astra_nomer: (geekchic)
The last couple mornings, I got in the car and heard these reports about ethics guidelines for ob/gyns, being put forth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Getting angry first thing in the morning isn't really a pleasant way to start your day.

quotes from the reports )

"Pro-life Ob/Gyn" sounds like some kind of oxymoron. I gotta say, if you're going to be an ob/gyn, you have an ethical obligation to provide the full range of reproductive services, from pap smears and baby delivery to birth control prescriptions and abortions. If you have a problem with that, become an orthopedist or something. You're a doctor, you're supposed to treat your patient, not preach at her for what you perceive as her moral failings.

Next we'll find that doctors are in their rights not to treat overweight people for diabetes, because gluttony is a sin, too. Bah.
astra_nomer: (Default)
Caught sight of this item over at Thus Spake Zuska. Apparently, the journal Nature reprints its original mission statement in every issue. Said mission statement includes the line,
"to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time."

Recognizing that the phrase "Scientific men themselves" might be objectionable in the 21st century (if not the preceding 1.38 centuries as well, really), the editors announced a change in the wording in an editorial in yesterday's issue. The new improved wording will be... wait for it...
"Scientific men [sic] themselves".

hmphf. Personally, I agree with Zuska, that it's a big cop out.

Nature likes to thinks it's on the cutting edge of science research, but it's more like the bleeding edge - I'd estimate that half the results published in it get quietly retracted within a year, at least in astronomy. Maybe by being behind the times in gender equality, it balances out?
astra_nomer: (Default)
As part of the 5-question interview meme, [livejournal.com profile] arcanology asks:

1. What should an individual male academic do in order to make the academic career less male-biased?

It's such a good question and provoked such an involved response that I've decided to re-post my answer on its own here.

So let's say you're Prof. Joe Average, white and male. First of all, you should be aware that if you really want to improve the environment for women, you have to do more than mean well, you have to actively work to make changes, and that those changes need to begin with your own interactions with respect to women.

Realize that just because you don't see a problem doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist. You have been sheltered from the problems facing women (or minorities for that matter, a whole 'nother topic!) all your life. Just because someone has had a different experience from you doesn't invalidate her experiences. Don't take it personally if you hear a woman gripe about her experiences with chauvinist men - she isn't necessarily speaking about you specifically.

Understand that you, yes you, have unconscious biases towards women. All these studies I discuss in my livejournal about attitudes toward women as they apply to the business world? Read them. Acknowledge that you are part of the problem. Yes, you, no matter how well-intentioned you are -- those unconscious biases are sneaky that way.

Be aware that your perceptions of a woman's ability might be clouded by your unconscious biases. Repeatedly ask yourself, would I treat this person differently if she were a man? When I write recommendations, do I talk about how brilliant and independent my male grad student is, while talking about how organized and hard-working my female grad student is? Do I believe that the newest female assistant professor got her job only because she is female? Those attitudes need to change. This part may be hard work, but no one said that cultural change was easy.

Seek out qualified women for your colloquium series, your conference speakers, your job search candidates. Keep in mind that women are often worse at self-promotion than men, so even though the first people that come to mind might all be male, there are almost certainly women whom you may not have heard of that would fit the bill as well. Along those same lines go out of your way to give opportunities to your advisees, like talking them up to your collegues, suggesting conferences for them to attend, and encouraging them to give talks.

Point out sources of unconscious biases to your collegues. Show them those studies you've read. Get them to also be aware of their own unconscious biases. Identify cultural issues in your department that might unintentionally disfavor women. For example, if your department puts a high value on "face time," that would work against people who might leave early to pick up the kids, but then work from home after the kids have gone to bed. Another example is if salary increases stem mostly from someone waving job offer from a rival department around - you should be rewarding people for their loyalty to your department, rather than their threats to leave.

When you see misogyny in your institution, whether it's lewd pictures sexual harassment, or simply unprofessional attitudes toward women, speak out about it. The women that are subject to the harassment may be unwilling to speak out for fear of retaliation.

And when you've done all that, don't rest on your laurels. This is going to be a long, hard fight. Constant vigilance!


(Answers to other interview questions will be forthcoming. Soon. I promise.)
astra_nomer: (Default)
I can't recall if I ever got around to posting a review of the book "Women Don't Ask" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It's very good reading, looking into how women are conditioned to avoid negotiation, and end up losing out because of it. It's a strong driving force behind the gender pay gap.

One would think that the solution would be to encourage women to stand up for themselves, be more assertive, and go out of their way to get what they want. But you'd be wrong.

