Gavin Dudeney's Sexy Redux

She-in-ELT, intro

It seems a slight condescension to even consider writing an article like this, despite the fact that it was an original blog posting of mine which kicked off the series.

So maybe we should first go back and take a look at the conversation that ensued…

The blog post was entitled ‘sexy ELT’ (it should, of course, have been ‘sexist’, as one of the comments from Sara Hannam pointed out – more on her later - but I’m renowned for my impish humour online, and anyway, I thought the point was better made with the word ‘sexy’) and it was very short:

“An idle thought, but why are most sponsored speakers at ELT conferences nice (young) men when the majority of teachers of ELT worldwide are women? Oh no…. wait…. I see what they did there…”

Sara pointed out, quite rightly, that it really pretty much echoes the glass ceiling encountered in other professions, and whilst she acknowledged that there might be an ‘eye candy’ element, it was probably more to do with accepted ‘norms’ – the ‘that’s the way things are’ scenario.

Alex Case chipped in with the suggestion that women and their egos are not prone to the relentless attention seeking that men seem to be, and that there were plenty of women in positions such as DoS, etc., which was partially my point, I think. Chalk face – good, conference bad.

Karenne reckoned men are simply more territorial and ‘yell more’ and that in some places there’s an ingrained respect for the ‘Papa’ figure, which covers rather a lot of regular conference plenary speakers, despite their protestations of youth!

Scott Thornbury suggested that there was some geographical skew going on, with women much more prominent in the States and Australia than in the UK, and indeed that has partially been my experience when attending conferences in Asia – but it’s still true that whichever way you cut it, there are way more male plenary speakers than women.

A quick glance at some of my conference attendances in the early part of the year came up with 33 male and only 9 female plenary speakers. Scott then wondered what would happen if you factored in sexuality to the equation, but we never got to explore that avenue.

Anne Hodgson shared that her local teachers’ association was considering a ‘Women Speakers Year’, but I have to say I’ve always been troubled by concepts of positive discrimination and quotas.

We struggle with this every year when sitting down to discuss plenary speakers for the IATEFL Annual Conference – do we have a good balance of men and women, NEST and non-NEST, etc.?

And sometimes I find myself thinking why don’t we make a list of the best speakers we’ve seen and then vote until we have four and invite them and not worry what sex, nationality or sexuality… Surely people want to see the best?

Barbara Sakamoto brought up the subject of logistics – she thought that men often didn’t have the babies to deal with, the packing of extra stuff, childcare… and there may certainly be an element of truth in that.

You’re hard pushed to find a crèche or similar facilities at most conferences and that’s something that should be addressed as a matter of urgency. She also thought there were issues of efficiency – people involved in tours, the saving of money, etc. and of expediency – who wants to be the person who invited the rubbish plenary speaker? There’s an A list, a B list and a C list. The problem, however, is how one changes list…. Or how one gets on it if it’s full of long-lived Papa legends.

Sara returned to the debate at that point, and she’s actually quite hard to summarise due to her lengthy posts and lucid arguments.

But essentially she debunked a lot of the talk about sex and sexuality, male aggression and male egos and suggested that men and women need to get in touch with their similarities, not their differences (go and see the comments for her far-more-lucid posting). Essentially, though, she thought that it was an issue that needed sorting by all involved, and that talking about it openly was a good place to start.

Other factors crept into the discussion.

Alex thought men were more humorous and that this teaching style was attractive to learners.

Sara thought that women generally had to work harder at generating laughs, largely for historic reasons in that stand-up had been a male domain for quite some time. Many people around this point in the discussion started poring over conference programmes and finding lots of female speakers – but this was rank and file, rather than invited or plenary, so perhaps not relevant at this stage.

And that was where it left off.

It’s unusual for me to see such a lively debate on an ELT blog and as it tailed off I thought perhaps we hadn’t solved anything, but we had – at least – talked about it together and that was a good thing.

And so we fast-forward to Lindsay Clandfield’s notoriously polemical poll of the most influential people in ELT (where were the technologists, we screamed, where were the women….?) and now we’re here, co-creatingKarenne’s current series of ‘She-in-ELT.’

And here I am, a man, being asked to contribute to the conversation.

Some people think everyone’s making too big a thing out of it.

But again, to quote Spinal Tap (as Lindsay did in that blog entry), “making a big thing out of it might have been a good idea”.

