Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What He Said

Recently I attended a committee meeting as an 'observer', and I noticed after a while that whenever the committee had to come up with names of people to take on certain positions of responsibility, only names of men were mentioned. When the position of note-taker was discussed, a woman was mentioned. Then the committee went back to discussing more positions of responsibility, and the lists compiled had only the names of men on them.

Although only an observer, I wanted to say something about this, but just as I was deciding on how to jump into the discussion, a man on the committee said "Hey, I just noticed that we only have men on these lists." The others nodded and another man immediately came up with the name of a distinguished female professor. Then someone else thought of another woman. Like magic, qualified and even talented women appeared in the collective consciousness of the committee.

One excellent thing about this is that the man who noticed the lack of women has previously complained to me about how stupid he thinks it is to consider gender as a factor in anything to do with our jobs as science professors. Maybe he still thinks that, maybe he doesn't, but today he spoke up and it made a big difference.


Amelia said...

Very nice to read!

Thinkerbell said...

I recently noticed the same thing. When men have to come up with a list of names, other men are simply the first ones that pop up in their brain and they don't even notice it until it's pointed out to them.

Athene Donald said...

On some of my university's more important committees, we have a (possibly unspoken) rule about ensuring there are say 2 women, and certainly at least one. This has lots of good points, but sometimes it means some of us get worked very hard, and on some committees I think one could argue that it is somewhat irrelevant. However, we still have a few committees where membership is essentially ex-officio and then it may be that no women are included.

I have some views about this. Firstly, if you are in a minority of one it can be very hard to do much even if you can see a specific gender-based issue going the wrong way (as you say, it relies on men to speak up, and we have some great ones in my university, as well as some not-so-great ones). Secondly, sometimes it feels demeaning to be put on a committee simply because you are a woman. I have been known to turn down some invitations because I feel I have nothing particular to offer this or that committee, and I am being 'used' to make up numbers.

Finally, possibly a local quirk, for many years the 'committee on committees' lists showed the names of people on committees with (f) against the women. I objected - it implied academics were male by default - and this has now been changed.

EliRabett said...

This is closely related to the post before. If there are limited FSPs or AASPs or HASPs or whatever the pressure on administrators to push them into positions/committees as representative is huge. This results in the SSSPs having to carry a huge burden that the ordinary MSP is protected from. Burnout often follows soon behind. Eli watched an entire generation of FSPs head for program manager positions in order to escape this trap.

OTOH, when he pointed this out to Dan Golden, then NASA Administrator, the reply was too bad, we need em.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "male by default":

I was revising a scholarship application form this morning. In the Demographic Information section, it struck me that the "Male" checkbox came before the "Female" one. Hmmm... F comes before M in the alphabet, and we receive significantly more applications from females than males.

So I switched 'em. Sometimes it's the itty bitty joys that get me through the day.

Ms.PhD said...


Give that guy a pat on the back from me.

a. b. said...

It's nice for someone else to speak up once in a while.