school boys

This week has seen a parliamentary discussion on how to increase ‘diversity’ in STEMM subjects. We have also had some front page headlines about the lack of freedom of speech in universities. Tomorrow evening I hope to show that freedom of speech is still alive and well in UCL.

I plan to examine the impact of academia’s foremost weapon in the fight for equal opportunities for women – Athena Swan. I intend to question the most sacred academic cow and stimulate open discussion on equal opportunities itself.

The rationale behind equality of opportunity is the idea of increasing the pool of talent from which selection occurs. This lies at the heart of meritocracy and this is what these policies are about. For example, the Royal Society explains that it: “…fosters excellence in science. But this can only be achieved if we select from the widest range of talent and that’s not possible if unconscious bias is narrowing down the field for non-scientific reasons”.

I will argue that there are two other equally vital ingredients to a fully functioning meritocracy.

Firstly, a level playing field where the rules are fair to those playing the game. Secondly, effort and our ability as a society to cultivate it (here we could look at the role of the family as well as the workplace but I will leave that discussion till another day). These are key to the whole meritocratic formula and often get left out.

When Michael Young, founder of the Open University, wrote “The Rise of the Meritocracy” in 1958 his formula for merit was Merit equals intelligence plus effort – M=I+E.  Policies aimed at promoting meritocracy have focused only on intelligence i.e. the number of clever individuals in the pool of talent.

However, effort is absolutely key. As Einstein observed, genius is five per cent inspiration and 95 per cent perspiration. That perspiration includes not only hard work, but higher levels of concentration and the ability to dedicate time, thought and focus. These are key ingredients to achievement; probably more important than innate intelligence. And this is where policies on equality of opportunity miss out.

Athena Swan might help with recruitment and retention. If you can work in a prestigious institution whilst taking your kids to school and even collecting them, work from home at your choosing, be included in all meetings because they are held in ‘core’ hours (between school drop-off and pick-up), really what’s not to like?

There is another part of the equation. The emphasis on work-life balance and flexible employment appear to almost discourage time intensive commitment because this would disadvantage those for whom family was as important as work. The departmental meetings and coffee mornings and other networking events need to be fitted into ‘core hours’, when for many this is the best time for concentrated work. Quality of output is emphasized over quantity  – but can quality be equally good when you are simply doing less work? All of this is before you factor in the levels of time, energy and even financial commitment you have to expend applying for your Athena Swan.

By 2017, many funding bodies will require you to prove your equal opportunity credentials usually by getting an Athena Swan Silver Award.

To get this funding it is not sufficient to do your gender bias training, even up your recruitment panels, field women only teams on open days. You have to show ‘impact’ – i.e. you have to show that the number of women in senior levels is actually going up. Otherwise you won’t get that vital silver award.

This is where it gets really dirty. Positive action can legitimise a certain amount of corrective female bias. However when funding depends on increasing the number of women at senior levels a look at Athena Swan application forms suggests to me that there is a serious risk of going beyond positive action. It could be that the potential exists for men to be subtly and not so subtly discriminated against. Academic departments may be forced to more than bend the rules of the game.

It is one thing for men to outnumber women in senior positions because there are hardly any women to choose from. It is another thing to promote or advantage a disproportionate number of women while there are plenty of men swimming in the pool.

In the long run this risks discouraging and alienating men who have provided the backbone of the academic profession which is stressful, competitive and where the rewards are low compared to industry. Is this something we really want to do?

If we really want to increase equality of opportunity perhaps we should focus on young boys whose difficulties learning to read far outweigh the difficulties maths presents for girls. Or maybe we should focus on the 20 per cent of boys missing from A levels. Or the 35 per cent of boys missing from university. This goes up to 52 per cent missing if we look at those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alternatively we could focus on the majority of university subjects from which men are conspicuously absent – psychology, law, teaching or languages are some of the biggest offenders here.  There is even an eight per cent predominance of women if we look at STEMM.

