Thursday, January 23, 2014

Now They Want To Talk?

Let's say there is a US University that has a long history of (1) not hiring many women faculty, particularly in some fields; (2) not tenuring many women; and (3) not retaining many women, even those who have or would have been awarded tenure. Owing to an environment that is so toxic for women in some departments, even some of those who might have been (or were) tenured will leave if they can. 

Now imagine that a female faculty member who is extremely accomplished gets another offer and decides to leave. This woman spent years at the famous place being bullied and disrespected, and is looking forward to moving to a department and university where she will be valued and respected.

Upon announcing her resignation, suddenly people at her (soon to be ex-) university want to talk to her -- senior faculty, administrators, others in positions of power. People who were not interested in helping her when she needed help. She doesn't yet know exactly what they want to talk to her about, so she is thinking a lot about what she might say. Presumably they want to know why she is leaving.

Should she be completely open and name names of those whose behavior is the reason she is leaving? If she has documentation of abuses, should she distribute this?

How likely is it that these administrators etc. will do anything constructive with any information she gives them?

Can one departing person do anything to change a persistent negative environment for other women?

These administrators must know there is a problem, so if they were going to do anything substantive, wouldn't they already be working for change? And if they aren't doing that already, why do they want to know more details about why one woman is leaving?

Or can it really be that one departing woman could be the 'tipping point', even if that should have occurred many years ago?

Does anyone have any advice for this woman, who is in fact a real person at a real place considering this very real situation? 



42 comments:

rosa said...

Speak up. Name names. There will not be another opportunity to do so with honour and dignity. Furthermore, if one woman speaks up, it provides an avenue for other women to speak up and add to the burden of proof that all is not well, and all is not acceptable. Perhaps they will listen. Perhaps they won't, but at least then she will have done the most she can, with a clear conscience and without an agenda. There are other women who will follow and may yet reap the benefits of her actions.

(Another) Former Academic said...

I don't know what to advise. Personally, When my ex-boss said at my exit interview 'you're the third young woman to leave this group, is that just coincidence' I didn't say any of the things that I was shouting inside my head and sat there shell shocked and mumbled 'its not you its me' platitudes. I wish the woman in question and all the women in a similar situation the very best. I know that the progress I have benefited from has been because our mothers demanded it and oh christ were they punished for their gumption.

Anonymous said...

Run lady! run!

Anonymous said...

I faced a similar decision when leaving a similarly uncomfortable, but non-academic workplace. I chose three main areas that I thought had been most problematic and that I thought were the most fixable. I spoke a lot with other women and we worked together on the wording and the specific resolutions I would ask for. I then happily accepted the meetings with everyone and made as compelling a case as I could why these three things would have made everyone MUCH more comfortable and productive. They thanked me, and it turns out implemented all three changes after I left. I think if I had brought them the list of the hundreds of grievances and issues that we women had faced there, it would not have been received as well. I'm glad I left, and I'm glad my leaving has had some small lasting benefit to those who stayed.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I'd probably give general outlines of the problem, but avoid specific names due to a need to not further sour professional relationships..

if there was outright abuse that was reported but nothing changed, that would be the main point..

Most likely they're worried about a lawsuit, thus the attention.

Unknown said...

I do apologize beforehand for writing such a commonplace. Still,
I believe that being open and honest, even to the point of naming names, is the right thing to do. Pointing out what is wrong brings along the possibility of future changes, even if sometimes it takes way too many repetitions.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, if they don't want to know- they shouldn't ask. So, if asked "Why are you leaving?" or "what's so bad about this place?", she should answer.
If they don't ask- that is more difficult. Telling them they're horrible when they didn't ask will make them think she is bitter and likely won't help future staff members.

Anonymous said...

I agree with rosa - if she speaks up, she could be doing a favor for the next woman to come along. If this person already has an offer elsewhere, what does she have to lose by telling these people there is something wrong? That said, I have a friend who did speak up about the lack of opportunities provided to the female employees (this was a non-academic workplace). The company did have a positive response to this and fixed the issue(s). However, it was only temporary, and it was only a short period of time before the atmosphere returned to being an old boys' club. My friend quit her job and went elsewhere. I still think that the more people who speak up, the better.

Anonymous said...

It depends on how confident she is of her future -- naming names at the expense of losing her career is not just bad for her, but for other women. But if the expense if of being seen as being a troublemaker, well, I say speak openly.

