I can’t stand by – calling out sexism in academia

How do male academics become allies in fighting sexism in the #metoo era, without ‘mansplaining’ or ‘white knighting’? Three University of Canterbury academics have looked into the necessary steps behind championing inclusivity and diversity in academia.

Professor Ekant Veer, Kseniia Zahrai and Dr Susannah Stevens.

“It all stemmed from a dire conversation with a colleague following the emergence of #metoo,” says Professor Ekant Veer of the new co-authored paper, recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Management.

The paper, titled I Stood By: The Role of Allies in Developing an Inclusive and Supportive Academic Environment Post #MeToo – written by Professor Veer, PhD student Kseniia Zahrai in UC’s Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship department, and Dr Susannah Stevens of UC’s Child Well-being Research Institute – looks at the role of men as allies in de-normalising sexist behaviour in universities.

“Over two years we spoke to 30 people who were considered self-appointed allies or champions of inclusivity and diversity on university campuses. Our intention wasn’t to say ‘this is the fix’, but rather to explore what we can do to bring together these ideas so that every university can have some practices that lead towards making things better,” says Professor Veer.

Kseniia Zahrai, who is close to completing her PhD, explains: “We focused on men and women following the #metoo movement, which was an awakening for a lot of people who have not experienced sexual harassment, or had turned a blind eye to it, but I think there are more general applications, too.”

The team sets out practical steps for allies to develop an inclusive and supportive academic environment in three main areas: awareness, procedural change, and de-normalising unacceptable behaviour.

Professor Veer also argues the importance of making changes in more than one area, however he recognises some areas are more difficult than others.

“This can’t be a tick-box exercise. It takes awareness, procedural change and calling out unacceptable behaviour to make tangible changes in any community. And the intersection of all of these is where we hope to see change most likely to happen. Just focusing on one area, like education alone, isn’t good enough,” he says.

The paper focusses on inclusivity in marginalised spaces. What can those who are typically in power do to help those who are typically marginalised?

“It’s uncomfortable talking about privilege and marginalisation, but that’s a pretty weak excuse not to,” says Dr Stevens.

“We explored what roles men can play in order to help women who can feel marginalised in academia, but also what are the struggles men go through in being an ally – like being accused of ‘mansplaining’ or ‘white knighting’,” Professor Veer says.

Professor Veer used these principles when he was part of a team that created a code of conduct for the Association of Consumer Research, which is the largest gathering of consumer researchers in the world.

“The board made an active decision on what behaviour is okay and what is not okay as part of the association. Conference attendees now have to assert their acknowledgement of the code of conduct and affirm ‘I am not and have not been under investigation for sexual harassment at my university’. This doesn’t stop people from being untruthful, but at least signals what behaviour is not acceptable at conferences,” he says.

“Ultimately we can’t keep forgiving bad behaviour just because people are exceptional in other areas. We can’t ignore harassment just because someone’s a world-class researcher. Good character matters if we are to create an educational community that is supportive and inclusive.”

For further information or to request interviews, please contact University of Canterbury Communications team.