Monday, November 26, 2012


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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spot On

By request, I contributed a post to the Science Online/Spot On event that took place in London recently. The formatting turned out a bit strange, but there it is.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Feminist in all but name

It never fails to take me aback when people say "I'm not a feminist but.." and then follow the "but" with an opinion that indicates that the person is quite likely to agree with the basic principles of feminism, in the sense of believing in political, economic, and social rights for women.
OK, so there are worse things than this; it is not difficult to think of many worse things than people who are feminists-in-all-but-name.

Even so, I was surprised the other day at an Administrative Meeting, when a female administrator whom I had not previously met came up to me and said:

 "The Vice-Person for Stuff told me that you are the first woman [position that I now hold in my university]. I'm not a feminist, but I think that's great. It's about time. We need more women [in that job] in the university."

She went on to say that the lack of women leaders in her unit of the university was a serious, longstanding problem. Most of the students and researchers are women, but few of the leaders are women. Every once in a while, a woman is allowed to be an interim head of something, but only until a man can be found to take over the job. She was frustrated by this, and more than a little cynical that it would change any time soon. She herself was an interim director and was certain that she would not be given the permanent position. She was sure they would replace her with a man, although she is highly qualified to keep doing this job.

Well, good thing she isn't a feminist because..

.. because why? I am having trouble finishing that sentence with anything that makes sense.

I don't even know why she chose to preface her sentence with "I'm not a feminist, but..". Why add that? If she had just said "I heard you're the first woman etc. and I think that's great", without the qualifier, what did she fear I would think? That she was a raving man-hating angry woman? That she is not automatically in favor of a woman being appointed to a position with some authority?

I did not ask her. I would very much like to help stamp out these twisted negative views of feminism/feminists, but after that strange little comment, our brief conversation focused on practical things that needed discussing in the short amount of time available.