Karenne invited me to do an interview, an obituary or a thought piece to contribute to the series and we had a little email discussion about what that might entail. So, with all that said and done, I’d like to tell you about some of the women I’ve met during my career even though that sounds vaguely condescending to me …

It’s weird making a female only list, and weirder still to know that someone, somewhere, is going to wonder why I forgot them. For that I apologise – for Karenne’s assertion that I should even be doing this, and for my inability to remember all the people that have had an effect on my life over twenty years in the profession.

There’s no order, no ranking.

Having mulled it over, I simply decided this would be my thank you to the professionals who have influenced me. You may not find books of theirs in bookshops, but you should definitely seek them out, say hello and buy them a cup of coffee if they’re ever near you.

Not many of them are famous, as you’ll see – though plenty of them should be, even if they don’t crave it like we attention-seeking men do. And perhaps not many of them would make great plenary speakers (but hey, sponsors, you’ll never know unless you go and see them speaking and get over the ‘must have bearded middle-aged men or spunky young Turks’ approach to conferences) but they’re all part of my ELT life and I’ve enjoyed meeting (or working with) all of them.

These are not biographies – just notes on where and when and why…


Has always been a place to meet good people – the sort of people who give up their time to contribute to the profession, volunteers – yes, people who work for no money! I’ve been volunteering for some time now, and some of the people who have given me cause to think, offered advice and lent a sympathetic ear include:

• Catherine Walter, Susan Barduhn, Tessa Woodward, Marion Williams
Past Presidents

• Glenda Smart
Indefatigable Executive Officer

• Sara Hannam
My social conscience on the Coordinating Committee

• Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou
Long-standing Learning Techs SIG volunteer

There are others who should be on the list, but to mention them all would take quite a while.

IATEFL survives to an extent on the time dedicated by its large volunteer body. If you’ve got some time and some skills, please consider getting involved.


Plenty of people here... Our very own Karenne has an eye for a story and often makes me laugh with her enthusiasm which can rub people up the wrong way. A very good read.

Burcu Akyol is rapidly rising up the ranks of visible bloggers and she’s enthusiastic and helpful to the extreme. She’s writes a blog and is also a classroom blogger and this mix of using technology for her own development and in her classroom practice is a poke in the eye for all those ‘educators’ who think technology is all very well for them, but that we mustn’t confuse the poor little mites in our classes (or the teachers we train) with the perils of the flashing light.

Others should be on this list, too – but again the list would be too long. Visit some of the popular ELT blogs, examine their blogrolls and follow through - I guarantee you won't be disappointed.


My own personal hero in SL is Eloise Pasteur.

Immensely talented, opinionated, and one of the most generous educators I’ve ever come across. El’s fame runs way back in SL, and she’s driven some of the most popular teaching tools and some of the most amazing builds in-world. She’s also the person who suffered the indignity of teaching me SL scripting, and was so good that although I booked and paid for ten classes, she’d taught me more than enough after seven.

SL and ELT are increasingly synonymous with the name Nergiz Kern (or Daffodil in-world), and if you want to get into SL and meet a friendly, supportive person and community then I would seek her out.

And lastly, but not leastly, Carol Rainbow who has supported the EduNation project throughout, is a regular tenant and creator of things, and volunteers as estate manager whilst I'm travelling - couldn't do without her in my virtual world!

Join the SLExperiments group and go along to a meeting – you won’t regret it.


I’m lucky enough to work with one of the brainiest people in ELT, Nicky Hockly, and it’s been an immense piece of luck on my part to hook up with her and run a company with her.

She’s perceptive, focussed, well-read, organised and many other things which are sadly lacking in me. She’s even better at the accounts than I am (and my Dad was an accountant – you’d think something would have rubbed off, wouldn’t you?)

Last year at IATEFL she did the funniest Pecha Kucha I’ve seen, which belies the notion that women have to work harder at being funnier.

Catch the video on the IATEFL site for more…

We’re also lucky to be able to work with people such as Ana Falcao in Brazil, Valentina Dodge in Italy, Kristina Smith in Turkey, Anne Fox in Denmark…

In past professional existences working with Jenny Johnson at International House Barcelona taught me loads (you’ll find her at Cactus TEFL now) and an ongoing consultancy with Maureen McGarvey at International House London has also been instructive and often fun (note to Maureen: must make backups, must make backups).

In recent years I’ve done a lot of work with the British Council and you could do no better than to seek out Caroline Meek (Singapore), Mina Patel (Kuala Lumpur), Rebecca Hales (Hanoi), Olga Barnashova (Moscow) or any number of local support staff in offices all around the world who are experts in organising, welcoming, making visits and work easy and fruitful.