When I was still too young to imagine doing it, Nancy Hopkins walked out and made made waves when Larry Summers said that women might just not be as good as men. It's not something I could have done at that point, but it gave me courage and a little bit of confidence.

zb

Anonymous said...

I'm a man - but at my previous institution was a foreigner and experienced a *similar* problem. Note: I don't claim it's an identical problem but does share some features in common. My advice is leave definitely - but don't bother engaging them in a conversation about the issues you have come up against. the problem is probably so entrenched that they cannot or will not do anything about it - they are probably acutely aware themselves of how crappily they treat some sections of the academic community but they probably accept it as since they are successful. Depressing thoughts, but by speaking up you could harm your own reputation as you move on. Much better to provide an honest answer to "so how was your previous institution?" when you are safely installed at the new one.

BBBShrewHarpy said...

I agree with anonymous at 09:22. There is no gain for this woman in speaking up other than in generalities and perhaps making remarks regarding mechanisms and procedures that might help. Anon at 07:08 has good suggestions too. Naming names just tarnishes the namer.

been-there-done-that

Anonymous said...

If they ask me why I'm leaving, then I would tell them why but I wouldn't name names. I think that will get very ugly, very fast, and could potentially have backlash down the road. But if they ask, let them know of the experiences that happened and if they are really interested in fixing the problems then they will approach other female faculty members to see if other females are experiencing these problems.

GMP said...

Hmm. People who didn't want to help her when she needed it certainly don't deserve her candor. If she has the other offer in hand and signed, I would tell them in general terms that she was treated horribly, that people from the college or department did not give her help when she needed it, and that she finds the climate hostile to women. And leave it at that. Naming names and mud-slinging will only hurt her (as every bit of negativity seems to hurt women).
Living well is the best revenge.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Should she be completely open and name names of those whose behavior is the reason she is leaving? If she has documentation of abuses, should she distribute this?"

Yes, if claims can be backed up by evidence.

Postdoc said...

I think this depends on her career stage, and particularly of the potential consequences to her career if she talks. I mean, if there were no negative consequences for this, of course she should tell and I mean names and all! but, that hypothetical is probably not reality.

We're all instructed to put on our own air mask first, then help others; this goes beyond airplanes. You have to take care of yourself first.

And to Anon 9:22- spilling everything at your new place just makes you look unprofessional.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Larry Summers said that women might just not be as good as men"

That is not what he said. Even if you don't agree with him, it helps no-one and hurts some to caricature his position.

Anonymous said...

A good advice for the faculty is: let her go away.

She seems a toxic feminist who spends her life in complaining against men, in seeing discrimination in any difficulty in order to paint herself as a victim.

The faculty will become a better environment without this kind of person.

Anonymous said...

I think She should wait until after she has taken a new position to name names. If she does end up staying after naming names it can get more uncomfortable. So my advice is after settling into a new job, write a nice letter to the old workplace.

Anonymous said...

Assuming she is actually leaving (if not, it's a different story), she should communicate her concerns. She should make it crystal clear that she is ONLY doing so as a professional courtesy because they explicitly asked her to, and that she expects nothing from them, since she is leaving. I think this scenario makes it more likely that they will listen then if they perceive that she is trying to gain something.

If she can distill the problems down to a few critical issues, with a few examples, that is probably more helpful than an emotional litany of incidents. Naming names is a tough question. If there are a few egregious offenders, it might be worth doing so, for the sake of future female faculty hires.

I don't think she's obligated to do so, but if I were in that situation, I think I would find some satisfaction in it, from pointing out injustice and as a service to the other women faculty there.

Anonymous said...

I am very split on this question. For me there are two main questions I would take into account:

Firstly, what is the best avenue for her, personally? The question if she could end up facing negative backlash has already been raised, but I would like to add another aspect. How does she fell about these conversations? How much stress do these conversations and possible preparations for them put on her? Maybe it would be best for her emotional well-being to refuse these conversations and distance herself from this institution as quickly as possible. Or maybe having these conversations and telling it all would be a relieve for her? This is something only she can answer. What I want to emphasize, is that she does not owe anyone anything. She does not need to do this to help future women there. It is not her responsibility to fix this institution. First and foremost it is important that she has a good transition to her new place of employment and takes good care of herself.

