Parenting in the Australian advertising sector

Parenting in advertising careers (contact Kate Huppatz

The experiences of parents working within advertising has been neglected in the academic literature, specifically, how parenting impacts advertising careers as well as the ways in which advertising workplace cultures impact attitudes to parenting. The goal of the project is to interview 20 male and female advertising ‘creatives’, including copywriters and creative directors, across Australia. The interviews will last for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, and will be video/audio recorded for the purposes of later transcription and thematic analysis. The project has received full ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. All interviews will be fully anonymised, ensuring individuals and organisations cannot be identified. The interviews will take place by telephone or skype face-to-face, at a location convenient to the participants. We anticipate interviews taking place in October and November 2015. 

Details of the research project

The objectives of the project are to consider the following research questions:

How do parenting responsibilities impact career progression?

How do parenting responsibilities impact employment participation?

How do advertising careers and workplace cultures impact parenting practice?

How do workplace gender and parenting policies impact employment and parenting practice?

Research team

The interdisciplinary research team will include people that represent each of the key stakeholder groups: (1) Dr Kate Sang, from Business Management at HWU; (2) Dr Kate Huppatz from Sociology at the Western Sydney University; and (3) Prof Jemina Napier, from Languages & Intercultural Studies at HWU.

If you would like to participate in the research, or learn more about the study, please contact Kate on

Parenting in Australian academia

Parenting in academia (contact Kate Huppatz

The experiences of parents working within academia has been neglected in the academic literature, specifically, how parenting impacts academic careers as well as the ways in which academic workplace cultures impact attitudes to parenting. The goal of the project is to interview 20 male and female academics across several universities in Australia, focussing on those from social science disciplines. The interviews will last for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, and will be video/audio recorded for the purposes of later transcription and thematic analysis. The project has received full ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. All interviews will be fully anonymised, ensuring individuals and institutions cannot be identified. The interviews will take place by telephone or skype face-to-face, at a location convenient to the participants. We anticipate interviews taking place in October and November 2015. 

Details of the research project

The objectives of the project are to consider the following research questions:

How do parenting responsibilities impact career progression?

How do parenting responsibilities impact employment participation?

How do academic careers and workplace cultures impact parenting practice?

How do workplace gender and parenting policies impact employment and parenting practice?

Research team 

The interdisciplinary research team will include people that represent each of the key stakeholder groups: (1) Dr Kate Sang, from Business Management at HWU; (2) Dr Kate Huppatz from Sociology at the Western Sydney University; and (3) Prof Jemina Napier, from Languages & Intercultural Studies at HWU.

If you would like to participate in the research, or learn more about the study, please contact Kate on

The interdisciplinary research team will include people that represent each of the key stakeholder groups: (1) Dr Kate Sang, from Business Management at HWU; (2) Dr Kate Huppatz from Sociology at the Western Sydney University; and (3) Prof Jemina Napier, from Languages & Intercultural Studies at HWU.

If you would like to participate in the research, or learn more about the study, please contact Kate on

The ABS list (and other business/management journal ranking lists)

I’m trying to collate papers, blogs and data about the use of the ABS list and also its relationship to REF outcomes. I am concerned that the ABS list is being used to police knowledge production within business and management schools, and it is being used inappropriately with students (taught and research).

Will update as I go. Some of these are ABS list specific, others more generally about journal rankings

Willmott, H. (2011). Journal list fetishism and the perversion of scholarship: reactivity and the ABS list. Organization, 18(4), 429-442.

Mingers, J., & Leydesdorff, L. (2014). Identifying research fields within business and management: A journal cross-citation analysis. Journal of the Operational Research Society.

Tourish, D., & Willmott, H. (2015). In Defiance of Folly: Journal rankings, mindless measures and the ABS Guide. Critical Perspectives on Accounting,26, 37-46.

Butler, N., & Spoelstra, S. (2014). The regime of excellence and the erosion of ethos in critical management studies. British Journal of Management, 25(3), 538-550.

Parker, M. (2014). University, Ltd: Changing a business school. Organization,21(2), 281-292.

