Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Worse Than Sports Analogies

A female colleague of mine attended a long meeting today during which the meeting leader assumed that everyone in the room was a parent and would relate to his extended analogy involving raising children. She says he went on and on about parents and kids, and he kept saying things like “As we all know from raising our own children..” until finally she couldn’t stand it anymore and pointed out to him that she and perhaps others in the room did not know what it was like to raise a child, so should they leave the meeting since they had no clue what he was talking about? She thinks the group now considers her to be oversensitive and high-strung, but I think she made an important point.

I can understand why someone leading a meeting might want to use an analogy or a reference point to try to move the discussion forward, but it seems that so often the chosen device unnecessarily excludes people. I think my colleague was right to point out to him that he should cut off the extended parenting analogy and get on with the main task of the meeting. When my sports-analogy-loving department chair goes into sports analogy mode, I tune out or ask for clarification, depending on my mood. However, if an entire meeting depended on knowing the rules of football, I would either do what my colleague did or I’d just leave.

Quick comment on another topic: In an article in the business section of the NY Times last Sunday, a woman executive noted that having one woman on a corporate board didn’t have much effect because the lone woman was so concerned with not appearing to have a ‘female agenda’. Having two women wasn’t much different, as they mostly tried to avoid each other and not appear to be a voting bloc. Three women was critical mass for everyone acting like the businesspeople they are without regard to gender. I think the situation is similar in academia, but ideally there would be at least 3 women in each academic rank rather than several female assistant professors in a department dominated by tenured men.


Ms.PhD said...

Oy. I don't know what to make of that. Even those of us without children can usually relate, since pets and grad students exhibit many of the same learning behaviors... if we're into analogies, that is. So it would have to be pretty extended, or highly inappropriate (I'm picturing some old white guy talking about breastfeeding and how at the beginning babies won't suckle at a nipple...)!

re: the critical mass thing, that's interesting that women are concerned about voting as a bloc. And stupid. Men do it all the time!! Why are women always so concerned about these things?? It's only holding us back.

Seriously. Next time you have the chance- with a group of friends, for example- to take a vote where you have two men and a bunch of women (say, if you're going out to dinner and choosing a restaurant), just watch. The men will vote together. They understand the Art of War.

But 3 does sound about right. And I agree that departments unable to leap to equal numbers of faculty should set more attainable intermediate goals, such as recruiting at least 3 female faculty at each level from other universities (if you were too stupid to hire them early on, steal them later when you're sure they're really good!).

Unknown said...

Hmm, I don't know either. Sure, the behavior of the department chair was bad. Sounds like a very typical meeting to me, in fact. Its great that your friend had the guts to speak up against the department chair, but did I get that right, that she supported her point by threatening to leave? That does appear slightly immature to me.

Nicole said...

Clearly, I am in the minority here, but I will cheer the woman on anyway. I wish I could have been there to hear your colleague say that to the chair of the department. I love women who speak their mind. Good for her!!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I wasn't there, but....

My first instinct on hearing the story was to think it's great when someone has some respect for the fact that the skill-set developed by parents has value in the workplace. It's something that a lot of career counsellors have had to point out to women who are writing resumes and applying for jobs and consider that what they have been doing at home was "just" parenting.

The second was that it's great when being part of a family and having parenting responsibilities is seen as normal and something that can be referred to by way of analogy in the work-force, rather than as a "lifestyle choice".

[Having children is a necessity on a wider scale, even if it is optional for individuals]

In any room of professionals it is reasonable to expect (and ideally the work/life balance available to everyone should reflect) that many will have families.

Third, not everyone is interested in sports, but almost everyone grew up in a family, so we can recognise the dynamics (if not as a parent, but with a bit of self awareness about how our parents parented us, or what we have seen in friends or relatives.

So, from my perspective: family analogies aren't worse than sporting ones

That said..... I wasn't there in the room, and it's still very possible to be patronising and sexist (oh you know what daughters are like, so expensive, on the phone all the time) in telling anecdotes.