The other day I had a bit of a conflict with someone at work and I talked to somebody else about it to get an outsider's perspective. One of the first things they advised was:"you should try and step in their shoes and see it from their point of view". I immediately thought to myself:"I wish THEY would step into MY shoes and understand how I feel". Of course I didn't say this and the reminder to look at the situation from the other's point of view did actually help me in understanding what the conflict was about. But this experience also made me realize that the only way other people can put themselves in my shoes is if I express myself well. And that led to the realization that for everybody the range in which they express their feelings is very different (see figure for a very rudimentary illustration). One person might easily share it when they are not feeling well, while another person will put on a brave face and pretend they're doing okay. And then when a third person asks both people how they are doing, the anwer "I'm okay" can have a very different meaning.
Some people are rather sensitive to where somebody else sits on scale of Feelings Expressions, while for other people, this may need to be made more explicit. Personally, I've come to realize that I am on the top scale in the figure, and I don't easily share if I'm not feeling well. At the same time I hope that if I say "I'm okay", people will immediately understand that I'm not too well. And that obviously leads to disapointment on my side.
Wouldn't it be nice if there was an easy way to calibrate these scales before entering into a conversation...?
Yesterday, the Brain Prize was awarded. No doubt that this year's winners have made a strong contribution to neuroscience, but it was quite painful to see that this was the sixth year in a row that the winners of this prize were men. So far, 2 out of 28 winners have been women.
What we can do to change this, is to nominate more women for this prize, as the Brain Prize twitter account immediately suggested.
What I would hope the Brain Prize and the Lundbeck foundation would do is to make their selection committee more diverse too. And perhaps the members of said selection committee could ask for (is that how you use this in a sentence?) an inclusion rider.
Last week I wrote that a news outlet reported that Hans Clevers had said that Dutch women don't want to work hard. According to Hans Clevers, who came to my blog to reply, he hadn't actually said that.
Seeing the article on a Dutch news website, writing my post here and the discussion that followed left me feeling drained. I feel so frustrated that while I and so many others with me point out how this attitude of saying "I have done some things and there is nothing we can do to further increase diversity" is unhelpful and harmful, it does not seem to change the speed at which diversity increases. Outside of this blog, the LNVH ("Landelijk Netwerk Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren"; the Dutch society for Women full professors) wrote a letter to a large Dutch newspaper. And Athena's Angels (an initiative of 4 female full professors) wrote a reply in the same news paper today. But otherwise nothing happened. What could have been an opportunity to start a discussion on how to improve diversity in (Dutch) academic science, and increase the retention of women and minorities in the academic pipeline, ended in silence, at least as far as I can see.
I want to look into scientific literature on methods to increase diversity in STEM (or elsewhere) to write a post with suggestions on what to do and what works, but haven't had the time to do so. If you have links/papers to share with me, please do so in the comments or on twitter.
And in the meantime, I want to acknowledge the energy it takes to address these issues and take a deep bow for those of us who do this on a daily basis. I realize the privilege of writing here under a pseudonym and being able to go to work at a place with great emphasis on diversity. As Sara Ahmed wrote in her blog post titled "Feeling Depleted : "I think of social privilege as an energy saving device: less effort is required to pass through." So for those who still believe women aren't working hard: this is also where their energy goes: into the invisible void of challenging the status quo.
Yesterday was International Day of Women and Girls in Science and it was great to see all the different faces of women and girls in science on twitter and read their stories. I love the atmosphere of people lifting each other up and cheering each other on. Sadly, my day ended with reading this news article where prominent Dutch cancer researcher Hans Clevers responds to criticism on the newly opened virtual cancer research institute "Oncode". Part of the criticism he received was the gender disbalance in this institute to which he respondes [my translation]:
"The gender balance is indeed a problem. But that problem is caused by women. We see many young women with potential, but when push comes to shove they quit. That's not our (the men's) fault. Dutch women just don't want to work hard."
Later in the article, he nuances this statement a bit by adding that it is not only women who are to blame, but (Dutch) society: that societal pressure to spend time with children on weekdays falls much more on women than on men. And by creating opportunities to work part-time, society has created a pretty narrow mold for women to fit: daycare centers often don't offer 5 days a week of care or advise against taking 5 days and HR people often ask pregnant women how many days they are planning to come back to work to (thereby implying less than 5 days), which is not asked to men. According to Hans Clevers, this causes the leaky pipeline: the fact that men and women perform equally through graduate school and post-doc and then women drop off in dramatic numbers.
