.

She is an academic who holds the Chair in EU Law and Social Justice in the Centre for Social Justice of the School of Law, University of Leeds.

She is an Academic Bencher of the Inner Temple, and was recently a Fernand Braudel Research Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.

In 2017, she set up the Black Female Professors Forum (blackfemaleprofessorsforum.org) to promote the presence and visibility of Black women in the Academy.

She came, invited by ILAS to speak about her latest book and research. 

 

I study Accounting and Financial Management, I have no knowledge about EU Law and Social Justice.

I didn’t know if I should attend but I made the right decision!

I was there and listened to her.

I realized the power of sharing knowledge and experiences. 

I felt the decision to attend came just at the right time, the moment a door opened and I realised there is an opportunity I never saw before.

If you know, share with others – if you don’t know, get to know.

Professor Iyiola Solanke is such an amazing woman.

When we sat and had tea with her, she went around the table and asked who wanted to pursue an academic career.

At first a few of the women said that they weren’t sure they did and so, she talked about the time she did not think she could study PhD, but she did well.

She said “You Can If You Believe You Can” and sometimes if you don’t believe you can, others will believe in you for you. 

That’s the exact moment I decided I wanted to study for my PhD after finishing my Masters degree.

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I also decided that I want to have a role that goes and inspires and motivates other women.

This is because I believe every woman has their own power, but they sometimes need “catalysts” to get out of their comfort zone and achieve their ambitions.

We need to support each other. 

Now, I have the answer to my question, “why should women choose to spend time studying?”

The answer is “To Succeed.”

The Age of Industry 4.0 is the time when women must be more serious about using feminism and breaking down patriarchal rules and barriers.

Women must have legitimate rights and opportunities. 

Feminism in the Economy

In November, Forbes published a list of the 100 most powerful women of all time.

More than half of them are business women with the most admirable positions in all areas, whether it be the manufacture of  aircraft, construction, technology, finance and banking.

For example, Mary Teresa Barra is President and CEO of General Motors Company. She has held the position of CEO since January 2014, and is also the first female CEO of a major auto company around the globe.

I believe that women empowered with knowledge will  help companies go through difficult periods and succeed. 

Feminism in the Politics

The politics of the world over the past decades have seen a lot of change in leadership.

By 2016, there were 15 female heads of state in the world.

As a head of state a person takes possession of the nation’s destiny and raises the influence of the nation.

The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel is ranked as the Forbes most powerful woman. Her leadership has meant that many migrants, fleeing wars have been welcomed into safety. 

There are a lot of other brave women who hold important responsibilities and build big bold strategies.

They always have the effective way to call the community by heart.

Knowledge and vision, not gender, are what creates decisive leadership. 

Women show that women can do well in all areas.