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.