Monday, March 12, 2007

Taking a stand and naming names

Note to my readers: What follows is the complaint I filed this morning with the head of affirmative action at a university where I had been invited to interview. I have pseudonymized the department name, the faculty member's name, and my name, but for the next week, the name of the university shall remain unaltered. I want other women to be aware of potential problems there.

DearHead of Affirmative Action,

I would like to bring to your attention discriminatory behavior by the Department of XXX during their search for a tenure-track faculty member in YYY. My purpose in writing to you is not to seek personal recourse, but so that the problem may be addressed within the department and the university prior to any future job searches.

In early December 2006, I was contacted via telephone by Dr. ZZ and offered a January interview for the faculty position. I confirmed my enthusiastic interest in the position and in interviewing, but informed Dr. ZZ that I couldn’t come to campus in January. I was pregnant with a due date of January 27th, and my doctor had forbidden travel more than an hour from my hometown within a month of the due date. Furthermore, most airlines refuse passengers during and after the 36th week of pregnancy.

I offered to interview on campus during the month of December or in February, and I volunteered to be available by telephone or videoconference at any time. Dr. ZZ told me that he would see what could be arranged, but that he was doubtful anything could be organized in December and that February would be “too late” to interview. He promised to get back to me.

By December 18th, I had not heard from Dr. ZZ, so I sent a follow-up email (appended), again expressing my interest in the position and suggesting possible arrangements other than a January interview. He responded the same day by email (appended), writing that a decision would be made when the search committee met in January and that I would be updated at that time. This was the last contact I had from ?AA? University.

Based on conversation and correspondence with Dr. ZZ, I believe that I was denied an opportunity to interview for the job solely because of a short-lived and gender-based medical condition. This treatment strikes me as discriminatory and it reflects poorly on ?AA? University. I hope that you will initiate discussion of biases and prejudices within the Department of XXX and that you will take steps to ensure that in future hiring decisions no one is denied an opportunity to compete for the position based on pregnancy, other medical conditions, or gender.

Sincerely,

ScienceWoman, Ph.D.

+++Appended Emails+++++

At 04:30 PM 12/18/2006, you wrote:

Dear Dr. ZZ,

I wanted to follow up on our conversation last week, since I have not heard back
from you. I am most interested in the YYY position at ?AA? U, and I would love to interview on campus. However, I am medically unable
to travel during the month of January, as I am due to give birth at the end of
the month.

I want to reiterate my offer to interview on campus this month or in February
and to be available by phone at any time. I also have a streaming video
presentation of my research talk that might be helpful for giving you and your
colleagues an impression of my teaching/speaking style, if only a phone
interview can be arranged.

I understand that you are between terms right now and there are holidays
looming, but I would really appreciate an update as to your intentions for my
interview. Again, I am excited about this position and the possibility of
becoming a member of your department, and I hope that we can arrange something
so that you and your colleagues have a chance to interview me.

Sincerely,
ScienceWoman


Mon 12/18/2006 3:53 PM

Dear ScienceWoman:

Thank you very much for following up, and I appreciate your interest in the
position. As you guessed correctly, this is winter break for us and holidays
are also just around the corner; as such, only a few colleagues may be
available to participate in an interview now. I understand your medical
condition, and I have brought this to the attention of the search committee.

I appreciate your initiative about phone interviews, but it is not clear to me
if our colleagues can meaningfully compare candidates due to the difference in
the interview procedure that a phone interview may create. I suspect is that
the Affirmative Action office on campus may not even allow this since you will
not get a fair and equal opportunity to present your strengths through a phone
interview, in comparison to other candidates who visited/will visit.

Anyhow, the search committee will meet in the second week of January, and decide
if it can wait till February when you are able to travel again, or make a
selection among the candidates interviewed by then. This is not necessarily bad
news, since it is entirely possible that the committee decides in favor of
inviting you in February. I will write to you with an update as soon as I have
something.


Happy Holidays and best wishes,
Z

23 comments:

phd me said...

I would love to say "unbelievable!" to this but, alas, I believe - and know - this kind of gender-biased crap goes on daily. Very sorry you had to deal with such treatment, sciencewoman!

RageyOne said...

