In the latest episode of my continuing, angst-ridden saga of the search for the perfect set of Invited Speakers for an upcoming conference, I recently suggested to my colleagues that we invite a European FemaleScienceProfessor whose work I have long admired and whose research is perfectly in line with the theme of the session. I do not know her personally, and may only have met her once or twice, but I've read a lot of her papers. Also, I have heard her give talks before, and she is a very good speaker.
One of my colleagues, who is in a different field, was unfamiliar with her work. He told me that, although he respected my attempt to "help a young woman along by giving her a prominent spot in the batting order", .. he didn't like the idea. [<-- sports analogy alert!]
I was amazed that, based on no information other than the potential speaker's gender and country of origin/employment, my colleague assumed (1) that she is a young woman, and (2) that my primary motivation was to help out an early career woman scientist.
This was amazing to me because:
(1) This woman is at least 60 years old. She is a prominent professor at a major European university and has been for a long time. Her career needs no help from me. I realize there aren't many women professors in the physical sciences in Europe (see the European Commission's report "She Figures 2006" for all the facts and figures), but it was still a bit of a leap to assume that this woman had to be young.
(2) OK, I guess I shouldn't be amazed by the second point, especially since this colleague knows me fairly well. Even so, although I can imagine being motivated by the reason my colleague implied, I don't like that that is the default assumption when a woman suggests inviting another woman speaker. Even if this woman were an early career professor who would benefit from giving an invited talk at an international meeting, is it not possible that she would have interesting things to say and that it would be well worth hearing her give a keynote address?
Another colleague also stomped on my idea, saying that this woman was not as much of a "heavy-hitter" as some of the other people we could invite [<-- another sports analogy?]. Then he suggested inviting a friend of his. I know there's no "I" in team, but I really don't want to be a team player in this case. [<-- sports analogy!]
6 months ago