Or we could consider the needs of the discipline. Gender doesn’t matter when you are doing scientific experiments. But it may do if you are a psychologist trying to reduce male suicide rates or a teacher trying to make sure that boys get through school.

If you really want more female engineers – forget your equal opportunities policies. Instead increase the profile and status of engineering through a few more professional qualifications and increase the pay. Glamorize it with a TV thriller about a male or female engineer. Make it look as desirable and exciting as law or medicine – previously male bastions. You will find that you quickly get women on board.

The event will take place on Thurs 21st Jan, 6.00 – 7.15pm, at UCL’s A.V. Hill Lecture Theatre, Gower St, London. For further details, please see

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Belinda Brown
Belinda Brown is author of 'The Private Revolution' and a number of well-cited academic papers. More recently, she has started writing and blogging for The Daily Mail and The Conservative Woman. She has a particular interest in men's issues and the damage caused by feminism.


  1. There is a serious point to consider under all this political correctness. The denial of complementarity implies that neither men nor women contribute anything unique marriage society or to raising a child, simply because of gender. It is an assertion that male and female parents are interchangeable components in every aspect of the private an public sphere.

    We see the effects of this most starkly with child rearing. In practice, this means that fathers are separated from their children. A father contributes nothing essential to the child that
    his mother is also not capable of contributing. So he loses yet one more compelling reason to stay. After all, everything “will be fine” if he leaves, or indeed, if he was never there in the first place.

    Now if men’s efforts in the workplace are to be devalued in the way that their efforts at home have been. I think we can see the looming disaster that we are walking into as a society.

  2. Exactly. And this inequality can turn boys into angry men. We need to empower boys like we empower girls every phase of their development. WTF?

        • Bro, I have seen the MGTOW community blow the f#$k up over the last few years. Maybe its all these false rape accusations on college campuses around the country that are waking guys up??

  3. I think that Gender-feminists are going to harm the average women in the long run…when they force so many perversions and manufactured statistics Alliances into state law enforcement , and in turn hetero-relationships becomes such a legal liability, that guys go MGTOW just to keep from being harassed by gender-hysterics, and law enforcement.

  4. Can’t men start a scheme like Athena Swan? – or perhaps that wouldn’t be allowed, not by our present academia …

    • Men can ask for Athena Swan to promote their interests too, it is within their remit – it just very seldom gets done. But I do know of one male who asked that men could also join some career networking thing and they were allowed to. The whole thing just gets really silly – jobs for the girls and men just let them get on with it because if they didn’t it would turn into some hysterical bun fight.

  5. Here’s an interesting development.
    Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos Launches College Scholarship for White Men

    In a move certain to infuriate the left, Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos has created the Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant, “a scholarship exclusively available to white men who wish to pursue their post-secondary education on equal footing with their female, queer and ethnic minority classmates.”

    The purpose of the grant is not to channel students toward certain majors in order to rectify imbalances in any profession; the purpose is simply to “level the playing field for an underprivileged group across the whole sector.”

    Yiannopoulos, in typically blunt fashion, asserted:
    I understand that our focus on white men will strike some people as controversial or even offensive. Good. It’s time to re-examine the facts, because they don’t support the current media narrative that women and ethnic minorities are some kind of oppressed victim class. If there’s a patriarchy, it’s not doing a very good job of protecting male interests, is it? It’s men who need the help now — and we’re going to give it to them.

  6. It is indeed a curious thing for an academic programme to completely ignore the biological medical and other sciences. Where indeed women often predominate. Nor do these sciences lead to less lucrative careers, medicine and its allied professions are very well rewarded. The Athena Swann programme is wrong in its own terms. As the head of UCAS has now repeatedly said the real problem to be addressed by academe is that it is not serving young men. On any indices of achievement males are let down by the education system and exclusions and other punitive measures underline that males are far too often abandoned by the education system. It is as though as a society we feel we must do our utmost to encourage and nurture girls to achieve and do the exact reverse for boys. Apparently in a sort of Darwinian approach to build male character through adversity with the “failures” collateral damage.

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