Moore, L. (2015). Exploring the role of symbolic legitimation in voluntary journal list adoption. Accounting Education, 24(3), 256-273.

Gruber, T. (2014). Academic sell-out: how an obsession with metrics and rankings is damaging academia. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education,24(2), 165-177.

Cluley, R. (2014). Sexual fetishism in organizations: The case of journal list fetishism. Organization, 21(3), 314-328.

Malsch, B., & Tessier, S. (2015). Journal ranking effects on junior academics: Identity fragmentation and politicization. Critical Perspectives on Accounting,26, 84-98.

Brooks, Chris, Evelyn M. Fenton, and James T. Walker. “Gender and the evaluation of research.” Research Policy 43.6 (2014): 990-1001.

Kowalski, T., & Rojon, C. (2014). Industrial–Organizational Psychologists in Business Schools: Insights From a UK Perspective. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 7(3), 370-377.

Beets, S. D., Kelton, A. S., & Lewis, B. R. (2015). An assessment of accounting journal quality based on departmental lists. Scientometrics, 102(1), 315-332.

Roberts, J., & Dörrenbächer, C. (2014). Challenging the orthodox: a decade of critical perspectives on international business. critical perspectives on international business, 10(1/2), 2-20.

Wilkins, S., & Huisman, J. (2015). Stakeholder perspectives on citation and peer-based rankings of higher education journals. Tertiary Education and Management, 21(1), 1-15.

McKinnon, A. C. (2013). Starry-eyed: journal rankings and the future of logistics research. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 43(1), 6-17.

Rafols, I., Leydesdorff, L., O’Hare, A., Nightingale, P., & Stirling, A. (2012). How journal rankings can suppress interdisciplinary research: A comparison between innovation studies and business & management. Research Policy, 41(7), 1262-1282.

Mingers, J., & Willmott, H. (2013). Taylorizing business school research: On the ‘one best way’performative effects of journal ranking lists. Human Relations,66(8), 1051-1073.

Pidd, M., & Broadbent, J. (2015). Business and Management Studies in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. British Journal of Management. (correlation between ABS and REF evaluations approx 50%) via

The migrant crisis

It has been just over a week since the image of Alyan Kurdi was shared on various newspaper websites. Along with his brother and mother, Alyan died attempting to find safety outside of Syria. I was ambivalent about this image, about Alyan’s dignity in death. However, it did seem to lead to a flurry of activity, political and grassroots. Yesterday, the inevitable charity single was launched ‘Help is coming’. I’m sure this will raise  money for Save the Children, although it has a whiff of celebrity self-indulgence and conscience-salving about it. Anyway, it’s out there and the hierarchy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants can be maintained. I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts on migration in general and this latest crisis more specifically. I’m writing down a few points here, in no real order, but just trying to think through some of themes which have struck me most.