Secondly I ask myself what would be best for women's situation at that institution. Of course it would be great if the people in power took this as a wake-up call and something actually changed. But she does not know this and probably has little influence over, what they end up doing with the information she might provide. My personal (not very vast) experience with institutions that have a misogynistic culture is, that the people in power do not change by themselves. They only change through constant, outside pressure. Even so I wish she is taken serious (if she decides to say something) and kicks off a positive change within this institution, it might be worth thinking about people besides the people that have asked to talk to her. Could her information and documentation be of use to someone else? A dedicated equal opportunity office? A fierce student group? A lawyer already preparing a case on behalf of others? Who would benefit from knowing about this and maybe be able to use this information to push the institution towards change?

As a student at an institute that was somewhat unfriendly towards women and had few female faculty member, I always enjoyed the stories floating around about women who had called out the department on their more obvious wrongdoings. It always showed me how strong women in science could be and that life as a woman in this field was possible without having to just swallow the BS that was going on. I think what Anonymous 7:08 mentioned is crucial: Talk to other women. Those at the university and if possible also those that have left before. It might help some of them to realize that they are not the only ones experiencing these problems and it might help the woman from the original post, to come up with her own way of dealing with this situation.

I realize this got pretty long and I raised more questions, than I answered. As I said I am very unsure what I would do in such a situation.

Whatever she decides to do I wish the women from the original post all the best and hope she has a much better experience at her new department!

Anonymous said...

Evidence and documentation; if she doesn't have it, the best she can do is be honest but very cool about the toxic workplace. The important thing is to have the documentation and precise info. Without that, it's all hearsay and opinion, and unfounded at that.

Naming names isn't going to help anything. The furthest to go is a general comment about the type of position the offender(s) held at the time of the incident. Don't think that the reports will die once she's gone; rumors and gossip will follow her. But if she keeps the original documentation (providing copies to the relevant folks) she's covered. If somebody says 'gee, you're the fifth woman who's left this year' hold temper in both hands, and reply very cooly 'not surprising, nor unexpected.' And don't be drawn. And best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I think it can be very helpful for women following in her footsteps if she lets the administration know what problems she faced. This can be done professionally and non-confrontationally, making it clear that she is letting the administration know so they can work to improve the climate for women at the university and not to harm the university's reputation.

Here are two examples from personal experience of how reporting can make a difference for other women:

1) I was the first female professor in university sub-unit, made up of several departments. About 6 months after I was hired, another female professor was hired into the same sub-unit, but into another department. She left the university quickly thereafter, explaining that she found the environment hostile to women. After she left and explained why, several members of administration approached me and asked if I was facing similar problems and if they could help. By informing the administration of the reasons why she left, she definitely helped me negotiate for some needed changes.

2) At a previous institution, I had a negative, gender-related interaction with a faculty member. The incident was well documented, but at the time I decided not to pursue it formally, as I feared this could have negative repercussions for my career. However, because I was convinced that my interaction with this faculty member was not an isolated incident and that he would repeat his behavior, when I left this institution, I let the administration know what had happened. By law, the university had a mandatory gender sensitivity training although this was not linked specifically to me or the complaint. Two years later, the faculty member repeated his behavior with another woman. This woman chose to pursue a formal complaint. The documentation I submitted apparently made her case much easier since it was then more clearly part of a pattern.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the approach taken by Anonymous 7:08 in selecting key issues that one feels need to be and could be rectified and focus on those. For my part, I question the purpose of these meetings: are they standard exit-interviews which are known to go no where? Or are they meetings in good faith to identify weaknesses in department and administration? Can the professor contact these individuals in advance to determine the purpose of the meetings (or type of meeting)?

Anonymous said...

I think her main priority is to get the highest counter-offer, so that she might ask for counter-counter offer from the new place. So the best course of action is to "politely pretend" that she is very hurt but whatever bullshit you listed in your post. But no names, this will hurt her in getting the counter-offer. She should also pretend this is a very hard decision, and that she is really unsure what to do.

After the business side of the situation is accomplished, and she got the highest offers from both places, she should choose what she wants. At this stage, she should be polite and cordial to whatever place she leaves, and claim it was a very hard decision. No need to have enemies, you never know what you you need in the future. If she deeply cares about all the feminist stuff, I guess it is OK to politely mention those things as contributing to "making the hardest decision of her life". But she should be very careful to do it only after the important (business) part is finalized.

Anonymous said...

