Whenever I find myself on a new committee or on a committee whose membership changes from year to year, it is a reflex for me to scan the list of committee members to see if there are other women on the committee. My heart sinks if I am the only woman (F = 1), and I feel immense relief if there is at least one other woman (F >= 2).
When I am the only female member of a committee, I may or may not have the same status as the other committee members, depending on how obvious it is that I am the token female. There have been many instances in my career in which I have been added to a committee because the committee had to have a woman member. In some of these cases, my opinions have counted for less and I have been criticized by other committee members for being "biased" in favor of women or women's issues. I hate being on these committees, although in some cases it has turned out to be important that I was there.
I like being on committees that have at least F = 2. On those committees, we women are treated as equal members of the committee -- as people who were chosen for our expertise, just like the men. It's amazing the difference F = 2 makes compared to F = 1.
I was just thinking about this today because I was scanning the list of a new committee that I joined this year. To my relief I saw that there is one other woman. Now I don't even have to think about it any more. We will just be a group of scientists and engineers getting together to discuss things and do a task.
The day seems far off when such committees of scientists and engineers will have equal numbers of men and women or random gender ratios that arise when people are selected out of a gender-balanced pool, but for now, I am grateful when F = 2.
9 years ago