I have written before about how some people have trouble believing I am a professor, either because I don't look "old" enough, male enough, or well dressed enough. Although this happens less and less as I get older (no gray hair yet, no glasses, but a few wrinkles near my eyes!), I was thinking about it today because I just saw that a certain person was recently elected president of one of the major professional societies in my field.
About 4 years, ago, this person came to my department to interview for a senior hire (full professor position). At a meeting attended ONLY by faculty, he presented his vision (or lack thereof) for the position, answered questions, and so on. At the end, he looked at me and said "Good luck with your thesis!". My male colleagues laughed, and I wasn't sure exactly what to say. I didn't want to humiliate him, but I didn't want to thank him either, so I just said "Actually, it's done" (not mentioning that it was done more than a decade ago). One of my male colleagues said "Yes, and we are so proud of her!", and everyone laughed some more. This was too much for my senior female colleague and she said, in a very indignant voice "PROFESSOR X (me) is an ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR with TENURE." I will be forever grateful to her for that comment! It was a small thing, but one example of why it is important to have female colleagues. The clueless old guy just mumbled something, and that was that.
Even though my male colleagues thought the whole thing was hilarious, and their main reaction was how "lucky" I am that I don't look my age, the incident did influence their opinions about the candidate, and he was not offered the position. His belief that I must be a student, even though I was in my late 30's at the time, was evidence that he was out of touch, and possibly sexist in that subtle way of not really thinking women are *equal* to men in research abilities or accomplishments.
But now he is president of the professional society, though fortunately it's typically a short term position. It is an elected position, though, so it means that quite a few people voted for him. I voted for the losing candidate, a man I don't know much about, so it was more of a 'vote against' than a 'vote for' anyone.
This professional society has been trying to pay attention to women and other underrepresented groups in the field, but I think most of their attempts have been misguided to date. I will write about that more later, but let's just say that it's very unlikely that I will be submitting an abstract to one of their special sessions focusing on "Women, Minorities, and the Disabled". I consider myself very liberal politically and socially, but things like that make me feel very 'politically incorrect'.
6 years ago