Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Top Five Tips for Men

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There's so much to write about this week on the topic of gender equity, I hardly know where to start.  I'll back up two weeks to when a well-known male supporter of women in science wrote me and several others on behalf of a male colleague in the UK who sought advice on how to improve the representation of women and minorities in physics departments.  He was frustrated that his colleagues didn't understand the problem and were resistant to change, and wondered how some US departments had made real progress.  This opened a fascinating small-group email discussion about what works and what doesn't work.  Despite the important efforts to make academic culture change a science, it is still primarily an art, and the conversation arising in the network of practitioners feels to me like the gathering of Impressionist painters whose creativity was rejected by the Salon de Paris.  We share tips and hone arguments in a creative online atelier before presenting our works in exhibitions.  We need our own Salons for mutual support and exchange of ideas - Salons that explicitly welcome men to become full partners in advancing gender equity.

Having been asked many times why and how I became an advocate for diversity, I would like to share a secret: people asked me to do it.  Female graduate students and faculty told me this was important.  But that was not enough; I doubt there are any men in science who have not heard someone say that diversity and inclusion are important.  The real clincher for me was what they said next: "We think you can make a difference, we expect you to make a difference, and we will help you."  I was being held accountable.  If I wanted to succeed as a leader, I had to make this a priority.

To the men in the audience: you can make a difference, your colleagues want you to make a difference, and our new Salons (starting with CSWA) will help you.

With that background, here are my top 5 tips for men advocating real change:
  1. Avoid mansplaining, and speak up when you see others doing it.  If this is the first time you're reading the word, see this or this.  (I have another secret to share: I've mansplained, much to my embarrassment.  Someone called me out on it.  Thank you!)
  2.  Listen to women, to minorities, and to others unlike you. Recognize that their experiences are as varied as the experiences of white men, so don't overgeneralize.  And certainly don't conclude that gender equity has been achieved just because some people think Academic Science isn't Sexist.  Others (including us at CSWA) disagree for good reasons.
  3. Read.  Good starting points are Why So Slow? by Virginia Valian and Why So Few? by the American Association of University Women.
  4. Talk with other men and women committed to equity and inclusion.  You'll find some of them at this blog.  It's important that we realize that gender equity is not a women's issue, and racial equity is not a minority issue.  It's an issue for those in leadership positions, who in most of our fields are overwhelmingly white male.
  5. Commit to making a difference.  Join one of our Salons, for example the Association for Women in Science.  Several years ago I timidly asked the AWIS Executive Director if I could join despite being a man.  The AWIS President replied, "We are an association FOR women in science not OF women in science and we welcome all members who want to support our mission."  I couldn't agree more, and have long since dropped my timidity.  AWIS has helped me enormously to learn and grow as a leader.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. (r) Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
-- Margaret Mead, with permission