  • Mobile phones. Apparently some people are questioning the validity of whether migrants with mobile phones really are desperate and therefore deserving of help. This well-meaning blog was created to unpick the supposed high cost of mobiles. All well and good, but for me it misses the point. Firstly, mobile phone use is pretty wide-spread globally. Obviously western countries have the highest usage, but smartphones are now a widely available technology. Owning a phone is not necessarily a sign of wealth, and to assume it is suggests a rather Eurocentric viewpoint. More importantly though – so what? Are we to argue that if mobiles were expensive then the owner who is fleeing war is any less deserving of safety? Does the surgeon spoken to by Sky news deserve refuge less than someone our Western eyes can believe is ‘poor’? I also wonder if a broader point is being missed – who has the resources to migrate? Perhaps the refugees we see being interviewed (English speaking professionals) are those who can access remaining resources to fund their travel out of Syria? (of course, they could just be the people English speaking news interviews – hard to tell). Update: this is very good on mobile phones and refugees
  • It’s the British thing to do. In the short flurry of activity (which is already starting to die down) I saw a number of posts arguing that to help migrants and refugees is the British thing to do. I’m sure that similar arguments were had in other countries. Britain has a long history of welcoming refugees, we are told. Blog posts with smiling refugees being welcomed, with open arms, into Britain. We need to take a rather more critical lens to our own history. Refugees were not universally welcomed into the UK. There are a range of sources for this, including the anti-semitism faced by Jewish refugees. Positioning supporting refugees as the British thing to do, strikes me as another way of reinforcing national borders while using a somewhat rose-tinted perspective of British history.
  • Refugees are acceptable migrants, although only up to 20000 people, after which bad migrants? The focus in our media seems to be on the relatively small numbers of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe. Despite the rhetoric, the EU is seeing a small proportion of the refugees leaving Syria. Neighbouring countries are struggling to cope with the millions arriving. There is no doubt that refugees’ needs are desperate and immediate. However, I’m concerned that this creates a hierarchy of migrants. Those who deserve to be included with legal frameworks and those who do not. Economic migrants are targetted in political rhetoric as unwelcome and undeserving – see this delight from Theresa May (UK Home Sec). Under this polite term of ‘economic migrant’ is a life of poverty and a desire to seek economic security of some form. Oh but those people on the telly are refugees, we have to help them. These well-meaning statements simply reinforce the hierarchy of good versus bad migrant. Deserving versus undeserving. The role of UK policy towards Syria is deservingly being analysed, to understand how our country has helped to create this current situation. A similar lens must be applied to understand how Britain’s, and other European countries, colonial history has helped to create global economic inequalities. This along with climate change should be examined to understand migration, which brings me onto my next point.
  • Borders. When I travel through an airport I am always struck by how much effort countries put into protecting their borders. Their human constructed borders. Borders which create people who have a right to reside and those who don’t. Those who have a right to work, and those who don’t. Those who have a right to a home, and those who don’t. Humans migrate, it’s what we do. Increasingly national borders seem to be less relevant. Not only will climate change necessitate migration, with poorer countries most affected by the need to move, but technology is blurring national boundaries. On a simple level, think of how social media shares news far more quickly than any traditional media. I think of how academics are forging international communities on social media which help to blur national boundaries of academic labour. Yet, despite this we see governments doing all they can to protect these borders. Clinging on to outdated understandings which are no longer fit for purpose.

Taking a few refugees from Syria is a pitiful response, which should shame us. Not only does it leave other, far less wealthy, countries with an unfair ‘burden’, it refuses to understand how our country has helped to create the migrant crisis. It’s not going away and focussing on a few socially acceptable migrants will have a short term benefit (possibly) while not paying attention to the broader political, historical, economic and environmental contexts. These all demand a far more radical approach which recognises that our traditional understandings of borders and nationality are increasingly unsuited to the current (and coming) situation.

CfP GWO 2016 Human and nonhuman actors within organisations: Feminist analyses

Human and nonhuman actors within organisations: Feminist analyses 

Stream convenors:

Kate Sang, Heriot Watt University, Scotland  

Charles Knight, Edgehill University, England 

Lindsay Hamilton, Keele University, ENGLAND 

Janet Sayers, Massey University, New Zealand 

Organizational studies has traditionally focussed solely on human animals within organizations (or the organization of human animals). Such approaches neglect other organizational actors, including nonhuman animals which have often been marginalised as ‘part of the background’, as food, as symbols and as resources. This gap is striking given that nonhuman animals are key ‘tools’ within organizations providing food, assistance (e.g. guide dogs) and acting as agents of state power (see for example police and armed forces horses, sniffer dogs). Furthermore, recent research has shown how animals can become integral to the meaningful experience of work in such environments as zoos, rescue shelters and veterinary surgeries; often presenting a physical reminder of human value creation in the doing of worthwhile and dignified labour (even within ‘dirty conditions’). As such, organizational studies is neglecting an important aspect of organization. The human centric approach which dominates organizational studies is hegemonic, in that it is rarely questioned and is taken as natural. While this is understandable, given that many organizations are ‘human’ structures, usually managed by humans, the humanist hegemony that dominates organization and management studies reveals only a part of the story.

