Monday, November 26, 2012

Unsuitable

Not long ago, I sat in a room for many hours as various Teams of People tried to convince a committee that they were the best people for the (unspecified here) job. It was kind of interesting. These people were not academics, and it was fascinating to see how they made their presentations -- how they spoke, what they put in their presentation slides, and how the various members of the teams interacted with each other and with the committee.

During one of the transitions between teams, I was chatting with someone and didn't really notice the new team until they had all assembled, and then when I looked up, I was a bit stunned. The other teams were diverse in terms of gender, and, although I hadn't paid close attention, seemed to consist of approximately equal numbers of men and women. This new team, however, was a Team of Men (in Suits). Their presentation was, in fact, overall quite excellent, although it was notable (to me) that when they referred to a hypothetical professor, that professor was always a 'he'. The other teams used 'they' or alternated between 'he' and 'she'.

In the end, the Team of Men (ToM) and one other team were deemed to be the top two contenders for the job. Although I don't have a lot of say in the matter, one of these teams is going to have to work very closely with me in the future. I feel that I can work with either one, but I wonder why this one team is so un-diverse.

There seem be many women in the fields relevant to these teams, as indicated by the other teams (and, incidentally, the fact that my father is in one of these fields and has quite a few female colleagues), so what explains the ToM? I don't know, but even if the explanation is that these men just happen to prefer to work together without any women on their team -- isn't that bad for business in some circumstances?

If I were the Decider (I am not), and had to decide which team I would rather work with --  all other things being equal in terms of team qualifications -- I would choose the other team; that is, not the ToM. The other team seemed to be more open to cooperation and discussion with the faculty, and that is a rather critical factor to me in this situation.

26 comments:

nordicTT said...

Maybe I am lucky, but I guess that in my department most of the people put in the same position would have choose not the ToM. If the qualifications are the same, I don't see the problem in picking the group of people one can feel more comfortable to work with.

Anonymous said...

While I see FSP's point, the commenter staying that "If the qualifications are the same, I don't see the problem in picking the group of people one can feel more comfortable to work with" struck the wrong note with me. That's the reasoning that meant "Teams of Men" were the only sort of team for umpteen years.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Why did you have to sit through all of these presentations if you don't have a say in who is hired? That seems to me to be the more relevant issue here. If you hadn't seen all of the various teams on parade, working with the ToM probably wouldn't seem too unusual. (As a woman in the physical sciences, I'm very used to working with teams of men in all sorts of capacities - I assume it's the same for you.)

Female Science Professor said...

I don't get to make the final decision, but I do have some input (along with others). I am the only female professor directly involved though.

Mark P makes a great point (as usual). Comfort level (with each other) is indeed likely the reason why the Team of Men exists (and such teams have long existed), but does this same reasoning apply to comfort level with a diverse team? If the diverse team shows (by its diversity) that the team members work well together and therefore likely also with a diverse range of academics (including me), maybe that would be preferable to a team that by choice does not include women? I don't actually think the ToM would necessarily be difficult for me to work with -- as Anon 10:43 says, we FSPs are used to working with groups of men -- so I don't know in advance which team would be "better" to work with.

Anonymous said...

I find this interesting. In the past, women were discriminated against, now it's men. Perhaps this group simply works well together, regardless of gender? Personally I prefer not to work with women. They are a terrible distraction. I remember on two separate occasions being alone in the lab with a female colleague. In both cases the woman in question (two different women) started making comments about her body. These days a woman can do something like that with impunity. A man does the same he risks losing his job. There is a lot of sex in the workplace. If we are to do objective science, there shouldn't be any. Keeping out women and gays or segregating them is the best way to ensure that.

Anonymous said...

Come on...this takes it all a bit too far, doesnt it?

What if ToM is just a bunch of dudes who are trying to start their business? Some of the greatest American businesses have been started by a bunch of male friends in a garage. To hold their gender against them seems excessive. The diversity obsession has gone too far...

If this goes on, it wont be long before the Wright brothers are bashed for being an all male team...

Female Science Professor said...

The ToM in question represent a well-established firm that has offices in various major metropolitan regions of the United States. It is a company dominated by men in a field that is diverse in terms of gender. It is natural to wonder how that came to be; it must have taken some effort to avoid hiring any women.

And yes, indeed, this discussion does naturally lead to bashing of the Wright brothers. That was the obvious subtext of the post, including my severe disapproval of the way that the Wright brothers excluded their younger sister from their work. (<-- joke, of sorts)

DanM said...

Are you implying that I shouldn't be standing around waiting for Mrs. Wright? (even worse joke)

Christie Rowe said...

if there are 20 white socks and 20 black socks in the drawer, there is a 1% chance you will pull out 5 consecutive black socks.

