Archive for the 'women in science' category

On diversity as a tick-box exercise

Nov 12 2018 Published by under Academia, diversity, role models, women in science

A few days ago I wrote about women in higher positions at Dutch universities and how it seems from research at economics departments that "women are still not gaining a foothold through the regular application and employment policies." At first glance, it is therefore encouraging to see that the Dutch scientific organization, the main funding body of Dutch academic science, has a diversity statement on their website.*

My initial enthousiasm about this waned when I wondered if this is just a tick-box exercise, instead of a true effort to transform Dutch academia into a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem. The reason that got me thinking about this is another edition of "Pump your career", the "Talent day for female scientists". I wrote about issues that I have with this title before, but one of the speakers at this event pointed out that at least NWO removed all the images of shoes from the website, so I guess that is something. But what is more problematic with this event is the fact that it puts the onus - and thus the work - to improve diversity on women. Why does it not focus on everybody to create a more inclusive work environment?

And then I noticed a picture of the recipients of a large amount of grant money and saw that they are all white men (click the picture in the tweet to see more white men!).

So women get a one day event to learn how to negotiate better, but consortia led exclusively by men get 19 million Euro for research.

 

* But when will NWO start focussing on diversity other than gender diversity...?

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Women at Dutch universities: from behind a curtain to a seat at the kids' table.

Nov 10 2018 Published by under Academia, everyday sexism, women in science

Recently, I learned about Anna Maria van Schurman, the first Dutch female student at Utrecht University in 1636. She was allowed to attend lectures, but only when she sat separated from the men, and hidden from them behind a curtain. Apparently men would allow a woman into the unversity, but only if they weren't distracted by her in their studies.

382 years later, women are everywhere in Dutch universities, but when it comes to the top ranks, they are still underrepresented. This survey across economics faculties comes to the following conclusion when assessing what is being done to promote more women to full professors:

The most successful programmes seem to be the additional ones specifically designed for women. In other words: as long as there are extras, women are being appointed. However, women are still not gaining a foothold through the regular application and employment policies.

It begs the question whether the 1636 situation where women are tolerated only when they are hidden behind a curtain is still the case in a way: women are only tolerated in positions that are specifically crafted for them - like a seat at the kids' table-, but they are not given an actual seat at the grown up table.

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On being comfortable enough for activism

I started writing as babyattachmode online just after BlueEyes was born. I felt that in the competitive academic world, where I was trying to establish myself in a position with a bit more permanence than a post-doc job, I needed to hide a part of my identity. I felt that it was better to hide the part of me that was a tired new mom and to only show the competitive postdoc who would stay productive no matter what to the real world. At the same time, as babyattachmode I could talk about things I thought could be different in academia, like every day sexism and the position of women in science.

After a few years with these two identities - babyattachmode online and my IRL identity offline - I realized that I wished I would be more like babyattachmode IRL. I started to speak up when someone would for example make a sexist remark in a meeting. At first, this made me highly uncomfortable, but the more I did it, the more normal it felt.

And in the beginning of this year I grabbed the opportunity to become involved in the inclusion and diversity group within the company I work for. I have a permanent position where I am now and felt comfortable enough to become more vocal on this topic. However, as Sara Ahmed pointed out: "When you expose a problem, you pose a problem". I tend to want everyone to be happy and posing a problem is the opposite of that.

I realized that some people would respond annoyed when I told them I was working on this topic and for example told that they felt that this was unnecessary ("we already have women, right?"). Last week, I gave a talk about this topic to over a 100 colleagues. I was 90% excited about this and 10% afraid it would not be good for career advancement if the 50-something white men in the company  people in leadership positions would see me as 'the angry feminist'. So semi-consciously I dressed as elegant as I could to avoid this as much as possible*. Perhaps babyattachmode wouldn't care what she wears and my IRL identity does, but slowly I am merging these two identities in the real world and it feels really good.

What about you? Are there parts of your online identity that you wish you would use more offline?