However, outwith the organizational studies literature, there is recognition that ‘organizations’ are not limited to human actors. Insects, such as ants, are a frequent focus on research on organizations amongst nonhuman animals. Dussutour et al (2004) investigated how ants organize traffic in bottleneck situations. Ant research has also examined how individuals interact within organizations, and the differences identified in various ant communities (Sanders and Gordon, 2003). Within primate populations, social organization has been discussed as an evolutionary adaptation (Di Fiore and Rendall, 1994). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the study of social organizations amongst non-human animals, however, it suggests that organizational studies which retain a sole focus on human animals are neglecting a broader range of literature and organizational actors.  The extent to which organizational scholars wish to draw on the largely positivist, scientific underpinnings of the research on non-human animals is questionable. Alternative frameworks are needed which can incorporate the knowledge from traditional science and the social constructivist/post-structural frameworks which have informed our understanding of humans within organizations. In this regard, organization studies can learn from a range of disciplines which have traditionally been pre-occupied with the human: geography, sociology, ethnography and anthropology, for instance, but which are now turning towards multi-species settings (see, for example, Buller, 2015).

A feminist posthumanist lens may offer a route to extending the analysis of organizations beyond the human animal. Although there is no consensus on posthumanism, general themes emerge across the perspective which aim to make visible the false dualism which underpins the Cartesian notion of humans and animals (Peterson, 2011). Donna Haraway, who does not consider herself a posthumanist, for example, draws on a trajectory of thought which emphasizes the importance of the subject in terms of both ethical and political accountability. She contributes to critical theory as well as to the social criticism of science (what many term STS) and this can be usefully extended into organization studies, particularly in settings where there is a connection between bio-technical science, humans and nonhuman animals, for example in the meat, farming and veterinary industries. In a similar vein, Rosi Braidotti, emphasizing the gendered elements of this particular interaction, argues that the contemporary era of advanced postmodernity, is one in which “the very notion of ‘ the human’ is not only de-stabilized by technologically mediated social relations in a globally connected world, but it is also thrown open to contradictory re-definitions of what exactly counts as human” (2006: 197).  This radical respecification of humanity makes the theoretical space for ‘others’ of various sorts, be they cyborgs, robots, ‘monsters’, ‘food-producing’ animals, working animals or ‘pets’.

It is likely that any efforts to understand the research the nonhuman animal members of organisations will need to adopt an innovative and creative lens. Researchers will need to locate their research within the broader debates, outside of organisational studies, in order to consider the vast array of perspectives. The nonhuman animal is a focus of empirical and theoretical consideration within disciplines including eco-feminist theory, zoology, biology, psychology, sociology, legal studies, and criminology (links between abuse of nonhuman animals and domestic violence, for example). Here we can learn from discussions of the presence of culture within nonhuman animals. McGrew (2004) argues that experimental approaches are inappropriate for the study of any large brained mammal, including humans. In part this results from a lack of clear definition of culture, which can also be seen in any discussions of agency or subjectivity (Schnabel, 2014), the focus of much human organisational research.

This stream encourages authors to consider the role of feminist theory in destabilising one of the key tenets of organizational theory – namely a speciesist preoccupation with the (male) human as key to understanding organizations. Submissions may address questions such as:

  • How can feminist theory be used to reveal and understand the gendered labour of nonhuman animals within organizations?
  • In what ways can feminist posthumanism revision understandings of the organizations which are considered worthy of study?
  • How are the relations between human and nonhuman workers gendered, and what are the implications for the (re)production of gender inequalities?
  • What are the implications of using feminist posthumanist theory for the ontology of the human worker, or who/what can constitute and organizational actor?
  • What is the potential for feminist theory to advance organizational concerns with nature, for example, locating contemporary organizational studies with current debates on the anthropocene and climate change?
  • How can we overcome the inherent difficulties associated with researching nonhuman actors, including nonhuman animals within organizations?

Abstracts of approximately 500 words (ONE page, WORD NOT PDF, single spaced, excluding any references, no headers, footers or track changes) are invited by 1st November 2015 with decisions on acceptance to be made by stream leaders within one month. All abstracts will be peer reviewed. New and young scholars with ‘work in progress’ papers are welcomed. Papers can be theoretical or theoretically informed empirical work. In the case of co-authored papers, ONE person should be identified as the corresponding author. Note that due to space restrictions, multiple submissions by the same author will not be timetabled. In the first instance, abstracts should be emailed to:    Abstracts should include full contact information, including your name, department, institutional affiliation, mailing address, and e-mail address. State the title of the stream to which you are submitting your abstract. Note that no funding, fee waiver, travel or other bursaries are offered for attendance at GWO2016.


