My department is in the throes of making invitations to outside speakers for our weekly seminar series in the coming academic year, and the Chair has asked in particular that we suggest women speakers as part of a Distinguished Women in Science effort promoted by the Dean's office. I always have mixed feelings about this type of thing.
Mixed Feeling #1/Pro: There have been many years when there were no women speakers for the entire year. It always amazes me that this is possible, given that there are excellent women scientists who could be invited, but the general philosophy of the seminar organizers has typically been to invite their friends or to invite Really Big Names in the field, and both of these categories are rather male. So, for this reason, I support the effort to bring in distinguished women speakers. An added benefit is that grad students and postdocs can see that there are in fact women with successful careers and interesting things to say.
Mixed Feeling #2/Con: Why do we have to make a special effort and designate these speakers in a particular way, so that it is clear that a major reason they are being invited is because they are women? It's true they wouldn't be invited if they didn't also have interesting research ideas and results to discuss, but even so. It's sort of like how some scientific organizations have designated 'special' awards that only go to women, to try to mitigate the problem of gender bias for the major awards. Does this solve anything? I hate it when people say or write things like "She's one of the best female _________s" (fill in the blank with a scientific field). I've seen that in letters of recommendation for faculty positions. When can we remove the adjective? When can we just be chemists or oceanographers or astronomers, for example, and not female chemists, female oceanographers, female astronomers?
9 months ago