One of my main motivations for writing here on Tenure She Wrote is to be an active part of the community of women in science, and because of that, I have been thinking a lot lately about how we can support other women in our scientific communities. There is a lot of discussion about that sort of vertical support, via mentoring, hiring, and outreach, but what about more lateral support for our colleagues in our department, our institution, and our broader fields?
There are, of course, the big things that we talk about including paying attention to the diversity of seminar and conference speaker lists; checking (and rechecking) for unconcsious bias in reviewing job candidates and in promotion decisions. But today I want to focus on those seemingly smaller things that can really make a difference to how connected and supported people feel.
I don’t have all the answers to this, so the goal of this post is to begin a discussion on things we can do – many with low time and effort commitment. It is worth noting that none of these – none – are specific for women or need to be done by women.
Please add to the list, expand, describe things that have helped along the way.
Invite colleagues out for coffee or for lunch. This is high on my list of things that really helped me feel like a part of my new department and institution. People reaching out to me, together with the social contact and finding out those little bits and pieces of information on departmental and institution functioning were (are) extremely helpful. This extends beyond the department – the Happy Hour group I discovered in another department, friends elsewhere in the university that I meet for coffee. These small informal meetings are particularly important in departments where women are in the minority (others have called it The Lunch Problem) where there is some concern about how inviting a male colleague to lunch or even coffee could be perceived.
Support (talk to) new parents. One thing that has come up from many sources is how important both social contact and discussions of science (not to mention sharing information on childcare) are for new parents -particularly those at home with a newborn. Many people -at all levels of academia – mentioned how informal discussion with friends and colleagues from the lab, the department, and their larger scientific community about science (and parenting) helped reduce not just the feeling of social isolation but also the feeling of distance from science and from academia.
More formally, this could extend to pushing for and writing grants to support childcare options* and dedicated lactation rooms at conferences.
Access to professional development resources. Professional development groups (e.g., AWIS, ADVANCE) and institutions often run workshops for professional development. But individuals are useful here too. Friends in several departments (and on twitter) have suggested books, blogs, other resources – and in one case a specific chapter that have a new or useful take on concerns I’m having (time management. Always time management). I plan to pay that forward.
That Women’s Lunch/Reception/Event at conferences. Go to it. Seriously. You might need to register in advance, as some fill soon after registration opens. You will meet people, that won’t always be useful to you, but your story might be useful to them. A quick google search gives web pages for Celebrating Women in Neuroscience (at Society for Neuroscience conference); Women in Planetary Science (at DPS); Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation Women’s Lunch; the Women in Learning lunch (at Pavlovian Society) and my favorite acronym WORMS (women in Operations and Management science). Again – these are often not limited to women and more aimed at supporting women.
Organize your own women’s – or feminist- event. Alternatively, you can organize your own Women’s event – whether it’s a meal or a larger reception. Women in Learning was founded and organized by graduate students and post-docs (and check out their supporters list). Or call it something different* – Social neuroendocrinologist and sex researcher Dr. Sari van Anders prefers the term “feminist” event, to move away from identity and more towards a shared goal or project for a more inclusive concept.
Introducing friends/colleagues/conference buddies to one another. This sounds simple, and somewhat silly, but you know what? It’s surprisingly powerful. This isn’t just about introducing women scientists to other women scientists, it’s helping everyone build their professional networks. I am a terrible matchmaker, but I try to connect my friends with one another at conferences, whether or not I’m there. Everyone wins. This past conference I met the friend of my first ever conference-buddy (yes we are still friends), and introduced another friend to someone I’d met at a conference over the summer.
Nominate other women scientists for awards. The saddest thing about this one is that I didn’t think about it at all, and it came up in none of my conversations. But then, as I was searching for links to Women in [X] websites and lunches, I saw this bolded on the DPS Women in Planetary Sciences website (which is great – they have summaries of some discussions from their luncheon too).
This is something I should definitely be more aware of doing – there are always nominations for awards for various organizations (that I routinely delete from my inbox).
What has helped you? Beyond mentoring, what do you do actively support women colleagues in your scientific community? What has failed spectacularly? What would you like to happen in your community?
*Many thanks to the many conversations I’ve had about this topic. Special thanks to Dr. Sari van Anders who in addition to sharing her thoughts and discussing her activities with me, also recently started the new online feminist science community Gap Junction Science.