Armstrong, P. (2002). The postcolonial animal. Society and Animals, 10(4), 413-420.

Braidotti, R. (2006). Posthuman, All Too Human Towards a New Process Ontology. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(7-8), 197-208.

Buller, H. (2015) Animal Geographies II: Methods Progress in Human Geography 39(3): 374-384

Deckha, M. (2013). Initiating a Non-Anthropocentric Jurisprudence: The Rule of Law and Animal Vulnerability under a Property Paradigm. Alberta Law Review, 50(4).

Deckha, M. (2012). Toward a postcolonial, posthumanist feminist theory: centralizing race and culture in feminist work on nonhuman animals. Hypatia, 27(3), 527-545.

Dussutour, A., Fourcassié, V., Helbing, D., & Deneubourg, J. L. (2004). Optimal traffic organization in ants under crowded conditions. Nature, 428(6978), 70-73.

Di Fiore, A., & Rendall, D. (1994). Evolution of social organization: a reappraisal for primates by using phylogenetic methods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 91(21), 9941-9945.

McGrew, W. C. (2004). The cultured chimpanzee: reflections on cultural primatology. Cambridge University Press.

Novek, J. (2005). Pigs and people: Sociological perspectives on the discipline of nonhuman animals in intensive confinement. Society & Animals, 13(3), 221-244.

Peterson, C. (2011). The posthumanism to come. Angelaki, 16(2), 127-141.

Sanders, N. J., & Gordon, D. M. (2003). Resource-dependent interactions and the organization of desert ant communities. Ecology, 84(4), 1024-1031.

Schnabel, L. (2014, June). The question of subjectivity in three emerging feminist science studies frameworks: Feminist postcolonial science studies, new feminist materialisms, and queer ecologies. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 44, pp. 10-16). Pergamon.

Teaching feminism in business/management schools

Thank you for considering participation in our study on the teaching of feminism and feminist texts within business and management curricula. The study has been approved by Heriot Watt’s research ethics chair and it is anticipated that the data will inform a forthcoming journal paper on the topic. Below we have some initial questions about you and your teaching experiences. All responses will be anonymised to ensure that individuals and institutions are not identifiable. If there are any questions you would prefer not to answer, please do move onto the next. If you would prefer to be interviewed please email me at 

The survey can be found here

Please answer the questions in the way most convenient to you. This may include providing your CV, bullet points, note form responses, abbreviations, emoticons, text speak, links to your existing blog posts etc.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions you may have.

Kate and Steven

Survey link

Teaching feminism in business and management schools: call for participants

The experiences of feminist academics have been well charted, with many reporting difficulties with colleagues and students. Within the context of the neoliberal university, feminist academics may face tensions between their personal ideals and the demands of managerialism. Further, research suggests that women academics who teach equality and diversity, or feminism, are more likely to receive negative student feedback – relative to male colleagues. This study will examine the perspectives of academics who attempt to integrate feminist research and theory into their teaching. The context is the business school, where women remain under-represented at senior levels. The interviews will explore the lived experiences of feminist academics who are critiquing the dominant discourses within a neoliberal context, and the strategies they adopt to navigate their relationships with staff and students.

Interview responses will be fully anonymised (including institutional data) and data secured securely. The resulting data will be used to inform journal publications and blog posts.

Please contact Kate Sang ( or Steven Glasgow ( if you would like to to participate in either an email or telephone/Skype interview.

Please pass this information on to anyone you think may be interested, including colleagues in business/management schools outside of the UK.