Naming names is only useful if the problems are so localized that they can be meaningfully addressed by removing or modifying the behaviour of one or a few people. The best contribution she can make to protect other women in her position is to define the general problems very clearly, and point out specifically the institutional structural flaws which led to the problems.

EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

Been there, done that, named the names. The president tried hard to make me an offer to stay, but after I told him the stories he understood. I said I would only stay if there was a public tarring and feathering of the guilty parties. The president paused a moment, and let me know that he would love to do so, but he was bound by legal rules.

We parted amicably, and he hit very, very hard on the department after I left. They hired quite a number of women after I left, and they were very strong women who took charge.

I've been invited back, but I'm happy I left.

Go for it.

EliRabett said...

The key issue is who is she talking to. If it is someone trying to change the culture, then identifying two or three key issues is the way.

If it is the problems, meet, play nice and leave.

Anonymous said...

I wish I felt differently but I can't see that any good could come out of speaking out in this situation. When I left a toxic sexist male-dominated department I was gently advised to tread carefully because my former colleagues would still have some measure of power over me (e.g. serving on review panels, conference organizers, etc.) and that they have powerful friends. If the person is sufficiently senior in her career then it might be a different story. As much as I wanted to, it was not worth the risk for me. My view is that I can't make the changes I'd ultimately like to see in my male-dominated subfield if I am kicked out of the game this early in my career.

Lisa Buckley said...

I (personally) would speak up, and provide copies of any documentation you have. Perpetrators of these inequities thrive in the atmosphere of "if they talk they will ruin her career." Silence and fear are their fertilizers. Perhaps there will be some backlash (which says more about the people lashing back than the researcher) but in the long run it's better to have these issues out in the open.

At the end of the day, the researcher has to ask herself how she will remember the situation. Will she regret not saying anything? Will she just be glad to leave? That will be up to the researcher, and I wish her the very best.

Anonymous said...

This exact scenario happened where I work. She named names, and explained very clearly why she was leaving. It made all the rest of us feel like change might actually happen. We had some hope.

NOTHING happened. In fact the place is now worse than it was when she left.

Anonymous said...

I left a toxic department because life is too short. I could try to fight a never-ending battle or I could move on and try to find a reasonable group of people to work with.

I had been so depressed that I was shocked when I finally found the courage to apply elsewhere and received 3 offers from better ranked departments/universities.

Sometimes life sucks and you have to accept losses and move on. Leaving that toxic place where woman are treated inferior is the best thing that I ever did.

I didn't give a reason when I left because I didn't feel that it would make a difference. That place was too corrupt.

I felt like a battered woman by the time I left that place because of the emotional abuse. Don't underestimate the damage that a bad environment can do to you.

wadiablog said...

A male here. I'm looking at other places in part due to specific treatment of me, in part because there are many case of female students being treated poorly, and mostly for general issues. If I leave, I haven't decided whether to burn any bridges, but that wouldn't happen until I was gone. My putative exit interview will be boring.

However, what about a few well-placed semi-anonymous letters to granting agencies and to their accreditor? I don't read much about this tack; maybe people consider it the nuclear option? One doesn't have to name names, but this is another way of invoking outside pressure like was mentioned above.

James Annan said...

Why not explain why you are leaving? In the worst case, they will do nothing. I recently explained rather bluntly why I was resigning from my position, and although all the JAMSTEC bureaucrats shrugged their shoulders and said that they couldn't do anything (up to the level of executive director) at least I know that they genuinely couldn't be bothered lifting a finger to retain me (or my more highly-cited wife), rather than wondering if they didn't truly understand our position.

Anonymous said...

So familiar ...
Admin or management generally follows this philosophy:
Only act if a problem affects you or your evaluation, otherwise don't act. I know this is a very pessimistic view, but I have seen it over and over again.

The moraly correct thing to do is say something, however be aware that admin at the uthermost will give those individuals a slap on the wrist and say: don't do this again. She needs to be willing to deal with retaliation of these colleagues for the rest of her professional life. If the individuals are not connected to your area of research, than absolutely, go ahead and talk.

For this institution to actually do something about the climate, it would need to fire each and every individual against whom there is prove of misconduct. However due to the fear of lawsuits this will never happen, so speaking up will not change this. What will force them to change is the potential loss of funding and a drop in rankings, so those are the only ways you can force them to do something. However going to those lengths generally means the end of your career.