For some reason this probability is greatly increased at my dad's house if he's wearing sandals.

Anonymous said...

I have a question regarding the last paragraph. You say that "all other things being equal" you would not pick the ToM. You continue on writing "The other team seemed to be more open to cooperation...". Is this the same argument or not?

Is the fact that the other team is not a ToM what makes it more open to cooperation, or is it a property of the specific team (in which case not all things are equal, of course).

Put differently, could it have been the other way around, with a different ToM being the more open to cooperation?

Sorry, I know this may sound like criticism, but I just want to make sure I understand what you said.

EliRabett said...

Tell the decider to ask

GMP said...

if there are 20 white socks and 20 black socks in the drawer, there is a 1% chance you will pull out 5 consecutive black socks

Actually, it's 2.36%
(20/40)*(19/39)*(18/38)*(17/37)*(16/36)=0.0236

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't have a good answer for Anon 11:52's question, though it is something I thought about. Was I put off by the wall of suits of the Team of Men and just projecting my perception that the other (diverse) team seemed more open? I don't know, but this seems quite likely. I think that both teams are equally qualified in terms of experience, skills, ability to do the job, and things like that. It is the intangibles that make them different (in my mind).

Strung out cyclist said...

The whole idea that the universities want "diversity" is an illusion. Sure, different sexes, different colours of skin. But to hold a different opinion from the PC, liberal majority? Forget it...

The "wall of suits" as you put it should be an extremely favourable sign. Just what the system wants: uniformity...

Christie Rowe said...

@ GMP -
You're right! oops, I originally chose a rhetorical total of 10 socks, made the calculation, then decided that was too small. Anyway the point I meant to raise is that unlikely combinations do often arise. And, this demonstration that the probability increases with sample size (1% if 20 socks, 2% if 40 socks) suggests that many ToM may exist by random chance if the field is sufficiently large, they aren't all evidence of gender selection.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:16: If this is a real post, and you do not understand how incredibly simple-minded and offensive your comments are, please consider investing in some counseling or other appropriate ways to investigate your biases.

Strung out cyclist said...

Indeed. Do you deny that what "science professor" is describing is a form of discrimination? Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as "reverse discrimination." Hiring quotas are discriminatory; harassment policies based on the idiom, "every man is a potential rapist" are discriminatory. Men, are, in fact a minority, again contrary to popular opinion--white men even more so. So if you find yourself nodding every time you hear the phrase, "women and other minorities," you are, in fact, revealing your own bias.

There has been at least one study that shows that exposure to attractive women makes men stupid. Yet another experiment designed to demonstrate the obvious. I state that there is a lot of sex in the workplace--whether you admit it or not, it is the case. Most intelligent people will acknowledge that sexual relations do bias relationships--I don't think we need a scientific study to demonstrate that!

I am entitled to my (well-reasoned) opinion that I prefer not to work with women. By discriminating against people like me, the scientific establishment is demonstrating its own bias and commitment to a lack of diversity.

Lets take another look at the situation I describe. Lets say instead of ignoring the women's sexually-charged comments, I "go for it." I now putting my job on the line from several angles. If I don't, plenty of people will mock me for not "going for it"--and believe me, not just men. I can accuse either party of harassment, but I doubt I will get very far. Again, try reversing the situation. I think what results is very revealing...

I notice that you have not made any attempt to point out the flaws in my logic. Instead you simply call me names. I find your statement that I need counselling equally offensive. Perhaps you'd like to peruse my websites and see both the depth and breadth of my accomplishments, then tell me that again. If you have nothing constructive to contribute to the discussion, how about keeping your mouth shut?

Anonymous said...

Strung out cyclist, telling someone to get counseling is not an offense. You have just revealed that, in addition to being sexist, you also look down on people with mental health issues. I suppose you are an equal-opportunity bigot.

I am entitled to my (well-reasoned) opinion that I prefer not to work with women.

I see nothing well-reasoned about your posts, they are in fact quite incoherent.

There are plenty of men who can think just fine around women. The fact that women make you lose your focus and become "stupid" as you say or that you feel women keep hitting on you and you must hook up lest you be teased -- these are all problems with you (and likely your perception of reality). They are definitely not good enough reasons to prevent women from doing academic science. If anything, you are the one who does not belong in academia (or any other profession for that matter) if you cannot work with women (or any other group).

Old MD Girl said...

If the ToM interacted with you (a woman) just like they interact with everyone else (i.e. they don't try to talk over you, dismiss your opinion, or act condescending), then the ToM most likely won't be a problem. Unfortunately, in my experience, this rarely happens.

