Interview: Talking Feminist Sociology

Drawing of several women dressed in historical STEM outfits

In case you missed this on my other social media, in January 2019, Lady Science published a podcast about my career and feminism.  I was interviewed in late 2018 by Leila McNeill, one of the editors-in-chief. Below is an excerpt where you can learn a little about my professional history. I discuss how racial minority sociologists are challenging knowledge production in our field. I show how the concept of otherness is feeding the overt political resurgence of White nationalism. Then I cover the importance of intersectionality in sociological practice.

My face is drawn Brown, with red lipstick and red lines shining out of my top of my head
Portrait of me commissioned from the feminist and artist, Tyler Feder

Leila: To kick off our series I’ll be talking with Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist from Australia, about the history of sociology, how the work of Indigenous and minority sociologists is changing the field, and how intersectional feminism influences her work. Leila: Without further ado, I’ll let Zuleyka introduce herself.

Z. Zevallos: Yep, so my name’s Zuleyka Zevallos. I’m a sociologist, and I’ve got a PhD in sociology. I started off doing research on the intersections of identity from migrant background women. I was really interested in how their experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and also religion made their sense of identity, and how that also interconnected with their experiences of racism and multiculturalism, and how all of that affected their sense of belonging to their communities, as well as broader Australian society.

Z. Zevallos: After I finished my PhD I’ve been teaching the whole way through, and then I was an academic for a little while. I taught the sociology of gender and sexuality as well as leading courses on ethnicity and race. I also looked at the impact of technology on society…

Z. Zevallos: I spent the first few years working with an interdisciplinary social modelling team. That was a really great experience because it really taught me different applications of sociology, but also how to speak to scientists from the natural and physical sciences, from computer sciences, and how to blend their disciplines with mine.
Continue reading Interview: Talking Feminist Sociology

Interview: How to Deal with Microaggressions

Image of a Brown woman in the background with white paint smeared over her eye area

I was interviewed by SBS News on microaggressions. Below is an excerpt featuring my comments.

“When people point out the impact of microaggression they also hear ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ or ‘can’t you take a joke?’” says Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who has studied microaggressions in Australia. She says confrontation isn’t the best way out of these situations.

“There’s a lot of psychological stress when you’ve been injured by their comments and then they tell you what you experience is invalid.”

The best way is get the other person to be reflective. “Questions stop the other person because they have to think, rather than be defensive.”

“And you shouldn’t expect a minority to always speak for themselves, it’s on all of us to tackle together.”

Another effective way is to express disappointment if it was done by someone you know well.

“We know from research most people hold a positive view of themselves,” says Dr Zuleyka [sic].

“When you say “I always thought you were a reasonable person” or “I can’t believe I’m hearing this for you” it turns the mirror around.”

Read more on SBS News.

Learn more on racial microaggressions on my blog.

Event: Making Science Inclusive

A group of conference delegates stand for a group photo. They are smiling in front of their chairs in a lecture theatre

A quick note to say that I’ll be on a panel at the Science Pathways conference on 23 April 2018, in Brisbane.* The event is run by the EMCR Forum (Australia’s Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum). The panel is titled, ‘Making Science Inclusive.’ I will speak about how to use intersectionality to refocus diversity initiatives to be more inclusive. My co-panellists are:

  • Ms Kimberly Olsen (CEO Trans Employment Program Australia),
  • Ms Rachel Ranton (Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, Westpac),
  • Dr Andrew Siebel (Assistant Dean, Diversity & Inclusion, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne), and
  • Dr Soressa Kitessa (Senior Research Scientist, SARDI).

The panel is facilitated by Dr Carly Rosewarne (Research Scientist, CSIRO).

A description of the panel from the conference website:

Discussions around how to improve diversity in science are often centred on ways to encourage those from underrepresented demographics to consider career paths in STEM. To ensure success, these well-intentioned initiatives need to be underpinned by effective policy and ongoing support to ensure individuals are given an equal opportunity to thrive. In this session, the concept of inclusive science will be explored from the perspective of EMCRs, with examples of best practice from academia and industry.

If you can’t make it, you will be able to watch it free on livestream! Register here.

* Note that the conference continues on the next day but I won’t attend on the 24 April.