Unknown said...

How is this different than any other disgruntled employee situation? These exact grievances about toxic work conditions, unfair managers and culture, hostile in-groups and biases are extremely common in most forms of work. People of every gender and ethnicity are routinely driven to emotional craziness, suicide, and homicide by exactly this type of perceived unfairness in the workplace, and they all try to tie it into some politically credible civil rights issue that might find a sympathetic ear. Even white men do this. I'm not saying the author is wrong. Just like in all disgruntled employee situations, it's a he said/she said situation that requires a complex judgement.

Cherish said...

This is just me, but I would make the assumption that they really don't know. My observation is that people function in little bubbles and have a hard enough time keeping their head above water without figuring out what's going on with everyone around them. I would be hesitant to name names, but certainly highlighting specific issues that lead to the environment is a good idea, even if that person decides getting out of there is for her best interest.

Ms.PhD said...

I'm surprised nobody brought this up, so I will. Am I the only one who had to leave places, relationships, and jobs to get anyone to notice I was miserable? I felt like I was screaming into the void for years, but when I finally left, the response was immediate and very attentive. In some cases, other women left after I did, because they figured if it was that bad for me, it would be the same (or worse) for them.

My point is, this is a golden opportunity, and I agree with the last commenter who said that most people live in a bubble (especially in academia) and don't notice what's going on around them.

If they're asking for information now, she should make specific recommendations about what they should do differently in the future.

I also agree with the folks who said naming names might not help, and might just result in backlash/discredit her (I particularly enjoyed the commenter who said she was a "toxic feminist" ).

Besides, I think the risk in naming names is that people will assume the bad atmosphere can be blamed on one or more bad actors who might retire/die off, rather than the institution taking responsibility as a whole, and creating best practices (and enforcement procedures!).

p.s. I was missing the blogging community and thought I'd visit to see what's new. Now I remember why I haven't been back: nothing's really new, and it's all still very depressing.

Anonymous said...

Please, oh please, for the sake of all the young women up and coming, take the high road, speak up in a professional yet honest way about your experiences at your institution. If they ask, please assume that they *really do* want to know. Even if they don't, you get to leave with a clear conscience and you still have a chance of making a difference. There is such a need for change from the inside out and it sounds like you are being given an opportunity to raise this issue from a position of authority in your profession and field--something most of us won't have a chance to do. Especially if you don't lead the way. Please don't let us down. Be a "freedom bus" rider for all those who will come after. Even if there are some consequences to pay, you will be on the right side of history and future generations of women will thank you. Small steps like this every day at institutions across the country from women and men are the only way things change for the better.

Anonymous said...

So reviewing all these comments, it looks to me like there are a few instances where speaking up *constructively* did seem worthwhile, and fewer where nothing happened. I didn't note any instance where it actually backfired on the person leaving, though I may not have read carefully enough.

I would not suggest speaking in generalities and just saying the climate is hostile without providing any specifics. That just makes you look like a bellyacher. If you're going to say something, then be specific enough to be useful.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 3:01PM, please please speak up! I am a female undergrad with a lot of school and all of my career ahead of me. I would very much appreciate her saying something (in the constructive professional manner largely agreed upon here in these comments). I recently left a job in my former career for toxic reasons mentioned above. I wish I was able to say more about the true reason for leaving, instead of using "it's not you it's me" lines. I significantly regret it.

Anonymous said...

I work at an institution were the toxic environment comes straight from the top, the President. Her behavior drags down the morale, effectiveness and spirit of the entire institution. She has publicly, in front of students and guest speakers, screamed at people for the tiniest of issues. I'm not using scream as hyperbole, she really does shout out very loudly. She routinely makes public, negative comments about how people are dressed, do their hair and other personal issues. She is routinely caught telling lies but we're all too terrified to do anything about it. We're now on the fourth HR Director in my 7 years here and none have had the courage or ability to do anything about it. Turnover here is very high and there's a big concern about student retention. Some students have shared with me and others that they don't want to attend any event where she is present. My colleagues and I spend far too much time just trying to cheer each other up and deal with our stress. What do you do when it's the person at the top and there's nowhere to turn? It's obvious to most everyone but her that she's dragging the place down and putting the institution in jeopardy. I'm actively looking for a new position. I want out before it all collapses.

Anonymous said...

What a misogynist asshole of a comment.