*Writing this and the title for this post makes me realize the privilege of my situation: I am white, cis, thin, heterosexual and able-bodied and I can choose whether I feel comfortable enough to be an activist when it comes to diversity and inclusion at work. I realize that this is not the case for everyone and that sometimes the way you look or the life you live almost automatically makes you an activist.

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What are the little things a company can do for its employees?

Despite all sorts of horrible stuff going on in the world, this weekend I wondered about something a little lighter: the small things companies do for their employees. For example, the company I work for has a service to do your drycleaning for you (if you bring it to the office- and I think you have to pay too), and was recently contemplating whether to offer a flower delivery service, where you could pick up flowers at the office.

These services seem to have been chosen with rather traditional gender roles in mind: are these really the things that a diverse array of employees benefit from?

The reason this got me thinking this weekend is that I realized that we had almost no time to buy a birthday present for a party that BlueEyes was invited to this weekend. Wouldn't it be convenient if my company would offer a service that would handle this for me and buy me a little pack of Legos or something like that? And along those same lines, what about a service to triage phone calls from school before disrupting my work schedule? I know of another company that offers onsite daycare with the option to have your baby stay the night if you need to travel for work, which seems very useful to me. And I can imagine that people who need to go to the pharmacy to refill their prescriptions often might benefit from a service that is offered to do that for them.

What about you? What would the most helpful service be that a company could offer to you?

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On #MeToo, courage, empathy and igniting the atmosphere

I only watched the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearings yesterday. I don't live in the US anymore and the process of supreme court nominations are not something I would normally follow. But of course this wasn't about that. It was about somthing that touches all of us. To me, these hearings symbolized what it is like to be a girl and a woman in a patriarchical society. Where from a young age, you become aware that boys can do things with you that you have to carry with you for the rest of their lives while they laugh about it.

This thread details how that happens ALL THE TIME:

And Christine Blasey Ford's incredibly moving and couragous act of speaking out and uncovering all those feelings that she has carried with her all those years inspires me tremendously.


But it also makes me sad that apparently you need to be white, academic, blonde, have a PhD, etc in order for people to MAYBE believe you. You need to have exactly the right tone and say the right words. It's not like because we know that assault and date rape happens, we easily believe women who come forward and say this has happened to them.

And then Kavanaugh's statement started and I had to switch the livestream off. Not only because it was bedtime for my kids here, but also because it was hard and painful to watch. It made me wonder: what if he actually didn't remember that this happened? I guess it is very possible that an event that haunts one person for the rest of their live is 'just another party' to another person. And that is what is the most horrible part of this to me: the complete lack of empathy that this indicates. And that by making it so hard to talk about this for the victims, it automatically makes it difficult to spark empathy in (potential) perpetrators. And that's when this morning I found this comic that hits the nail right on the head about why we need a #MeToo movement and what it can bring us if we use it well.

And if - like me - you're fantasizing about what all the rage of women in the world could do, @scicurious calculated that for you in this thread:

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On recognizing bias directed to you

A while ago, I received feedback that "I shouldn't show my ambition so much because it makes people around me uncomfortable". It was one of those remarks where at the time that I received this feedback, I didn't really react to it. I didn't immediately react for multiple reasons, the primary one being that I wanted to keep my pokerface in this meeting and I knew that reacting would mean that I would show emotions.

But when I cycled home later, I wondered whether the giver of said feedback would have said the same to a man. And I continued to wonder how you can recognize this? Because when you're the person giving feedback like this, you can flip it to test it, ie. check whether you would have said the same to a man as you would have to a woman. And sometimes it is obvious that the feedback is sexist, for example when you're a woman and asked to smile more. But in this case I believe it is much more subtle and perhaps I am being too pushy on what I would want to achieve and when?

Either way, I realized (again) that recognizing bias takes time and effort, and therefore it is a classical Nature move to put the burden of confronting gender bias in the workplace on women's shoulders. As this article clearly lays out: the onus shouldn't solely be on women to change the workplace:

"we cannot and must not absorb facetious messaging that says we created and can fix failings that are not of our own making—and that we might somehow shape-shift until we fit perfectly into fundamentally flawed workplaces."