Sexual Harassment in Australian Science

I’m featured in the ABC investigation into sexual harassment in Australian science. “It’s important that they [Academy of Science] don’t stay silent because silence tells the rest of the science community that any woman who speaks out is going to be met with a wall of nonresponse, non-action, that she’s alone and it discourages survivors from coming forward and reporting…”

Interview: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

In September 2017, writer and social justice coordinator with the American Humanist Association, Sincere Kirabo, interviewed me about misunderstandings of intersectionality and the problems with the term “identity politics.” He writes:

…White identity politics go “undetected,” as we’re socialised to regard the sustaining of dominant culture as “what is expected” or “the way things ought to be.”

Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, sociologist with Swinburne University, echoes this sentiment, stating:

‘If the phrase has any value at all — and it really doesn’t — “identity politics” calls attention to the ways that people from majority groups, especially White people, do not “see” how their identities are governed by politics.
This is how Whiteness works: White culture is embedded into all fields of public life, from education, to the media, to science, to religion and beyond. White culture is constructed as the norm, so it becomes the taken-for-granted ideal with which other cultures are judged against by White people.

‘Hence, White people do not recognise how their race shapes their understanding of politics, and their relationships with minority groups.’ Continue reading Interview: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

Research Equity in New Zealand Aotearoa: a Suffrage Day Conversation

On Tuesday 19 September, I’m giving a keynote talk on Research Equity in New Zealand Aotearoa, in honour of Suffrage Day. The event is held at the Royal Society Te Aparangi in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ll talk about how to improve equity, inclusion, access and diversity in research communities. The event is free to the public: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/research-equity-in-new-zealand-aotearoa-a-suffrage-day-conversation-tickets-37440952898

From the event description:

In this Suffrage Day event, Dr Zevallos will reflect on national approaches to improving the hiring, promotion, retention, recognition and participation of all women, specifically including Indigenous and transgender women, as well as other under-represented minorities in science. She will then be joined by panelists for a discussion of the specific needs of the NZ research community.

Panellists include: Prof Anita Brady; Di Tracey; Izzy O’Neill; A/Prof Joanna Kidman; and Prof Richard Blaikie.

The event is co- sponsored by the Dodd-Walls Centre, The MacDiarmid Institute, and Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Light refreshments from 5pm. Come along and say hello

Interview: Many Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

Excuse me while I migrate various content to a central place on my blog! This post was first published on 11 July 2017.

I was interviewed by Buzzfeed, about a new study by Professor Kate Clancy and colleagues, showing women of colour scientists are more likely to experience race and gender harassment. Women of colour scientists are also excessively critiqued for being either too feminine or masculine enough, they have their physical abilities questioned, and they are more likely to miss professional opportunities like conferences, fieldwork, classes and meetings because their workplaces are unsafe. My comments from the interview:

“The study really reinforces a lot of what the literature already tells us — that women of colour are more likely to experience multiple forms of harassment and feel more acutely the impact of a hostile work environment in the sciences,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News.

Although this isn’t the first study to show evidence of the “double bind” of racial- and gender-based harassment, some critics continue to deny that the effect is real.

“A lot of the pushback that we see in the individual scientific communities —astronomy or any other science — is that scientists want data,” Zevallos said. “And even though there’s a plethora of data, it’s like they need to see more data for themselves.”

In their study, Clancy and colleagues surveyed women and men from various racial backgrounds, focusing on academics working in the field of astronomy and planetary science. The study finds that 88% of their respondents heard negative language from peers at their current job, 52% from supervisors, and 88% from other people at work. Thirty-nine percent report experiencing verbal harassment at their current position and a further 9% experienced physical harassment. Around a third of the overall sample feel unsafe at their current role (27%), however, women of colour were the most likely group to feel unsafe in their place of work due to their race, gender, and religion (although the latter was not statistically significant).

Breaking this figure down by race, 40% women of colour and 27% of White women, feel unsafe in their current role due to gender. Further, 28% of women of colour feel unsafe due to race.

Clancy and colleagues note a meta-analysis of 343 studies has established that people are less likely to participate in counterproductive workplace research. This suggests that, despite their stark findings, people are likely to underreport negative experiences for fear of professional repercussions. So experiences may be far worse in reality.

The study concludes that astronomy creates an hostile environment with profound impact on junior scholars, White women, and the greatest problems for women of colour.

The study proposes four solutions to workplace inequity.

