Recently I was talking with a friend/colleague from the university where I was a professor before I was a professor at my current university. He said "Do you remember how in hiring committee and faculty meetings the old guys used to question whether female candidates had done their own work and had their own ideas, but they never brought this up for male candidates?" I said YES, startling him and all people and animals within a 1.5 km radius.
Yes, I most certainly remember that. I told him that I use those experiences in my discussions with early career women scientists when we talk about publications, authorship, applications, and interviews. How could I forget?
The first time I heard one of the old guys say something like that in a meeting, I was so stunned, I slammed my pen down on the table and shouted No, startling him and everyone else within a 1.5 km radius. I don't think anyone there had heard me even raise my voice before, so it got people's attention. I pointed out how unfair it was to raise this issue for female candidates - on the basis of nothing -- and not for male candidates. The old guys seemed surprised. They were not evil -- in fact, they were unfailingly supportive of me when I was an assistant professor -- but they were sexist to the core in other ways, and nothing I said really had much effect on their opinions about candidates. That place had and has a problem hiring and retaining women faculty.
So I wondered why my former colleague was bringing this up. Surely it was ancient history? The old guys had all retired, and I only knew of one, maybe two, remaining faculty who still needed ethics transplants -- like the one who had asked me about my husband during my interview lo these many years ago -- but they haven't been allowed on hiring committees for a long time.
My colleague sighed and said that now some of the younger generation do the same thing. He sits in hiring committees and hears young male faculty question whether female applicants are capable of having their own ideas and working independently, but these issues are not raised for male applicants. He has been fighting this attitude for so long, he was discouraged that it wasn't something that went away as younger faculty were hired.
I told him that it isn't so much of a problem at my current department. There are other problems, but I have not seen anything like what I experienced on hiring committees at his university. Why is it still a problem there? Were the young guys so influenced by the older faculty that they came to believe that women's qualifications were to be doubted more than those of their male peers, or did they arrive with that belief? Did the old guys somehow select new colleagues who shared their views on academic culture? Is the lack of women self-perpetuating in perpetuity?
I don't know, but, depressing though this conversation was, my colleague thinks there is still hope for change. A new, more enlightened dean and chair are finally taking a look at some of the problems in this department re. hiring, and might be willing to make some dramatic changes in how the department conducts its hiring, promoting, and retaining of faculty. It would clearly take some top-down action, as it doesn't seem likely that the department will change on its own.
9 months ago