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Reader question: conference, baby and looking for jobs

Last month, I received the following question from someone who found my blog and has the following question:

My wife and I will both be attending SfN 2018 in San Diego with a ~3 month old.

I found your blog post and was intrigued by your insights.

I was wondering if I could ask you for some further advice given your
experience.

To give you a brief idea, neither my wife and I nor I have any idea
how to be parents yet. Furthermore, we will both ideally make contacts
at SfN that lead to ideally both of us having employment. (My wife is
looking for tenure track positions, whereas I would take a postdoc or
industry position, depending on a variety of complicated factors.)

Personally, I grossly underestimated how much work a baby is before I had a baby. Taking a baby to a conference means that whenever you're not working and would otherwise be relaxing and/or networking (I know, for some people networking is not at all like relaxing), you're now taking care of a baby. However, there are so many people who make this work, so why couldn't you?

In a subsequent email he's even more specific in his questions:

Related to your original post wherein folks assume that mom with baby
wants non-serious baby-gush fun time instead of serious science, have
you ever heard/seen a new father going to posters/talks with baby in
arms? If so, does the same effect hold?

I'm still not sure if this was my own insecurity at the time or that more people share the feeling that once you're holding a baby, everyone assumes you want to talk about the baby and not science (please comment if you have experienced either one!). I think that many conferences, including SfN get more and more welcoming to babies and children and that it will hopefully be more and more normal to be a parent AND a scientist at the same time.

I happen to be a tall-ish white American man, whereas my wife is a
non-white female from not the USA. I am totally willing to carry
around new baby in an attempt to help her avoid having people assume
it's just a baby-gush social fun time event because she is interested
in learning everything she can about a new direction for her research.
On the other hand, I wouldn't want folks to think my wife was somehow
a "bad mom" for leaving infant baby with dad for a while. (I do not
trust that even well-educated, most probably liberal, most probably
wealthier academics to perceive a woman fairly. As an example, at SfN
one year, I witnessed a prominent PI explicitly ask one of his
postdocs why she wasn't drinking alcohol at a social event as 'there
could be some problematic reasons for that'. I can only assume this PI
meant that it would be a problem if this postdoc was pregnant, which
is completely inappropriate.)

Great that you're willing to step in to take more than your fair share of parenting to give your wife the chance to network. I would certainly hope that people don't assume that she is a bad mom for doing that, and at the same time I wonder if a place that has an attitude like that is somewhere you would want to work...

We are also curious to know how you approached social events after
hours, such as the Presidential Gala and other dinner/drinks events,
as these have yielded leads to jobs and other important social
connections before. Most of these events appear even less
infant-friendly than the main floor.

I have brought a baby to a social at SfN and that did not go very well. My baby was kind of overwhelmed and fussy, so less than ideal. If I would want to be sure I would be able to go there and have the opportunity to network, I would go without baby. If you can't manage to get childcare (bring a third adult?), I would decide to split the nights and each go to separate events while the other watches the baby, but perhaps other people (and other babies) feel very differently about this.

Do you know if SfN have anyone designated to serve as a point of
contact for parents who bring their kids? (Maybe they should?)

What are the statistics on doing SfN with kids? Maybe there should be
a social event just for parents who brought their kids?

I'm personally not going to SfN this year and as far as I'm aware there are no SfN-sponsored events for parents with kids, but I'm sure many more parents are bringing their kids and will walk around the posterhall with them. And then there's the lactation/baby care room where you will likely find many fellow parents. So perhaps all the sciparents out there who read my blog can practice a secret handshake to get in touch with each other?

Also, please add your wisdom and experience in the comments!

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#MeTooSTEM: stories for everyone

If you have been living under a rock and think sexual harrassment doesn't happen in academia, this new blog is for you.

If you think: this only happens in the US, this story is for you.