It’s a large organisation, but some of the people working there are some of the most professional and amazing people I’ve had the fortune to work with.

And of course I could go on and talk about inspiring training course participants, etc., but by now I feel Karenne is already regretting asking me to contribute to this series, so I’m going to draw this to a close soon.

So what of this list?

Well, firstly, it’s not exhaustive...

Secondly, it’s part of a complex picture and a complex professional existence which involves many men too.

And it really only means one thing, and that thing is personal: I work in a profession full of amazing people of all shapes, sizes, colours, nationalities, lifestyles…, I’m lucky enough to travel a lot in my work and, by extension, lucky enough to be able spend time with these people and to benefit from their kindliness and their professional experience (as well as the odd mad karaoke night in Manila).

Some of these people happen to be women, and that’s about it, really.

And what of the ‘big’ names – where is my list of them (maybe the list you were expecting?). Well, I’ve read a lot of them and taken inspiration from their work. Occasionally at conferences I’ve been delighted by people like Joy Egbert, Carol Chappelle, Catherine Doughty and many others.

But you see my problem here – I’m struggling to name women plenary speakers in my field who I’ve met at conferences.

And that sort of proves my original point.

In the next instalment, watch out for ‘a list of men in ELT.’

No, just kidding…

Gavin Dudeney is an edu-technologist.

Project Director of the Consultants-e and Honorary Secretary of IATEFL. Author of 'The Internet and the Language Classroom' (Cambridge University Press 2000, Second Edition 2007) and - with Nicky Hockly - 'How to Teach English with Technology' (Longman, 2007).

His specialities include: Conversion of courses to distance delivery, full range of training, installation, configuration and support for VLEs, setting up CoPs amongst professional groupings, online support systems for educators, development and design of online courses, evaluation of online, distance educational projects, f2f workshops in ICT-related issues, creation of flash and video-based training tutorials, design of educational environments in Second Life.

To contribute to the She-in-ELT series: please see original posting here

5 Responses to “Gavin Dudeney's Sexy Redux”

  • Alex Case says:
    September 03, 2009

    A sticky point very well dealt with. My point in the original post was supposed to be that men's teaching style is more likely to be based on jokes and anecdotes (rather than be funnier) and therefore pass over more easily into big conference talks than more "listener" styles, but that summary attempt was longer than my original comment so good try at summarizing the whole conversation!

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    September 03, 2009


    It was always going to be difficult to summarise that conversation, so thanks for bearing with me. And yes, I agree, men tend to rely on humour much more. A good example of that was the first ELT Pecha Kucha event in IATEFL two years ago: we boys talked fast and played for laughs - the women speakers did measured, thoughtful, reflective pieces.... worth watching the video to see how acute the difference actually was.


  • Barbara Sakamoto says:
    September 03, 2009

    What a great summary of that entire discussion--I enjoyed it. Thanks also for the list of wonderful women, some of whom I've met, and the rest of whom I hope to meet someday. Interesting people are gems, regardless of gender!

  • Shelly Terrell says:
    September 03, 2009

    Great post! Makes me sad I missed the argument but happy you caught me up-to-date on this very important topic. I think you mentioned several wonderful educators doing great things in ESL. When we work amongst them we see their tireless dedication to improving the lives of their students and ELT. I have ran into Nergiz and Carol in Second Life and they are always teaching, joining educational discussions, supporting other teachers, or creating something exciting for their students. They have even shared some of these objects with me and I am new to this so I very much appreciate them. I have been fortunate to work with Burcu and she has been really instrumental in supporting me as a friend to pursue more in my professional development as well as Karenne. Both give more than 100% to everything they engage in! I lot forward to looking up the others you mentioned.

  • Sara Hannam says:
    September 04, 2009

    Great summary Gavin - and great idea Karenne to extend this discussion further. I look forward to the other slots in this thread. It is a really important subject and one that doesn't really get enough coverage which is a shame as so many English teachers are women. I am really grateful to Gavin for considering me a woman in ELT worth a mention. Right back at you Dudeney as you are a man who is defintely a fantastic colleague for a woman in ELT to have, as I am sure many will agree. Great listener, perceptive, helpful, enjoys discussion....seems that these qualities are not just restricted to women then! Now if I could *just* acquire some of your technical expertise, we will have levelled our very own little playing field : ) That is my attempt at a joke to prove that us "gals" can be funny too. But serious when needed eh! Thanks to both for rich and interesting input into my blogging life


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