This article from today's Post refers to a new study that shows that when women do ask for more, they get penalized for it. This conclusion shouldn't be terribly shocking - it's the same old saw about assertive women being perceived as bitches, even though the exact same behavior in men is not only accepted, but rewarded. However, it certainly helps explain why women are reluctant to ask for more in the first place.

It's evidence like this that shows that it's not women's fault that we aren't getting ahead - there are serious cultural hurdles that we need to overcome in order to be successful.
astra_nomer: (Default)
The Supreme Court has decided to make it easier for employers to discriminate against women. I guess the wage gap doesn't bother them in the slightest. Perhaps it's only coincidence that this comes soon after I read this article* about pretty blatant sex discrimination against an assistant professor at UCLA, where "it was discovered during court proceedings that her UCLA department had a secret reserve of money that they used to supplement the salaries of male faculty members only." So if your employer does something behind your back, and you don't find out about it until more than 180 days afterwards, does that mean you don't get to file suit against them? If your employer systematically gave you smaller raises than your male collegues over the past 19 years, it's not a valid claim? Oh right, that is what they ruled.

I used to be pretty naive about sex discrimination - I never really experienced it myself, so I thought. Up through grad school, I felt like I was treated pretty much the same as my male cohorts. Certainly my grades showed that I was as good as them. But as the criteria for success becomes more and more subjective, I'm feeling it more and more. It's nothing truly blatent, just the thousands of tiny paper cuts ("You'll have no problem getting a job, you're a woman." "Did having children in grad school make you take longer?") that bleed you to death. To have the Supreme Court, of all entities, make it harder for a woman to fight discrimination, that makes me all the more paranoid about my chances for success.

What with this and the "partial birth abortion" rulings, it seems pretty clear that the majority of the Supreme Court hates women. I share Ruth Bader Ginsburg's frustration and anger. The end of Bush's term in office and the accompanying chance to rectify the makeup of the Supreme Court can't come soon enough for me.

*seen at Bitch PhD
astra_nomer: (geekchic)
Wow, I didn't realize that my last post would generate so many comments! Granted, it's mostly [livejournal.com profile] dcltdw to blame, but thank you all for keeping it civil and generating such an interesting dicussion. *scritches* to [livejournal.com profile] dcltdw for being a silly rabbit.

While I can't really respond to every comment, I did want to respond to a couple of ideas that came up:

1) I'm not advocating affirmative action. I'm not really sure that that's the right response. For example, I am very reluctant to apply for any faculty jobs that are specifically allocated for a woman, because I want to be hired on my scientific merits, not simply because I'm a woman. On the other hand, I would be perfectly willing to apply for a grant that would allow me to return to research after a leave of absence for family reasons, if that circumstance actually applied to me. There's a difference there that I can't really articulate, but has to do with allowing for flexibility in your career trajectory or working hours, rather than promotions based on criteria other than merit.

2) The story goes that the academic tenure-track career path is based on the lives of sixteenth century monks who studied "natural philosophy," as it was called way back then. So our notions of ivory towers are based on that - pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and to the exclusion of all else. In the intervening centuries, life has changed. Science is no longer the exclusive domain of old white men (even though it still seems that way sometimes!) and yet the career trajectory has not changed much. If at any point you deviate from the grad school-postdoc-assistant professor-tenured professor path, it's extremely difficult to get back on. So, if you take some time off from research to, say, have a child, when you're ready to come back, you'll find that the doors have slammed shut to you. This is what I mean by flexibility - allowing for varied career paths, for people to have lives outside their careers. Several people alluded to the fact that longer hours do not necessarily mean greater productivity. The business world is finally beginning to realize that, and I hope that the academic world does, too.

Off my soapbox now, and to bed.
astra_nomer: (Default)
The Boston Globe has an interesting article today about a study done by the MIT Workplace Center (yay, MIT!) the difficulties in retaining female lawyers until they make partner. While this isn't exactly about women in science, the parallels to retaining women in many professions are analogous.


Of the 1,000 Massachusetts lawyers who provided data for the report, 31 percent of female associates had left private practice entirely, compared with 18 percent of male associates. The gap widens among associates with children, to 35 percent and 15 percent, respectively -- reflecting the cultural reality that women remain the primary care givers of children and are therefore more likely to leave their firms for family reasons.

The dropout rate among women lawyers is overwhelmingly the result of the combination of demanding hours, inflexible schedules, lack of viable part-time options, emphasis on billable hours, and failure by law firms to recognize that female lawyers' career trajectories may alternate between work and family, the report found.

...