  1. A code of conduct/education for all trainees and employees at all levels;
  2. Diversity and cultural awareness training on challenges faced by women of colour and underrepresented minorities;
  3. Leaders need to model appropriate behaviour;
  4. Swift, just and consistent sanctioning for perpetrators of harassment in the workplace.

Moreover the study concludes that better support networks for women of colour are needed.

Both in the academic literature and in my professional equity and diversity work, experts see a reticence in equity programs to deal with racism alongside gender imbalance. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, the astronomy community, along with other disciplines, deals with sexual harassment and gender inequity in haphazard ways, but still ignores racism. The present study by Clancy and colleagues might be used to better shape policy and programs. Bias awareness training is the bare minimum needed; to make positive changes to attract, retain and promote women of colour, structural reform is necessary.

Too many scientific societies feel that tackling gender equity is “a good start” but still see diversity and inclusion of people of colour and other underrepresented minorities is the “next step.” Some leaders perceive that diversity work undermines gender equity programs. This study, and many others before it, show that intersectionality is pivotal in making lasting change. Intersectionality describes how gender inequality is impacted by racial inequality and other forms of disadvantage like sexuality, disability, class and beyond. We cannot address gender inequity separate from racial inequity as both issues impact one another, as well as increase other problems for minority groups.

Read about the study and comments by lead author Professor Clancy on Buzzfeed.

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, CC 2.0 via Flickr. Adapated by Z. Zevallos.

Interview: Sociologist at Work

This is the second of a two-part interview with me on Mendeley on 17 May 2017. The following is an excerpt on the positives of working as a research consultant on equity and diversity workplace issues, and the benefits of research to other industries.

We began by asking her: What were the steps involved in transitioning from academic research to being a business owner?

I approached setting up my own business as I would any other activity: I researched it. I read a lot of literature provided by government groups and the business sector. Having done so, I felt I could be a successful consultant.

However, I recognised the gaps in my knowledge about the business side of things, for example, financial obligations and how to market myself to the business sector. To address these issues, I took a training course. I recommend this to anyone who wants to set up a consultancy: get expert support in setting up your business.

In terms of transitioning the research: it took a lot of investment of time, resources and reskilling myself. I learned market research skills, and how to use social media effectively. This was a big leap: researchers are used to simply putting out product, like a journal article, as a deliverable. But when you’re working with business, it’s your advice that’s the end product, and there are many manifestations of that advice. Continue reading Interview: Sociologist at Work

Interracial Dating: Pushing Past Prejudice

Last week, I was interviewed on triple j radio for the program, The Hook Up. The show explored listeners’ experiences of sexual fetishisation and prejudice in relationships, as well as what it’s like being partned with people from minority backgrounds. A few minority-background callers described feeling reduced to only one facet of their identity due to sexual racism. An Indigenous woman talked about the explicit and implict racism she faces as someone perceived not to look and act like a “typical” Aboriginal woman (despite the diversity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people). A woman of Indian background felt no strong cultural connection to India but was often placed in the position of being tokenised because of her heritage. Continue reading Interracial Dating: Pushing Past Prejudice

Interview: Sociology at Work

I was interviewed by Mendeley about my work in equity and diversity in research environments. The original article was published on 16 May 2017.  

We began by asking her: your speciality is the “Sociology of Work” – what are your sociological observations of the research workplace?

My focus is on gender equity and diversity. I have worked with many different organisations as a consultant and project manager; I’ve instructed them on how to review, enhance, and evaluate effectiveness of different policies. I’ve also provided consultancy on how to provide training at different levels so organisations can better understand their obligations and responsibilities.

My work includes enhancing workplace culture, particularly, the everyday cultural dynamics that impact on working life. For example, by offering more flexibility for workers, and looking at where there may be gaps or opportunities to enhance existing procedures. I also study how everyday interactions can enhance productivity. In other words, I don’t just look at how organisations can meet their legislative requirements, which are merely the minimum standard. I also work with teams to see how they interact and how organisations can create policies to suit their unique workplace needs.

In the course of my career, I have worked with a number of research organisations, mainly here in Australia, such as the Academy of Science. I helped them implement their gender and diversity programme. I have also worked with several other national and state research programmes, looking at how they can meet the challenges of intersectionality issues; that is, how they can better understand how gender equity and racism intersect along with other diversity needs, including those associated with class, sexuality, and disability. Continue reading Interview: Sociology at Work