Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Men 12 : Women 0

The official departmental speaker list was posted today. Twelve weeks of male speakers, no women speakers. It is possible that a woman will be invited in the spring as part of a special effort to promote the invitation of women scientists as speakers. Swell. I mentioned this 12 : 0 situation to one colleague today, and he explained to me, very patiently, that there are no women speakers because none were invited, so it's not that we turned down anyone's request for women speakers.. we just didn't even invite them in the first place. Oh, so that's fine then <-- sarcasm.

It is too bad that he spoke with no data to back up his hypothesis because he is not correct. I had one woman speaker on my list of possibilities, and I really find it hard to believe that I'm the only one. And even if I am, does that mean that only women faculty are interested in inviting women speakers? We have had women speakers in past years, so it does happen.

Maybe we've already invited everyone there is to invite? Some of the most prominent women in my general field have actually been here 2-3 times in recent years, so maybe we have to recycle women? We do, but only if we restrict ourselves to already famous people.

The possible speaker on my list is an early career person. I didn't sit down and make sure there was a female name on my list. I just thought about who might give an interesting talk about something new and exciting, and I thought of her. Unfortunately, she didn't make the cut this time, perhaps because she is not yet famous enough.

Meanwhile, I'll be giving 4 research talks. I always hope that when I'm invited to give a talk that I'm invited at least partially because someone is interested in my research, and not just to provide gender diversity, although I don't mind doing the role model thing as well. I would just prefer that research interest come first, as that would enhance my effectiveness as a role model (though I've doubts about how effective I really am, as I've noted before).


Anonymous said...

If no women are invited, then it is certainly because there are no good women. After all, we are so objective in science. Sorry, I know this ranting doesn't help, but I'm in a rather bad mood after having had it explained to me that women just have lesser abilities than men. Proof: There is no important woman composer in classical music.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is so familiar. In our first year of courses (a 'common core' for all graduate students - a curse of getting a doctorate at a medical school!) - there is a seminar course that is mandatory. Several years ago, that seminar for the full academic year included only a single female speaker (that I had suggested and pushed pretty hard). What was even worse, is that the seminar course was coordinated by the Dean of our Graduate School - and he didn't think of a single female to include in his series (which includes both internal and external speakers) - even though the makeup of his class was just over 65% female students. One of the female students in the class came and spoke with me about it, and I said that they needed to speak up - to have their voices heard - and to tell the Dean, either in person or on the evaluation that they (1) noticed the lack of female scientist representation, and (2) wanted to hear more female speakers. Fortunately, the student that spoke with me wasn't shy or easily intimidated - and she did speak with the Dean and her fellow classmates (both male and female). The result? The next year I think there were two female speakers out of 24 total on the list. So - my male colleagues then referred to that as progress - and I still consider it abysmal.

I agree with Shelley - we have to see women. We aren't as bad as the tech/physical sciences fields - but it's still pretty bad - and I also feel that progress is slowly being eroded. I try to serve on seminar committees now (as much as I hate too) - just to be sure that solid female speakers are brought in a regular basis. What's interesting is that I find absolutely no trouble finding them - so my question is, why do my male colleagues find it such a challenge?

Wait, I probably already know the answer to that.

Anonymous said...

To address Pam -- your male colleages can't seem to find women speakers because they invite 'who they know'. It's the worst form of the old boys network, IMO and IME. It's not blatent discrimination. But its just that the don't 'see' anyone outside of who they regard as a 'scientist'. I honestly think that's why there are so few women faculty members!

Anonymous said...

"We didn't invite them in the first place"... oh yeah, that's a clever strategy. Sometimes I'm really impressed by this "blindness". I guess things look better over here -- we've had several female speakers in the last months, both internal and external. Not as many as male speakers, but I'd say it's around 1/3, which sounds like quite a bit more than with you. However, this is not physics, and at least in a part of my field there are "traditionally more women" (i.e., not nearly 0), so I'm not so sure whether this rate counts as an achievement. Keep going!

Anonymous said...

Even better than "We didn't invite them in the first place" is "None of the [two] female faculty members suggested anyone to invite." As if only women get to invite women?! This from a senior member of a large department at a prestigious school, where in the past three years (I've been keeping track) there have been at least 2 female speakers each semester, when other people were organizing the schedule. To his credit, he did then ask if I could recommend anyone -- but I was truly stunned by the attitude that it was someone else's job to identify female speakers.

By the way, regarding the old boys' network... I suspect many women, if asked to recommend someone off the top of their heads, would ALSO tend to recommend men. It has to do with the way we categorize people. Female scientists still go in the "female" category first and the "scientist" category second.

Anonymous said...

Oh -- forgot to say, in my comment just above -- this categorization is also a big factor in the makeup of faculty hiring pools. When you have a job opening, you call up your friends and see if they can recommend any good candidates. Turns out that this gets you a different list than if you ask them to recommend any good female candidates. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Yes - men invite who they know - the good old boy network around me is alive and well! But what I find puzzling/intriguing/frustrating is just how invisible women are to male colleagues (and sometimes even to female colleagues). We're invisible as scientists.

Ms.PhD said...

Wow. This is a great post and the comments are terrific- and terrifying.

I've served on seminar committees and I think it's the job of women to go out of their way to be on these commitees and recommend other women. It's what the men are doing, and I think the only way to fight this particular fire is with some fire of our own.

Shame on the women who were on the committee and couldn't come up with anyone to invite.

I would absolutely argue that half the invited speakers should be women, regardless of whether they're younger or less famous. Departments should make this their goal.

That said, all the comments about us being invisible and being on a different list are SO TRUE.

And as for you being a role model, KEEP IT UP. We need you- I especially need you!- SO MUCH. And don't worry about your research, I'm sure it's good. More exposure- any exposure- is good for your research. Be a token if you have to, just look at is as an opportunity.

So glad I finally came across your blog. Keep it up. Keep it up. Keep it up. You're doing a good thing here.

Anonymous said...

"And don't worry about your research, I'm sure it's good."
You can tell from her blog? Or because her politcal views are like yours?
I'm on both of your sides, but if you want logical evaluation of scientific ability, it's going to have to cut both ways.

Ms.PhD said...

Re: guessing about the quality of someone's research from their writing ability, I've noticed there is a correlation between people who can spell and use grammar correctly (most of the time) and those whose research is of high quality.

It's purely subjective, but I think that usually the more literate among us are more creative, more observant...

... well maybe I'm being optimistic, but I'd like to think that the people I admire, who write well AND publish solid yet ground-breaking papers in respected journals, are good scientists.

Anonymous said...

There was a lovely article in the Telegraph (Brit newspaper) last week about whether or not the UK should be involved in manned space exploration. Allegedly they interviewed '30 top space scientists' for comments - and published a fair few of these in the article. Not ONE was a woman. As a female astronomer (Brit but working overseas) I was utterly livid - there are plenty of good senior female space scientists around that they could have asked. The fact that two of the three students in the accompanying photo were female only went some way towards alleviating matters - we want to hear from the women at the top!!

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