Some American science organizations (professional societies, funding agencies) require that the meetings they sponsor have some representation from underrepresented groups, including women. At one such recent meeting, the male organizers (an international group of Europeans and Americans) were required to have at least one woman speaker give an invited talk. So they invited one (but only one), and met the minimum requirement. There is no lack of women who could have been invited to speak, and in fact I think it is quite a feat to organize a meeting in this particular field without involving more women.
With reference to this meeting, a group of men (all Europeans, as it happens) were discussing this American policy of inviting women. They thought it was a good example of absurd American behavior, and one said, with reference to being forced to invite at least one woman: “But what if there aren’t any qualified ones (to invite)?”. One of the men objected to the premise of that question – the one who told me about this (knowing full well that he was providing me Blog Fodder).
It is very difficult to organize a meeting on any topic in my field of science without involving women. Although men outnumber women, there are sufficient numbers of women such that any meeting, even those that are very focused, will attract women participants. Aside from the question of why more women weren’t invited to speak at the meeting in question, and even considering my deep cynicism about gender issues in the sciences, it still amazes me that any man in the physical sciences today can seriously ask the “what if there are no qualified women” question as if it is a sane question.
5 months ago