I am flabbergasted! Though really, I shouldn't be. Ugh! I hope you hear something from the affirmative action office regarding this matter rather quickly.

One would think that we are beyond this type of discrimination, but alas, we are not.

Anonymous said...

Wow-good for you for finding the time to submit this complaint! This is very well written. Can you submit this to other news organizations, websites etc? What about the Dean at this university? I just don't want your letter to get lost in administrative backlogs. This stuff is just unbelievable...I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

What the F? He says that the AA office probably won't allow a phone interview because it may not be fair to you. But not interviewing you at all because you can't be there the month they want you IS fair??

I swear, some people are just not cut out for the logical world of science.....

Addy N. said...

Wow- I can't believe that you were treated this way. Am I wrong to guess that the current department is mostly men? I guess you probably wouldn't want a job in that department if they can't wait a few weeks to interview you, but I agree- that is discrimination- unfair & illegal. I can't believe they did that, either. Good for you for writing a complaint. I hope that something comes out of it.

Jane said...

Kudos to you for filing the complaint and making it public here. What they did to you was nothing short of disgraceful. I hope the department in question gets the requisite beating with the Clue Stick from all the higher-ups at this school. (and sorry you had to go through this---how frustrating!!)

Dr. Mon said...

Wow.
Really?
Wow.

This is a shame that you even had to write this letter, but I'm glad you did. I agree with anon--you should also send this to the university president, provost, and dean at least, if not the local media. So sorry you had to deal with this.

DRD said...

Good for you for filing a complaint. (You really don't want a job in that region of the country anyways... trust me, I know.)

BrightStar said...

I think the search committee's biggest mistake here was not getting their act together enough to interview you early, as you said you were willing to be interviewed in December. I think you did the right thing in sending this letter.

I like this point early in your letter: "My purpose in writing to you is not to seek personal recourse, but so that the problem may be addressed within the department and the university prior to any future job searches."

ScienceWoman said...

In response to my commenters so far:

1. Yes. Really. I know.
2. I'll post any response I get on these pages.
3. If I don't get any response by the next Scientiae deadline, I'll send it to other administrators.
4. Yeah, the line about how a phone interview wouldn't be kosher with AA but no interview would be OK, kind of blew me away too.
5. Haven't looked recently, but I'm pretty damn sure the department is mostly male.

post-doc said...

I'm not so much angry as painfully disappointed. I think that it's easy for me to get tired and discouraged - then I just try to ignore the problems. You, on the other hand, have taken time to address the issue. It's rather inspirational - I'm so glad you posted this.

LabCat said...

Thanks for doing this and sharing it with us.

It is frustrating that this still goes on.

Holly said...

I completely agree with the other commenters here. I am neither surprised nor impressed with how they handled the situation. That line about the AA thinking a phone interview would be unfair really takes the cake. I am very impressed with how you're addressing it. Sock it to 'em. I hope they at least get a wake up call. I bet this crap happens all of the time; how utterly frustrating.

Lab Lemming said...

If you are willing to forgo anonymity, an open letter to the editors of this paper might be fun:
http://www.theguardianonline.com/

Anonymous said...

While I emphatise with you, a part of me feels like saying, 'Tough luck.' I guess my main issue is a) the tight time frame and b) the competition. Firstly, the university needs to make a hiring decision by a certain time, and it didn't seem like they could accommodate an interview with you within that time frame. I'm operating under the assumption that deadlines aren't that malleable, especially since they're pretty constant across all universities and so applicants need to find out roughly at the same time to make their decisions. Nevertheless, I do agree that 1) they should have made more of an effort to schedule an earlier interview if they really wanted you; and 2) the idea that AA would result in a preference of no interview over a phone interview is pretty ridiculous.

My next point is slightly more controversial. If I were the university, I would only make special arrangements if I really wanted the person. So it may have been that your resume was interesting enough for them to be willing to interview you to see how it goes, but if you required special provisions, your application not be impressive to warrant extra work on their part, especially if they've got better candidates waiting. My assumption is that interviews are not a right and employers are free to reject applicants without granting them an interview.

I'm writing not to make you feel worse. Rather, I'm writing because I'm concerned that the sexism (and racism) card is played too often, which trivializes real cases of discrimination and makes women (and racial minorities) come across as whiny and unable to succeed on a level playing field.

