Supporting Women In Geography (SWIG) is an international group which creates supportive networks for academics. There are numerous chapters across the US and Europe with SWIG Ireland emerging out of an informal woman’s networking group for postgraduates and staff of the Geography Department at Maynooth University.
At meetings, staff and postgraduate students discuss the concerns and hardships of being a woman in academia, and particularly being a female early career academic. We address issues ranging from low confidence, handling emotions, defending oneself to bigger issues regarding childcare and maternity rights. Solutions are sought through brainstorming and through the experiences of other staff.
In conversation, Dr. Karen Till spoke about SWIG in Penn State and how successful they had been in encouraging the University to tackle women’s rights head on, for example, introducing maternity rights for young career academics whose contracts are often predominately precarious for example, Third Level Workplace produced an inforgraphic in 2014 that found that 62% of casual workers are female (2014). This is an issue that as a community, we should be fighting against. As a result, we, (Rachel Mc Ardle, Aoife Delaney and Lorna O’ Hara) decided to create SWIG Ireland in May 2016, which we launched at the Conference of Irish Geographers through an informal happy hour. We had a huge and unexpected turnout from both early career, established academics and most importantly, both genders were represented. We used this opportunity to introduce the concept and received very useful feedback and a lot of support from academics across Ireland and abroad.
Following up on this introductory event, we organised a panel session on September 16th addressing issues that surround female geographers and also the future of SWIG Ireland. The panel discussion involved Prof. Anna Davies (the only female Professor within Geography on the island), Dr. Niamh Moore Cherry (Geographical Society of Ireland, President), Dr. Lidia Manzo and Ms. Louise Sarsfields Collins, so all levels of academic staff and postgraduate students were represented. In conversation with the audience, they discussed the importance of establishing formal mentoring, peer groups and networking outside of the discipline. Networking outside of your own disciplinary is crucial for developing your thoughts, ideas and opinions and for also understanding issues that may be arising in the University as a whole rather than just at a department level. Thus, as SWIG develops we hope to work with other groups or interested colleagues to encourage inter-disciplinary groups acting to support women in academia, SWIA, for all intense and purposes.
Some of the recommendations from the event were very interesting and eye opening about how broad and misunderstood the issue of women’s rights and the development of a group of this nature are. For instance, Dr. Niamh Moore Cherry highlighted that SWIG should not be totally about the negatives of what women face in academia but should illuminate the amazing attributes that women bring and which universities and departments are missing out on because women are not as visible or appreciated. Prof. Gerry Kearns supported this by asking; what is the role of men in supporting women? This was the most debated and interesting question of the session and it certainly was not an easy question to answer, but what it did highlight was that SWIG is about equality; it is about men and women working together to create a fairer environment for academics who face issues around precariousness, maternity rights, childcare, confidence, leadership, even simple things such as being recognised and listened too. Possible supportive mechanisms were discussed by Ms. Lorna O’Hara who suggested that our male peers should take a step back and provide space for women to have a voice and to be listened too. This was supported by Dr. Karen Till who anecdotally explained how she has often been in meetings and seen a female provide an idea only to be ignored and then for a male to suggest the same idea and be applauded. It is taking notice of these small often seemingly mundane actions and oversights and just listening intently and providing appropriate feedback to all speakers regardless of gender.
“Then Mr. Joe Robinson introduced the idea of the “not all men hashtag” arguing that not all discourse around women is about men. Thus, the conversation sought an understanding and recognition that becoming defensive or dismissive when gender inequality is mentioned, or support is asked for, or even not wanting to join a group such as SWIG because it’s about “feminism” and “how men are always to blame” is in itself gender inequality and missing the key idea that SWIG is about . We want all voices heard and appreciated, we want precarity especially at early career stages for both genders to not be an issue, and we need the support of our male peers in order to do this as we need both genders to call attention to issues facing female academics” (GEONews, 2016: n/a).
So simply, we want SWIG Ireland to be useful to women, and to be a way to show solidarity, support and advice. Internationally, SWIG focuses on issues that women are disproportionately affected by, such as childcare and maternity leave, as well as more general sexism and misogyny, and offers practical solutions on how to deal with these issues. However, we are also excited to use SWIG as a vehicle to celebrate the diverse perspectives that women can bring to geographical and societal debate but we also want to provide a space for all geographers and potentially, other academics to explore the potential that women and men have when working together to encourage and begin changing how Geography departments and universities work.
If you would like to join please email swig.Ireland@gmail.com or tweet us @SWIGIreland.
GeoNews (2016) Introducing SWIG Ireland [Online]. (Accepted but unpublished).
Third Level Workplace Watch (2014) Precarity in Irish Academia [Online]. Available at: https://3lww.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/3lwwinfographic.jpg (Accessed 18th September 2016).