Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Daring to Discuss

Someday I would like to talk about the gender dynamics I see playing out in my own department. But that is never going to happen, because it would get me in trouble and I like having a career in astronomy. Chalk it up to the troubles of blogging under my real name.

Instead, I'm finding myself forced to discuss this NY Times op-ed by John Tierney, which I had tried to avoid reading, knowing it would just make me angry, until a friend of mine forwarded me the link and I finally succumbed. Other bloggers have already covered this pretty well, saving me the trouble, so I recommend reading their thoughts on the article.

One thing I would like to address is FemaleScienceProfessor's comment:
On one point I reluctantly sort of agree with him: i.e., workshops to "enhance gender equality", mandated if certain legislation becomes law, could be kind of grim. In all likelihood, these would be yet another sounds-good-in-theory administrative requirement that PIs and others would have to sit through to be allowed to run our research groups.
While I do understand this fear, how else are we going to convince the scientific establishment, many of whom likely share Tierney's views, that gender bias is real and actually does keep women from succeeding in science careers? Clearly, just waiting for the old guard to pass on isn't working, because I've met plenty of young male scientists who are just as biased as the old ones: they just hide it better. A lot of them hide it so well that they aren't even aware that they are biased, and these are exactly the people that the workshops would need to get to.

Granted, there are right ways and wrong ways to run such workshops, and I'm not clear yet on which way things would go. On the other hand, the NSF's ADVANCE program has produced a lot of terrific resources and toolkits for increasing the participation of women in science, so it's not like they'd be starting from scratch. I remain cautiously optimistic.