Attacks on international students and HE (again)

Below is the quickly written email sent to my local MP

Dear Ms Thomson,

I am an Associate Professor of Management at Heriot Watt University, with responsibility for overseeing the PhD programme in my department. Through this role and my teaching I spend a lot of time supporting international students through their studies. The proposals of the Conservative govt to stop non EU (Tier 4) students from undertaking PT work and to be forced to leave the country to apply for work visas after the end of their studies is alarming. For brevity I have bullet pointed my concerns below and I will also link to a letter I sent to Theresa May, but received no reply to
1. UK higher education, including Scotland, benefits financially and culturally from international students. They bring skills, cultural diversity and of course their fees. In fact many schools wouldn’t be able to manage financially without international postgrad students
2. Many schools rely on providing PhD students with teaching – this supports UG students and provides the PhD students with valuable, career enhancing opportunities to engage in research led teaching. To deny students the access to do this is appalling and will damage the provision of the excellent teaching Scottish universities are known for.
3. The proposed provision to prevent spouses from working will bring us inline with policies in countries like Dubai (not something we want). This will mean that only wealthy students will be able to attend university in the UK. Widening the class divisions in the HE
4. I sent this letter to Theresa May when these ideas were floated last year, but to date have not received a reply
One of my areas of research expertise is migration in academia – it is key to the internationalisation agenda – ensuring the transfer of knowledge and development of all within the sector. On a more personal note, it is distressing to see my friends and students so upset and scared of being deported the moment they submit their PhD thesis.
I would like to know where the SNP stands on this policy and what, if anything, can be done to resist these changes.

Gender Equality Index Launch Conference.

Some early thoughts on an inspiring and engaging event, despite the rather depressing subject matter.

On the 25th June, the European Institute for Gender Equality ( launched its Index ( GEI) which charts gender equality across the EU. The GEI is a measure of gender equality (or inequality) across a binary sex distinction. The report writers acknowledge the limitations of such an approach, but argue that the quantification of differences of outcomes is important for shaping national and international policy. Importantly, the authors acknowledge that inequality may appear to shrink in certain contexts, because both men and women’s positions have worsened.

The GEI assess gender equality across six domains:

  • Work (paid employment)
    • participation, segregation and quality of work
  • Money
    • financial resources, economic situation
  • Knowledge
    • attainment, segregation, lifelong learning
  • Time
    • economic, care and social activities
  • Power
    • political, social and economic
  • Health
    • status, behaviour and access

These domains are then measured across all the EU states. For those interested in breaking down the statistics, the reports are available online ( Some summary points. The data runs up to 2012 – during the Q&A session the authors stated they had wanted more  up to date data, but it is not in a suitable state for comparison (as yet). The data covers 2005 to 2012 i.e. pre, during and possibly post the financial crisis across Europe.

As the reports are available online, I wont go through all the details here. Rather, I want to reflect on the conference and the key messages which emerged. It was clear that gender equality has not shown any real improvement across the EU in the 7 years the data covers. One of the most stark statistics is the rate of decline of gender equality in the UK. The GEI measures gender equality on a scale of 1 to 100, with the higher the score the better. The GEI reveals that gender equality in the UK was scored at 62/100, in 2012 58/100. This is still higher than the EU averages (51/100 and 53/100 respectively), but is a marked decline. One of the largest declines was evident in the knowledge domain. It’s tempting to link this decline with the actions of the Coalition government and the actions of the current Conservative government need to be closely monitored.

During the Q&A sessions it was argued that the public services are key to gender equality, both in the provision of services and as a site of employment for women. This includes child and elder care support, appropriately targeted health care and education. It was also clear that time use is something in need of further investigation. Women tend to have far less leisure time – something which is largely missing from analyses of work life balance. For those interested in this, I suggest checking the work of Lyn Craig and Abigail Powell which examines time use in the Australian context.

The Q&A sessions were the most engaging. The language used was interesting in itself. While events such as this in the UK are strictly apolitical, with feminism a dirty word, here it was embraced. It was heartening to hear passionate, engaged politicians, lobbyists and academics arguing for a feminist Europe. Speakers were keen to argue that the problem isn’t the under-representation of women, it’s the over-representation of men in decision making roles. The corollary to this is the under-representation of men in care giving roles, both paid and domestic. There were strong debates about achieving change. Professor Calliope Agapiou-Josephides noted, gender inequality is social constructed and can therefore be disrupted. The question is  – how? As one speaker (Xavier Prats Monne) noted, we (gender equality types) always speak to the converted. There are few men, particularly powerful men, who attend these events. The data must reach senior politicians, usually men, such as Finance Ministers and Prime Ministers.

