It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Dr Emily Yarrow to conclude NU Women’s February events.
Emily’s talk was anchored in previous PhD research which looked at women’s lived experiences of REF2014, bringing these endemic issues forward to the present day. Emily talked us through the impact of gender and women’s inclusion in impact case studies regarding gender more broadly in relation to the study.
Coming from a corporate governance background, Emily used a theoretical model which explored the relationship between governance, gender and the wider higher education context. In turn, she argued that informality and the subversion of formal practices, processes and elements of governance, such as the REF, serves as a real catalyst for inequality. Dr Emily Yarrow’s analytical framework was not only qualitative study that was built around one touring case study, but a progressive one.
In this sense, the study subverted existing notions, and explored how female research evaluation affects female academics’ careers. Moreover, the study investigated female academics’ perceptions of research evaluation and its career effects, whether this is gendered, and how this plays out in female academics’ career trajectories.
Dr Emily Yarrow shared her key findings from this research, firstly stating that the REF contributes to the maintenance of a regime of gendered inequality, primarily because of the ways it is implemented and its implicit reliance on informal networks, such as recruiting panel members within the university and REF submission readers.
“The importance of networks is argued further increased for recruitment and selection, if an individual was not included however, overall ‘the hustle’ still matters immensely”(Yarrow, 2020)
Extending these findings, Dr Emily Yarrow found that research evaluation contributes to an increasingly individualised way of working. Further, it is modelled on idealised notions of the unencumbered worker because of it ineffectively accounts for time taken out of a REF cycle, which disproportionately affects women.
From this, we learned that the REF functions as a control mechanism over the work that is produced. For example, in some disciplines, such as Law and Business, certain types of conservative research are becoming more valued due to the level of risk associated with submissions.
“I no longer aim for lower ranked journals; I just can’t afford to do that! So I no longer consider certain journals that otherwise I would love to publish in”(Lecturer, participant 35)
By the end of the talk, Dr Emily Yarrow demonstrated a lack of transparency in the processes surrounding the REF, with particular emphasis on recruitment, the selection of material evaluators, and final submissions. These appear to act against gender equality in the experience of the REF process at the individual level.
Moreover, the REF’s orientation towards time meant that care and parental leave had a significant gendered impact on academics’ careers. As a result, although research evaluation has the potential to be used as a career path clarification tool, it imports gendered measurement issues that contribute to precarity. Emily paused on this to add that the creation of a quasi-marketplace further drives the need for the ‘right type of publications’, and, in turn, precarious working.
Overall, REF frameworks contribute to furthering the notion that the unencumbered (disproportionately male) scholar is ideal, which continues to entrench gendered marginalisation within academics’ careers.