A strange question from a reader, with some background information:
I'm a nearly-done PhD student in engineering. I am a woman. My Master's thesis advisor was a man. My PhD thesis advisor is a woman... I did a research abroad program last summer .. and my advisor was a woman. I will do another research abroad program this summer, this time in [another country], and my advisor will be a woman.
So here is the question: as I look for a postdoc and I think about my recommendation letters, I will probably have 3 out of 4 letters be from women. In my field (engineering/physics) women are still very rare. Will there be a tendency for people on my reviewing committee to see this as a warning sign? (i.e., that I work better with women?) Also, I am starting to make connections for my postdoc, and one of the faculty who is doing the most interesting research in the area is a woman at an Extremely Excellent University. If I happen to get an offer and happily work with her for a few years, will having my last 4 academic advisors being women be seen as a bad sign?
On one hand, I think this is all stupid and people should judge me based on my research and the research of my advisors (which is high-quality), but at the same time I am concerned with the prejudice that I still see in academia that I might be setting myself up for an uphill climb when looking for a tenure-track position.
Thoughts? It frustrates me that this would never be an issue if the gender issue was reversed (a male student with almost all male advisors), but based on research about the impact of having female names on a paper submission, etc, I don't want anyone to get any negative impressions from my recommenders' names/genders.
Do we really have to go straight from being concerned about the lack of women faculty in STEM fields to being worried that someone with female advisers will be viewed as unable to work with men? Perhaps we do (the cynical side of me says, understanding where the e-mail writer is coming from), but I hope we don't (the optimistic/delusional side of me argues).
My take on this:
If you do the usual things -- publish, publish, publish; have excellent letters; be visible at conferences at which you have interesting conversations with a wide range of people -- then your applications for jobs should be competitive. And if you get an interview, you should be able to dispel any concerns about your ability to work with a diverse group of faculty, students, and others by having successful, friendly, constructive interactions during the interview.
I have been on hiring committees that had some members who routinely devalued the opinions of female letter writers and the qualifications of female applicants, but committees today also typically include others who notice such behavior and don't let it pass unmentioned.
In theory, another fairness filter occurs at a higher level, in which an "equal opportunity" office is supposed to gaze at the demographics or other data related to an applicant pool relative to the interview pool (and possibly also the make-up of the hiring committee) and see if there is a problem. In reality, I have found this stage to be completely gutless; at no point have I seen an EO office complain that an all-male hiring committee only came up with an all-male short list; these things can be explained away too easily.
So, you can't completely avoid unfair and irrational behavior by hiring committees and you can't count on other aspects of the system to catch any problems, but I think the plethora-of-women situation will likely not be a problem. It might be a curiosity, but not a problem.
Others may disagree..
2 years ago