It did strike me that there was nothing new presented today. We know all of this. However, policy makers, politicians, governments etc respond well to numbers. They are difficult to argue against. I hope that the GEI can be used to influence policy across Europe, and that intersectionality will take the project further. Doing so can reveal how gender intersects with other social identities, and the effects can be devastating.


Professor Tim Hunt: The trouble with girls

There won’t be many academics in the Twittersphere who are unfamiliar with the parable of Professor Tim Hunt, the Nobel prize winner whose career came to an undignified end after making sexist remarks about women in science. In early June 2015, at a lunch for women in science, Professor Hunt remarked that women in laboratories are problematic because of the tears and sex (to summarise). These statements (google if you want to see them) were picked up by various media and there was a resulting social and mainstream media stink. With some speed Hunt was asked to resign by University College London where he was an Emeritus professor. He also resigned from positions with the Royal Society and the European Research Council.

Predictably this has triggered a number of opinion pieces and twitter hashtags (#distractinglysexy for example). Many have argued that these resignations were just, while other including Professor Brian Cox and Professor Richard Dawkins (and Boris Johnson) feel aggrieved on behalf of Tim Hunt. I’ve been muddling through what my thoughts are and why I feel some discomfort over the resulting focus on this one person. There are two main concerns I have; the well-being of Tim Hunt and what these ‘resignations’ means for the organisations.

Firstly, Tim Hunt’s well-being. Whenever these kinds of social media storms occur I worry for those at their ‘eye’. As Tim Hunt’s positions were honourary, I don’t know what, if any, employment protection he would have had. He may well not be protected by a disciplinary process where his employer would have a duty of care towards him. I know nothing of his personal circumstances, but I hope he is being well cared for. His comments were sexist and there should be consequences. However, there are human beings at the centre of this story and that should never be forgotten.

More broadly, I find myself wondering whether the resignations were appropriate. Hunt’s comments were unusual in that they were said in a public forum. I’ve seen very similar ‘jokes’ made, and so far I’m not aware that any of those men have faced penalties. Sometime ago I attended a conference where one of the opening speakers commented that he had felt honoured to be invited to attend an international conference – but then he saw how many women there were in the audience and realised it wasn’t prestigious after all. So, it strikes me that Tim Hunt has faced these penalties because he said out loud what others mutter in private.

This leads me to the idea that Hunt is a ‘sacrificial lamb’ of some kind. Even before the nauseating pieces by Boris Johnson and the gang, I predicted that Hunt would be positioned by some as a martyr to feminism. However, I think he’s the opposite. Organisations such as UCL can demonstrate their intolerance of sexism by calling for the resignation of someone in a high profile position. Wow, how impressive. They must really dislike sexism! However, to what extent are all of these organisations tackling the day to day, insidious, grinding sexism which women face? The kind which is far politer, whispered and culturally embedded. When an organisation effectively sacks a high profile person, for sexist or racist language, do they then absolve themselves of responsibility to look inwards. To tackle the more difficult cultural change, rather than engage in a high profile act which provides an image inclusivity.

I would have preferred an investigation of some kind – given Hunt’s comments we have to wonder how women who have worked in his labs have fared. He should have been given the chance to explain, to learn and perhaps to use his position in a more positive way. Instead we have the current unedifying position, while the organisations he was connected to can sit back comfortably, having shown how committed they are to women’s careers. On a final note, I’ve seen some on Twitter suggest that Hunt may be on the Autism Spectrum and his ‘jokes’ are evidence of that. I’ve no idea whether the former is the case, but linking ASDs with sexist behaviour is a dangerous path to walk, and one we should steer clear of.

Update: it seems Tim Hunt has some form in this area – although this interview suggests confusion rather than malice

Further update (this is going to drag on for a while): Tim Hunt thanks women for their support and discusses his support for women scientists