Thursday, August 23, 2007

Women in science: 2 vignettes

Vignette 1: Member at large
A large packet of my professional society newsletters were forwarded to me recently, and upon perusal, I saw that both of the societies in my field had recently named their new fellows (distinguished members). In the first society, a glance at the list of names suggested that roughly 20% of the new fellows were women. Given that I'm a physical scientist, I was actually fairly pleased with this result and thought kindly of the society for being inclusive.

Then I opened the newsletter of the other society, which helpfully had printed pictures of their new fellows. By a large margin, the pictures were of elderly white men. I didn't count, but I'd say that only 5% of the new fellows were women.

Why the disparity?

Vignette 2: A vanishingly small fraction
Last week we had our new faculty orientation at MU. Maybe I am used to viewing things through the women in science filter, but when I walked into the room and saw roughly half female faces I was inordinately pleased. The first woman I met was the new undergraduate coordinator in a science department and she had two small children of our own. We commiserated about daycare woes and I felt like I had found an ally - albeit one with no tenure clock looming in front of them.

Later in the day, a circle of introductions were made, and I was dismayed to discover that all the female faces that I had assumed to be sciencey were, in fact, not. The women faculty were in departments like art and English. And the new faculty in the sciences and engineering? Men.
There is a female visiting asst. prof in another science department and three women in the social sciences, but I am the only new tenure track woman in the natural sciences. I felt alone - abandoned by the people I had naively assumed to be compatriots. And that feeling was intensified as we made casual introductions after the formalities were over. I was the only new tenure track female faculty member that was married, much less a mother.

What's the take-away lesson from the new faculty orientation? Sure, you can may be a woman academic, but if you are, you probably aren't a scientist and you certainly aren't a mother.


e. said...

... or if you are a scientist and a mother you probably don't have a faculty job ... But it is good to see examples, like you, which show that this is not always the case!

EcoGeoFemme said...

That really sucks. It sucks because my initial reaction was that those science men have it so much easier than you, given they have fewer life responsibilities but the same tenure requirements. And I really want you to hang in there so you're not the foregone conclusion. (and it's all about what I want, right? :) )

But maybe you have it pretty good. The love and support you get from your family might keep you focused and creative and better. You show them that a mother can be a damn good professor, too!

Dr. Lemming said...

I don't know about your ology, but in geology some societies, like the AGU, are very proactive in statistically analysing the gender and cultural statistics of fellowship, while others (names withheld) assume that ignoring the problem will make it go away.

In the case of the AGU, every year during nomination season they point out that once nominated, men and women have a similar chance of being inducted. And they exhort the general membership to go out and solve the nomination bias.

Ellen said...

these women that you met just might be as passionate about their careers and lives as you, even if they are not scientists and mothers. i find it sad that you are so quick to brush them off. You are naive, not because you assumed them to be compatriots but because, since they are not in your exact position, you assume them not to be. These are highly most likely professional women. Do not slight them for their nonscience degrees and lack of offspring.

ScienceWoman said...

e. - I think you said it the right way around - what I meant to say.

ecogeofemme-thanks for reminding me to think positive.

dr. lemming - So AGU's stance is not that their selection committee is biased, but that their membership as a whole is biased? How comforting!

ellen - I am CERTAIN that these women are highly professional, interesting, passionate about their careers and lives, etc. I didn't mean to slight them. What I want is someone to comiserate with. Y'all are wonderful on-line, but it'd be nice to have someone to grab a cup of tea with. And despite their passion, professionalism, and interestingness, the other new faculty are quite in same boat I'm in, and that makes the comiseration less likely to happen. Do you see what I'm saying?

B said...

Maybe now that you are there that will start to change. Perhaps they will hire more women next year, or perhaps some of the women faculty will start families! My PI is a women w/ a child and she is in a T-T position in a science (of course she is the only female in her area as well). You and she are great examples for me and other young women, hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I think there is just some dispersal process going on to get us distributed evenly about the country. I'm a mother to a four month old, wife, scientist, and brand new tenure track assistant professor. Hang in there - we can do this!

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