If you think: men who are accused of committing these acts lose their whole career, then read what the women it has happened to have lost and are still losing.

If you think: these women only come forward hidden behind pseudonym, that is not the case. Although understandably, many are.

If you think: if stuff like this happens, people who see it will speak up, this story is for you.

If you think: I have my own story, these resources are for you. Also, consider sharing your story.

If you think: I want to thank the person who is bringing this to light ánd started a petition to remove sexual harrasers from the National Academy of Sciences, then consider sending @McLNeuro a supportive gif on twitter!

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On credibility and using your title

The other day I was in a training where we talked about how you can influence other people and we revisited Aristotle's pathos, ethos and logos triangle on persuading people (google it if you want to know more). One point of this triangle, the ethos part, is about credibility and trust, and in this training we talked about what that could look like. It made me realize that for some, credibility comes easier than for others, because some people may look more like what society finds credible than others. For example, I've heard people say that I look young, and not much like a scientist, so I guess I need to bring other ways of establishing credibility than someone who does look like your stereotypical scientist. Also, that stereotypical scientist can afford himself the luxury of coming into work in shorts and sandals and still look credible, while his female counterpart has a much narrower definition of what she can wear to be assumed credible.

Another aspect of credibility for scientists is your Dr. title. I've heard many people say that there is no need to use your title, and especially in The Netherlands there is a culture where people tend to be very informal. But if you can't use your title to bring credibility, for example when you're teaching, then how are you supposed to do that when you don't have the stereotypical "credible looks"? And wouldn't a really strong way for white men to be allies to women (or people of color, or anyone else who does not come with the stereotypical credible looks) to start using titles again, even in a society that is informal and scores relatively high on the gender equality lists? Would this be one way we could counter the "gender equality paradox in STEM?"

 

 

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Back when I had a baby and a fellowship rejection in one week

Over four years ago, I came home from the hospital in the evening after a day that started with me thinking I was in labor (and so did the midwives, by the way) but ended with me not being in labor anymore while the baby was still in my uterus. I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed, but just before that I checked my email. Back then, my private email and most of my work email came to the same email address. And there it was: a long awaited email from the EU with the results of whether I was going to get a Marie Curie fellowship to do my own research back in the homecountry. As the EU did back then, the email just said something along the lines of "fellowship results", and then you had to click a link, log into their participant portal, find out that your password has expired, make a new password, log in again to then find a very cryptic message that still did not really say whether you got the money or not. I was exhausted from being in the hospital all day, but my heart was racing at the same time because I wanted to know if I got the fellowship or not.

Fast forward: I did not get the fellowship but I did have the baby 5 days later. And now that I look back at these emails I'm surprised to see that within 2 weeks of giving birth I was emailing with the professor who gave me feedback on this grant on how to rework it into a new grant. I so much wanted to succeed in academia that I kept thinking and working around birthing a baby. But before you get all judgy, I also remember very clearly how this was a way for me to stay connected to my normal world: my world that I was used to and to try and avoid the world I had experienced with my first-born: a world where I felt so alone with a crying baby. I was not - and am still not - someone who can sit still for a long time. I wanted to continue to think about science even though I had just had a baby. I want to take care of a baby and think at the same time.

I was reminded of this when the other day, a journalist tweeted the following:

And of course Twitter had lots of opinions, that Racael Pells summarized for Times Higher Education. But as you can imagine from the story I shared, this could have been me (that is - before you come to the part where she describes that the academic in question was male).

In hindsight, perhaps I wish my work email wouldn't come to my private email address. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn't have checked my email after a long day in the hospital. And in hindsight, I wish I could have been more in the moment with my little baby. I wish I had seen more examples of how people actually do this, as opposed to stories of women who submit manuscripts while in early labor. I wish academia wasn't so much of a linear career path, where I was afraid to take some time to be in the moment with a little baby. But there are many moments in a day. Some moments were spent mindfully bonding with my new baby, and other moments were spent sending emails. That is how it was.

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