The role of women in higher education has changed dramatically throughout the years, and what was once seen as something of a “boys club” is now being populated by more and more women. However, there is still a long way to go before the industry could be considered equal. According to a report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) published earlier this year, just 22% of professors in 2013-14 in the UK were female.
However, the traditionally male-dominated field in the Middle East is seeing tremendous amounts of change, with female faculty taking up positions in many of the UAE’s international universities.
We spoke with two academics currently teaching at the Canadian University Dubai about their experiences as women in higher education.
Dr. Franziska Apprich is an award-winning filmmaker, musician and writer in addition to being the Dean of the School of Communication and Media Studies at Canadian University Dubai (CUD). Dr. Apprich’s career in music began when she got her first piano at the age of nine before studying composing at the prestigious Music Academy in London.
Jeanette Teh holds a Juris Doctor (law degree), Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Toronto, Canada. Prior to joining CUD, Ms. Teh was an Assistant Professor at the American University in Dubai. She has 10 years’ experience of practising corporate/commercial, privacy, technology, and real estate law in Dubai and in Toronto.
Jeanette Teh and Dr. Franziska Apprich
What are some of the biggest challenges you face and have faced during your career in higher education?
Dr. Franziska Apprich: Staying creative. Teaching is a very selfless profession. It is important that we as professors push boundaries and create (in addition to admin and teaching). Only then can we truly inspire and be part of popular culture.
Jeanette Teh: Being an educator can be emotionally taxing whether it’s playing the nurturing role and being a mentor, guiding the students or accommodating their needs. As I’ve only been teaching for just under three years, I’m learning to find the right balance of caring about the students without becoming too emotionally invested.
In addition to staying creative as Dr. Fran mentioned (which, in my case, would mean conducting original research and publishing), managing the many administrative tasks that come with teaching is often a challenge.
Are there any particular highlights that stand out from your career in HE so far?
FA: A conference on women and society that we organized. Our female students were so inspired by us female professors. We could share our thoughts, feelings, insecurities…it was beautiful. Most of us had achieved amazing things and still questioned ourselves. It is time to accept that we have succeeded (on our own terms).
In reference to the conference we have published a book called Women hate women- stop bitching. It is a satire of female behaviour and how we should help and support each other in real life. It was very well perceived and we were interviewed by journalists who wrote stories about the book and subject. It is important that we support each other. Stand up for each other. Promote each other.
JT: It is incredibly enriching for me to conduct a class on business ethics with students from the Arab region, Eastern and Western Europe, South and East Asia, and North America, all in one room, each with their disparate perspectives, experiences, and viewpoints. What is especially potent is when I hear the impassioned aspirations of youth from countries with corrupt governments vowing to enter politics themselves to implement some of the ethical principles we’ve discussed.
For me, the most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing that once stuttering student execute a perfect presentation or awarding a C student an A on an assignment because I was able to reach them in some way that others hadn’t been able to.
How do you think things are different for men and women working in higher education?
JT: There have been studies indicating that students tended to rate female professors less favourably than their male counterparts for various reasons. I believe male professors might automatically command more respect from the students in terms having less disciplinary issues as they may be perceived as more of an authority figure, at least initially. Female professors, on the other hand, might have to earn this respect by establishing firm ground rules.
In my experience, students are more likely to confide in and open up to a female professor, perhaps due to gender stereotypes or their more nurturing natures.
Any gender differences of men and women being treated differently by colleagues and administration in higher education would be similar to, or perhaps slightly better than, the corporate world in which I worked prior to academia. The glass ceiling is still pervasive all over the world and the education industry is no different.
How do you feel the dynamic between men and women in HE has changed over years – both during your time teaching and the differences you see between now and when you were a student?
FA: More ladies are stepping up to the challenge – I would like to see women promote each other more. Strong women are important for our female (and male) students. Their role models should not only be supermodels and celebrities but women who push boundaries, who are kind and who achieve (with a smile on their face). I was a student at an all-girls school. Here we had the opportunity to be taught by strong women and nuns – but they were often acting like men. I think it is important to be feminine and smart. We should celebrate our differences to men and respect each other.
JT: When I was an MBA student 15 years ago in Canada, I had one female professor, while today we have a fairly robust representation of women in business schools. I also had relatively few (no more than a handful) female professors in my undergraduate degree in Psychology and at law school.
With increased representation of women in faculty and administration roles, there are more discussions, courses, curriculum, activities, and student clubs that include women studies and perspectives. There are also a lot more female role models for female students. As a female educator, I deliberately include female pronouns in my examples and case studies, especially in traditionally male fields, e.g. using “she” for CEO or engineer, to subtly normalize the fact that women can and do hold positions.
Finally, what message or advice would you give to women looking to pursue a career in higher education?
FA: Be strong but stay sensitive!
JT: Follow your heart and go into education because you want to make a difference to your students. Be yourself and don’t make apologies for whatever attributes you may have that might not fit the traditional stereotype of your position.
Be aware that as a female professor, particularly in male-dominated disciplines, you are not just you, but you will be representing the entire category of “women” professors. You will be a visible example to students and to the world at large such that any shortcomings you make could be attributed to and generalized about the entire female gender.
For instance, it is shocking that even in 2015, we have statements such as Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt’s at an international conference about “the trouble with “girls” working in science is that “three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”
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