At least several times each year, I host a scientific visitor who gives a talk or two and who spends time with my research group and others. In some cases, the visitor is someone I know and I therefore have a good idea of how to arrange the logistics of their visit, including social activities (meals).
In some cases, I don’t know the person. This situation occurs when (1) the department as a whole invites a visitor to give a talk and I either volunteer or agree to be the host; or (2) my research group invites a speaker whose work we know but who is not known to me personally. I like meeting new people, especially if they have interesting things to say, and I don’t mind at all being host to someone I don’t know. I have made some great new colleagues this way.
There may, however, be pitfalls to hosting someone you don’t know. When I organize the schedule of someone visiting my research group, I ask my students and others who can go to lunch, who can go to dinner, who can meet in the lab at what time, etc., How it all works out depends on everyone’s schedules. Despite my apparent obsession with gender issues in science, I don’t even think about gender balance when organizing these schedules – my group is diverse, so it's not an issue.
As it turns out, one dinner that I organized for a visitor I had never met before would have involved the visitor’s dining with an all-female group (not including me; I had another commitment that night). I didn’t think anything of the gender ratio of the planned dinner party until someone who knew the visitor from a previous institution told me that she respected his research greatly but that he should not be alone with women in a social setting. She and other women had some bad experiences with him at social events at their previous institution.
What to do? Find a male bodyguard for the women? Try to get so many women to attend the dinner that he wouldn’t dare try anything? Suggest they eat at a steakhouse so they will be well-armed with useful utensils? Make him dine alone? Threaten him politely to avert potential problems?
6 years ago