Strung out cyclist said...

If anything, you are the one who does not belong in academia (or any other profession for that matter) if you cannot work with women (or any other group).

This is another unpleasant bias of our modern working world. That you must be a "team player". Yet there have been myriad studies--and simple common sense will tell you the same--that people become less creative, not more, around other people--have a look at the book Quiet, by Susan Cain. So this is another way in which the modern workplace discourages diversity.

So you are correct, it's not just women I don't like to work with, it's anyone. But again you display your own bias by suggesting that this makes me unemployable. Quite the contrary--it makes my work more creative, more competent and more objective.

And I didn't say that women should necessarily be excluded, they could simply be segregated...

Strung out cyclist said...

And you still have not addressed my point about a woman saying something sexually-charged, versus a man. A woman says, in my presence, "Check out my ass!". Now reverse it: I say to the woman, "I've got a big dick!" I am putting my job on the line. The woman is not. Do you deny that?

I also notice that you have not revealed your identity. At least I have the courage to put a name and a face to my posts...

Anonymous said...

Maybe Mitt Romney can be asked to lend his "binders full of women" to the ToM's hiring team. ;)

Anonymous said...

Ah, and the true problem reveals itself. A man who appears to be a misanthrope, lecturing others on how they can't concentrate when they are in the presence of others. So humans are better off on their own? I hate to say this, but there are 7 billion of us here. And we're not going away. We have two choices: Learn to deal, or keep putting up walls.
Our friend the cyclist would have us believe that men are somehow the victims in 2000's America. I just want it on record that a man (my name is Paul Sintetos, I'm a 23 year old undergrad at UCSC) finds his behaviour here deplorable, nonconstructive, and insulting. The assertion that being attracted to a person means you can't be productive or creative around them seems to be based on an assumption that we are all blinded by our hormones. Believe it or not, Cyclist, there are some of us who are actually more interested in science than sex. Your argument seems in line with the military's, who often use rationales for keeping gays out along the lines of, "When we're under fire, I want my teammates eyes on the enemy, not my ass!"
If you can't keep your mind out of the gutter, then I'd agree with the post made above, which said perhaps you are not fit for employment in an academic setting. Working together is the greatest ability of humans. If you don't see this when looking through history, and instead see isolated points of brilliance, then I'd advise you to take another look. Everyone stands on someone's shoulders, and few decline to discuss their ideas with others. We need to put our animal thoughts to the side when we are working for something greater. If you really can't work with other people, that's okay. But don't tell us to segregate ourselves, don't tell us that STUDIES show we can't work together between genders, races, etc, when we've been doing it just fine for years. You and I both know that one or two experiments means nil.
To assess the sexual nature of your coworkers' allegedly inappropriate comments, I'm afraid we'd have to know the context and exact words. Otherwise we can only take your word for it, and I've seen many men's egotism get in the way of clear observation (including my own). The answer to your question is of course that any sexual harassment is sexual harassment, and the implication you are making is that you are a victim in some way. Perhaps this is insensitive, but if you decline to have sex with someone and get teased for it, who cares? As someone who doesn't have an extremely high sex drive, this has happened to me before, and it's small change in the big scheme of things. I got teased for being smelly in middle school and somehow I survived. That doesn't mean it's right. But it also doesn't mean you have to be a drama queen about it, when there are larger issues being discussed in this blog post.
Overall your arguments here show many common fallacies, like the "common sense" clause, and calling someone a coward.

Strung out cyclist said...

You still don't get it do you? I get teased--you say big deal. I'm being a "drama queen." A woman gets teased--it's harassment. You've just lucidly revealed the nature of the current sexual double standard...

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman working in a male dominated field (electrical engineering) so I'm very accustomed to being the only woman on a team. I don't feel more comfortable if there is more gender diversity. what determines how comfortable I feel in a team depends on the personalities of the people in it. I've had many wonderful team experiences where I was the only woman but the men were all respectful, humble and cooperative. I've also had horrible team experiences because those people (also men) were arrogant and dishonest. I've had bad experiences in teams (comprising both men and women) which were downright toxic. So in the end, to me it really doesn't matter if a team is gender diversified or not, as the team culture really could go either way depending on the individual personalities and agendas involved.

Anonymous said...

I am currently involved in a building project where we were faced with a very similar situation. The institution side of things is being lead by two women. We hired our current team for a variety of reasons including the fact that they "felt" like they would be good to work with. One factor in that was that there was a strong female project manager. We have come up with a really collaborative building program and many folks have noted that this is likely reflective of strong female leadership on the project. The value of choosing a team that is good to work with can't be underestimated.