Sustainability, pandemia and women in academia: breaking the “good girl” culture to enhance sustainability in engineering education

Thumbnail Image
Tsalaporta, Eleni
Kyte, Elizabeth
Sousa-Gallagher, Maria J.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
We would all agree that the role of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising quality of life for future generations. We would agree that sustainable development relies on ending discrimination towards women and providing equal opportunities for education and employment. Gender equality has been conclusively shown to stimulate economic growth, which is crucial for low-income countries. We would also agree that there has been a lot of research in relation to sustainable development in engineering education, indicating that the subject of sustainability may help increase participation of women in engineering. But in reality, how can we teach our students sustainable development and promote the role of females in engineering, when the engineering education is so unsustainable for female academics? Academic women have long made the compromises in terms of the double burden of domestic and paid work, as well as to their personal life choices and well-being, yet academia and higher education institutions have simply not made the working environment a more just and sustainable space for women. During the pandemic, these inequities were exacerbated by the loss of educational provision, now delivered online and facilitated by, in the majority of cases, mothers. The precarity of childcare, now makes the question of the unsustainability of female academic’s lives unavoidable. Women have been literally and figuratively left holding the baby during this crisis. We are at a critical juncture where we have the opportunity as academics, to reimagine the post-pandemic community, and create a more socially just and sustainable balance in our lives. This issue exceeds academia; it is actually the culture that dictates women to be “good girls”; to comply with the patriarchal system. While there is nothing wrong about being a good person, the “good girl” label has a completely different meaning and impact on the life and career of women. “Good girl” is the one who cares about the others, seeks their approval, has no needs or ambitions, is quiet, kind, willing to please everyone, to get everything right the first time, is not allowed to make mistakes, has to sacrifice herself, and to be perfect and above all else, not to challenge the system or to call out all the specifically gendered ways in which the impact of the system marginalises and hurts women. The “good girl” culture has been a big burden for women in academia in general, having a detrimental impact to the career development of female academics in particular in the male dominated sector of engineering education. During the pandemic, it has been taken for granted that women would deliver on all fronts. It is well document that women’s work is often invisible, both in the domestic and public spheres [1]. Although common to all disciplines, the impacts of bias and stereotypes are particularly pronounced in engineering [2]. Female academics please their students, line managers, colleagues and family, leaving behind themselves, their research and other necessary elements for their progression. They are never considered equally good, impactful, and successful, as their male colleagues. As a matter of fact, women in engineering education experience more grade appeals and receive lower course evaluations than their white male counterparts [3], being discriminated by students, administrators and academics, while their efforts and ideas are being constantly discounted. There is nothing sustainable about this. This paper proposes effective actions to tackle the “good girl” expectations for female academics, enhancing sustainability, implementing a fit-for-purpose change of the culture system across school, with targeted and consistent actions, actively promoting the needs of female academics.
Engineering education , Sustainability , Female academics , Women in science , Women in engineering education
Tsalaporta, E., Kyte, E. and Sousa-Gallagher, M. (2021) ‘Sustainability, pandemia and women in academia: breaking the “good girl” culture to enhance sustainability in engineering education’, EESD2021: Proceedings of the 10th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference, 'Building Flourishing Communities', University College Cork, Ireland, 14-16 June.