Nearly 40 percent of women lawyers with children have worked part time, compared with almost no men, even though men in the profession have more children than women, on average.
(Emphasis mine)

It seems like there's no getting around the fact that women are still expected to be the primary caregivers for children, regardless of our own career ambitions and no matter what lip service is paid to gender equality. And then employers choose not to make allowances for that and, in fact, often penalize women for demands for flexibility, hence fewer women at the upper echelons despite growing parity in numbers at entry levels.

This is why I don't believe any of the arguments about intrinsic differences between genders leading to differential career success. Social conditioning and institutional inflexibility have much more to do with it. In scientific terms, I would say that social, cultural, and institutional forces are first order effects, and intrinsic differences are second order. And any good scientist knows that dealing with lower order effects is more important.
astra_nomer: (cecilia)
That's right. I started cleaning my office on Thursday, and now I'm finally on the last bit of going through Giant Mountains of Papers, sorting them, tossing out duplicates, and filing them away. And then maybe I can do some Real Work again.

In the meantime, here are some interesting articles I came across on the internet today:

astra_nomer: (Default)
I've posted about stereotype threat before, but I found this article particularly interesting. Basicially, stereotype threat is the self-fulfilling prophecy that can lead to women and minorities underperforming, by simply reminding them of their minority status. The article cites a study that looks at extremely subtle triggers that invoke the stereotype threat, like subliminally flashing the words "doll" and "lipstick" at women to cause them to favor arts over math, or the presence of a US flag causing an uptick in math scores among whites.

Boy, who knew this sort of thing could be so insidious. Imagine you're the only woman on the faculty of a science department. Not only are you very isolated in your position, but you have all these constant reminders (like the faces of the others in your department) that you are a woman in science, thereby invoking the stereotype threat. It makes me very leery of applying to some of these all-male departments.
astra_nomer: (Default)
Pepsico's new CEO is a woman. Which is great, because so few Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. On the other hand, it's kind of sad that this kind of thing is still big news in the 21st century.

I heard an interesting report about Indra Nooyi on the radio yesterday, and one of the comments that stood out was this: "Nooyi is respected by colleagues for being smart, funny, and very female."

It's a dilemma that successful women face: if you're competing against men and you start competing like a man, that turns people off and you end up losing. And often it's uncharted territory: how do you figure out how to succeed as a woman if you have no role models to go by?
astra_nomer: (geekchic)
Given that the Japanese emperor is just a figurehead, why does it matter if the next one is an empress? And why does parliament get to determine these things anyway?

Maybe it's just that I'm an ignorant American who don't carry no truck with royalty.
astra_nomer: (Default)
So, apparently, a student at a New England high school is claiming gender discrimination. The interesting thing is, the student is a boy. A white, middle-class male, suing for discrimination.

Certainly it's true that more women are entering college these days than men. But shouldn't we be saying, "You Go Girl!" instead of "ZOMG!! Save the boys!!!"

I cannot believe that education has changed so dramatically in this country over the last 10 or even 20 years that it's suddenly become biased toward girls. The educational system in this country was originally just for white males. Just 40 years ago, Harvard University did not allow women in some of its libraries. At the same time, the majority of elementary school teachers over the last century or more have been women, and while I won't rant about that issue now, it didn't seem to have hurt the legions of boys who were educated by them and went on to become successful men within the patriarchy.

Yes, it's true that boys have more behavioral issues than girls, and that will affect their educational opportunities. But is this really more of an issue today than in the past? Has boyhood really changed that much?

I recall being one of just a handful of girls in my high school science and math classes. I recall that when my calculus teacher handed out M&Ms to highest achievers in her class, that my candy was sometimes stolen when I turned my back, and at least one student complained that the girls always got the awards, even though we were vastly outnumbered by the boys.

Now I'm the mother of two boys myself. But I expect them to exert self-discipline in school. I expect them to do their best with their studies. I will help find opportunities within the educational system for them to get ahead. I will not tolerate them making excuses for themselves by saying they were discriminated against. If I've managed to succeed against the odds, they can too.
astra_nomer: (Default)
I'm listening to Friday's On Point, which discussed that NY Times article on Yale freshmen aiming to go to law school to become stay-at-home-moms. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] astrogeek for pointing it out to me!)

One of the panelists makes the point that feminism is about allowing women to have a choice between career and family.

Why does it have to be a choice? Why is it men don't have to make that choice? It's considered normal for a man to have both a career and family. It's considered superhuman for a woman to have the same.

I want to have it all, damn it. That's right, have my cake and eat it, too. And I'll badmouth you in my LJ if you try to get in my way.

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