Now let's unpack what he is saying here:
- Part-time culture. It is true that The Netherlands are the country where most people work part-time and there is a huge gender disparity there (see figure). A likely explanation is that Dutch women were relatively late compared to other countries to join the workforce, and many people of my generation and older have grown up with their mom at home taking care of housework and the kids, which is different than in the US for example where women joined the workforce much earlier. It is important to note that the gender disparity in part-time work is not only due to child care obligations, because also women in their 20s without children work part-time in large numbers. There is no clear data showing why this is: is it the choice for different sectors of employment where part-time work is the norm and it is more difficult to get a permanent contract, are women more inclined to live to work rather than work to live or is it a matter of everyday sexism that favors men for full-time high profile positions? We need to understand this better before we can start pointing fingers. I do agree that the narrow mold for women to fit in terms of how to combine children and a career is problematic, and I hope that when men such as Hans Clevers see this, they do the work to help this, for example by providing high quality childcare at work. The ratio of children to daycare teachers is much higher here than it was for our (expensive!) daycare in the US, which for us was a reason to each work 4 days to only need 3 days of daycare.
- Women don't want to work hard? Let's go back to this first statement from Hans Clevers, even though he later goes back to add more nuance. I would love to see actual data showing that this is true, because I am aware of data showing that women actually have to work harder in order to get equal results, and the other way around: that with equal levels of productivity, women are less likely to get promoted/get grants/get papers in high IF journals. And that is on top of the fact that most of these women will be doing this hard work in a climate that is unsafe and unwelcoming. So we should ask ourselves (and this is somewhat of a rhetoric questions): are women not willing to work hard, or do women - after working equally hard with less recognition while taking on more of the childcare responsibilities - at some point think "f*ck this sh*t" and leave academia?
- What it means when someone like Hans Clevers says this. This is the part that really makes me sad: that someone in such a position of power as Hans Clevers makes statements like these that seem unsupported by the data that is out there on gender disparity and general inequality in academia. How many young students who are women, people of color and in particular women of color who have few or even no role models to look up to will read something like this and think "f*ck this sh*t" even sooner? Also, making such a statement suggests a lack of awareness of Hans Clevers' own bias against women and minorities. If he has the choice between hiring a man or a woman for a position, I'm pretty sure his bias against women ("women don't want to work hard") will likely drive him to choose the man, unless the woman is extraordinarily qualified. And for someone who is likely in numerous committees deciding the future of young scientists, this is highly problematic and demoralizing.
This morning, BlueEyes woke up with a slight fever and a bad cold. Nothing really bad, but he clearly couldn't go to school. My thoughts:
"Oh no, my kid is sick."
Immediately followed by: "I'm glad today is Wednesday which is husband's regular day home with the kids so we don't have to arrange something".
"But what if he's still sick tomorrow, then I have a really busy day, so I will have to negotiate who gets to work when. I really don't want to have to miss the meeting that I have".
"I feel really bad and guilty that my first thoughts are about MY job instead of my sick kid."
"What if I had a kid that had an actual illness? I would worry to death and would never be able to think about anything else, how do people cope with that?!"
And then these thoughts continue to go in circles, occupying a good 65% of my brain for most of the day.
Imagine this: every year you go on vacation to a location close to home, say Drenthe*. It's fine to go to Drenthe, there are farms where you can pet a little horse, there is a small museum and some sights to see. But then one year, instead of Drenthe you get to go some place really nice and fancy, say Ibiza. It is awesome, you have sun and beach and parties and it gives you much more energy than Drenthe. It makes you realize that there is so much more in the world than just going to Drenthe.
But then the next year, circumstances dictate that your vacation goes to Drenthe again and not Ibiza. Complaining about it makes you feel spoiled because it is a vacation after all, but now that you've seen what vacations can also be like, Drenthe just seems a bit bleak in comparison.
This is how I feel about being back in my old job after having spend last year doing a different job. It feels like a huge first world problem to complain about something I liked before, but at the same time I feel like I keep doing the same thing that is not giving me a lot of energy where in the other job there were so many new and exciting things that were giving me energy. And even when those things would not be new and exciting anymore I believe they fit me better. And knowing that, additional time spent in my current job does not get me to where I'd want to be in my career. I need to figure out how to start the conversation about other opportunities within the company because it seems that people have already forgotten that I said how much I liked Ibiza and now just sent me back to Drenthe thinking I'd be satisfied just being on vacation.
*Feel free to replace this with a location close to your home.
After I just got off the phone with my PhD advisor feeling all warm and fuzzy, I suddenly thought of this post from five years ago:
Recently, I realized that I now love my PhD advisor more than ever. Even though during my PhD I have frequently thought otherwise. This graph nicely illustrates how liking my advisor changed over time.