PonderingFool said...

My next point is slightly more controversial. If I were the university, I would only make special arrangements if I really wanted the person. So it may have been that your resume was interesting enough for them to be willing to interview you to see how it goes, but if you required special provisions, your application not be impressive to warrant extra work on their part, especially if they've got better candidates waiting. My assumption is that interviews are not a right and employers are free to reject applicants without granting them an interview.
**************************************
Sexism is not being overplayed in this case. They obviously thought ScienceWoman was qualified enough to offer an interview. This is outright discrimination against women who have children. She was not asking for unreasonable acommodations. Interviews are where a person sells themselves not just as a piece of paper but as an actual living, breathing scientists. There are many people who look great on paper but it is all smoke and mirrors. To get the job you have to show you are not smoke and mirrors but actually can back up what is on your CV and application. If those who are pregnant women can't get an interview then they can't sell the latter and can't get jobs. This does not insure the best and brightest get positions but rather selects out some of those that should be getting positions.

coern said...

just a point i'd like to raise - having seen quite a few young staff pass through my workplace, i must say that smoke and mirrors are not confined to a paper resume. lots of people sound really good at interviews but suck when given responsibility - anyone can make a promise, its who delivers on it that makes a difference.

ScienceWoman said...

anonymous - i'll take on your 1st pt:
"Firstly, the university needs to make a hiring decision by a certain time, and it didn't seem like they could accommodate an interview with you within that time frame. I'm operating under the assumption that deadlines aren't that malleable, especially since they're pretty constant across all universities and so applicants need to find out roughly at the same time to make their decisions."

This is not true. Application deadlines range from October to March and the interview period varies correspondingly. It is not uncommon for people to have to accept or decline a job offer while they are still waiting to hear from other universities. It's kind of a crappy system, but that's the way it goes. So that's part of why saying "February is too late" is such nonsense. Unless there are internal university deadlines, there's no reason they couldn't have waited a month.

volcano girl said...

I am really sorry to hear about your frustrations, ScienceWoman. I just looked on the departmental website and found that they have 1 woman and 8 men on their faculty. They need to get over themselves.

It is one thing for "liberal" male-dominated science departments to wonder why there aren't more women in science and another for them to actually recognize the discrimination and do something about it. The closer I get to finding a forever job and to being ready to begin a family, the more I see of this! At the FEDERAL institution where I work, it is in the contract that women can be denied tenure for taking maternity leave. Instead, women must save up and use all their sick and vacation time. Shouldn't that be illegal?

Veo Claramente said...

Good heavens, this is blatant and egregious! I am so glad you are taking action!
I read, it was in Nature i think, a while ago, that some women based their pregnancies on whether they would be obviously pregnant while interviewing. That is wrong and makes a mockery of life's important things.

I hope you find a good job at a better place.

B said...

I'm glad you took action for yourself and I appreciate that you did it for all women who may encounter a similiar situation. Maybe the HR and AA offices will wake up a little bit.


As for annon the university contacted her and asked to set up an interview. They usually only do that with serious candidates, then when finding out she had to do it a different way they jumped ship. That is the problem. If they had call to schedule an interview and she hadn't been pregnant, it is likely she would have been interviewed.

Sylvia allein in Westfalen said...

*This is a Man's World*

Ms.PhD said...

That sucks, but, um, did you know you'd be applying for jobs this year? I don't know what your family situation is, but it seems to me that unless your pregnancy was a surprise, you could have aimed to become pregnant in January and thus avoid a potential conflict with air travel dangers in the middle of interview season?

I guess my - probably controversial- point is, sure, pregnancy is a medical condition, but it's an optional one. Though I see your point about it being gender-specific.

If anything I think you should argue that they're discriminating against you because of a medical condition, because to me that's much more obvious and more offensive.

This is still quite taboo to discuss in science- ever notice how the benches are too high to reach from a wheelchair? Or how grad student and postdoc health insurance sucks? The assumption is that we're all super young and healthy and not accident-prone. If you had any other medical condition- say if you were receiving chemotherapy for leukemia, or recently had surgery on your knee- would they have rescheduled? Taking that approach, I think you'd have an actionable complaint that might rock the boat a little.