It’s not you, it’s your environment

I recently had a conversation with a male friend at another institution. While he is successfully advising graduate students of all genders, he was concerned because two women students had quit after their first year and he’s not had a man quit. My friend told me that they had good reasons for quitting, unrelated to his advising, but he just didn’t like that pattern and feared that maybe he was also doing something wrong that made it harder for women to succeed in his lab.

Having watched my friend in professional settings and knowing that he’s pretty plugged and conscientious about issues of women in science, I don’t think my friend isn’t doing anything egregious. In fact, I’d like to believe that he’s one of the men exemplifying how our society is changing for the better. Nonetheless, it probably wouldn’t hurt my friend to review Acclimatrix’s “Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic” to up his game.

But knowing my friend and knowing his institution (having spent a few years there myself), my response to my friend’s fears was “It’s probably not you, but it might be your environment. Look around at the climate for women in your department and university.”  Even if my friend is running a great, supportive research group and doing a superb job mentoring students of all genders, that won’t completely counteract a male-dominated, sexist broader environment. Continue reading

Advertisements

Men: if you really want to support women, take your feminism to eleven

Dear Well-Meaning Feminist Male Friends and Colleagues,

We need to talk about what happened. I’m not talking about the incident when when our co-worker cracked that inappropriate comment at the holiday party, or the faculty meeting where Prof. Curie was asked, again, to take notes, or when that high-profile Nobel laureate said something really offensive at his talk. Remember the other day, when that guy started yelling abusive language, got up in my face, threw some sexist slurs my way, and wouldn’t back down? It was a situation that could have easily escalated, but didn’t. I was glad you were with me afterwards. The glass of water, the cookie, the comforting words, the advice on how to handle it with HR — those were all really helpful. Thank you. But that’s not the part I want to talk about.  Continue reading

When I hear a story of harassment, what do I do?

Recently I was at the periphery of a conversation in which women, in a completely different field than mine, were talking about an experience one had during an interview, during which inappropriate comments were made. While completely sympathetic, another woman said: “You were lucky you weren’t at University X, where it would have been much worse.”  That conversation and recent events in the online science community got me thinking about how often these quiet confidences are exchanged.

While I have only heard a few stories of sexual harassment or assault in my field, I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m in the one profession in the entire world that is entirely populated by people who behave appropriately at all times. So it seems like only a matter of time before I hear a story, or stories, that hit close to home professionally…before I hear a story where I have to ask myself “What do I do now? Now that I have this knowledge that I can’t unknow about the unacceptable behavior of someone in my field, what do I do?”

Continue reading