Yesterday I read this article from a mom writing about raising her girls to say "Don’t say that to me. Don’t do that to me. I hate it.". I don't have daughters but I do have two sons and have been thinking about parenting and what we can do to make a more equal society in which hopefully men won't believe they are powerful enough to abuse women or treat them badly without consequences. Obviously, I am not the first to think about this and the internet offers suggestions such as: not giving different chores to boys and girls, and don't use "like a girl" to say something is inferior. And then there was this great last year's New York Times piece on raising feminist sons.
These are the things that I consiously do to make my kids aware of consent and equality:
1. I always ask for consent to touch or kiss them: I always ask "can I give you a kiss" or "can I give you a hug". This may seem a bit ridiculous to some, and it actually started because my oldest often does not want to be touched and is very particular about when he likes to get a hug. But I also believe it makes it more normal to ask for consent in sexual relationships when you're used to asking for consent to touch each other's body. And now it actually really bothers me when people hug my kids without asking or warning them. I also sometimes talk to them about you being the owner of your body and that you have a say in who does something with it.
2. When it comes to equality I find it harder to find the right tone, especially because Dutch TV has a lot of pretty sexist children's shows. There is a channel that in the morning broadcasts shows like Lego Ninjago and Power Rangers and advertises it with:"BOZ - more for boys!". And then there are numerous shows that have an element of competition and more often than not the competition will be boys versus girls. With obviously all sorts of tiny little remarks that girls are not as good at a whole bunch of things. I always imagine what it would look like if they wouldn't divide the kids by gender but by race and that would of course never happen on TV! So why does is it so normal and accepted when it comes to gender. Either way, I try to talk to them about this and fortunately (or should I say obviously) my husband and I share a very equal load of household tasks to model to our kids that men and women are very equal in what they can do and contribute. I try to model that for example your preference for particular chores (my husband likes cooking better and I like laundry better) should determine the discussion of who does what rather than what gender you have.
3. I let them cry if they need/want crying. I never say things like: "boys don't cry" or anything along those lines. I listen and let them express whatever needs expressing.
What about you? Do you consciously parent your children in what can be considered a feminist way?
Yesterday I met with a graduate student to talk to them about my experiences leaving academia. They asked:"What is the biggest difference between working in academia and industry?". Of course there are many differences (and quite some similarities too), some of which I have probably discussed on this blog before. But one of the main differences that I had not expected when making the transition, is the amount of people you (have to) interact with in order to get your job done.
In academia, of course there are many people to interact with: you usually work with your PI (if you're a grad student or post-doc) or with the people in your lab (if you're a PI), and then with collaborators, university staff, colleagues, etc. But the amount of people who are crucial in decision making (for example on which project to pick) is usually limited (please comment if you think I'm wrong!).
In the type of matrix organization that I work in, there are a ton of people to make decisions to move a project forward. I am in R&D, and already within R&D there are different teams that all need to align, and different directors that need to have a say, and then there are the people in other functions that either need to make decisions themselves about the project, or at least need to be managed in order not to protest against a decision.
And another thing that really surprised me at first is the fact that most meetings are not actually meant for decision making. Instead, they are meant to have all the important stakeholders in the room to say yes, while the actual decision-making process has already happened in pre-meetings, or pre-pre-meetings or over coffee or at the water cooler. And so I find myself spending a considerate amount of time talking to people: understanding whether they would support a project and if not, if I can convince them otherwise or what would need to happen for them to change their minds. One of the directors remarked the other day:"the main thing that stands in the way of success in this project are people's emotions. We need to manage those".
This morning when I cycled to work I listened to this Hidden Brain episode about making fresh starts. It ends with Amy Mann reciting the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
This year, I've lost quite a few things: my kids are both in school so I lost having really small children. I left my old apartment. And even though it is not my loss, when Little Brother recently lost his favorite stuffed animal (a monkey he received as a present three years ago) at school, it definitely felt like my loss. Coming from a family of hoarders, I am quite bad at coping with losing things. Little Brother on the other hand seems quite undisturbed. The stuffed monkey is still lost, and every now and then he asks whether the monkey is still hiding, searches for the monkey and concludes the monkey is not back and that seems it. At the same time I am heartbroken about the monkey and I picture him laying in the cold on a muddy playground somewhere.
I am also slowly losing my identity as a scientist. Or perhaps I'm not losing it, but it is no longer my main identity, which I think is a good thing for me. As they say in the Hidden Brain episode: "when one door closes, another one opens". That is definitely true for the scientist identity loss, but I'm not sure which door opens for a lost stuffed monkey.