In one of my recent posts I bemoaned the fact that sometimes I do a whole lot of asking for the same thing over and over again, without being listened to. I want to make it perfectly 100% crystal clear that fatigue of asking should under no circumstances cause you to give up and go away. I was reading a post written by Abel Pharmboy today– which continues the discussion about what allies of women in science can (and frankly should) do to increase the participation of women in science, and help those that are already there.
Abel posts a letter he received from an esteemed female scientist- relating to a panel discussion on work-family balance that this person attended- where the panelists didn’t speak to the heart of the important issues. It seems that those well-intentioned panelists themselves didn’t understand the important issues for the audience here- and the audience gave them a kick in the pants and let them know the realities. The writer of the letter seized the opportunity after this meeting to take the important issues to her chair, to ask for change – or to demand change rather, and she did not take no for an answer.
There are a couple of very very important issues here.
1. Lesson #1: Don’t assume that anyone knows what you want just because they are your ally.
Do not assume that your allies know what you NEED- even if they are really, and truly 100% your allies. Allies do not have ESP- they need you to express what you need in detail, in order to comprehend and respond to your needs as female faculty, postdocs and students. This is especially true when your experience, needs and expectations are different from those of your allies… which they frequently are if you are a minority.
Now, a bunch of you are going COME ON LADY…. it’s so obvious what we need as women in science- … well to that I say… THEN WHY HASN’T IT HAPPENED YET??? And ya, sure, ok- this isn’t the only reason of course, but there are plenty of well intentioned allies out there but they can’t do what you want unless they KNOW what you want and need. Communicate these needs in detail- rather than just saying you need ‘childcare’ – you’ve really got to lay out the nitty gritty.
You wouldn’t go through a negotiation for a faculty position and just say you needed ‘startup money’ would you? You wouldn’t assume that the person doing the hiring knew exactly what you needed to run your specific research program would you???… why should you make the assumptions in other realms??
As one of my very absolute favorite collaborators likes to say … YOU are going to have to do some educating here.
2. Lesson #2: Use your voice to get what you want, and don’t take no for an answer.
Second, the writer of the letter did not sit around privately bemoaning the status quo, and complaining about how difficult her existence as a working woman in science is. She was angry (and rightfully so) and she channeled that anger into a positive outcome and she was not deterred by people in the power structure that told her that what it is that she wanted couldn’t be done for some vague and slippery administrative reason. If I only had a dime for every time a situation like this happened to me, I could quit my day job and go neuter cats for free on some fantastic Mediterranean island.
I mean shit ladies- we HAVE TO FIGHT FOR WHAT IT IS THAT WE WANT, and we can not give up when someone says the word no. I’m telling you from personal experience, you are going to have to be able to clearly communicate the issues, you are going to have to come with some creative solutions (and sometimes these are amazingly simple) in hand, you are going to have to ask over and over- you are going to have to ask (or tell, as it were) multiple people- you may have to pitch an angry fit in someone’s office now and then when it is really a critical point.
3. Lesson #3: All you allies out there- you MUST listen, you must think outside the box, and you must act.
I have written about this before- more or less. I know that you allies out there know some of the issues we women in science deal with on a daily basis, because you are good people… and some of you are very intuitive, and many of you have wives or colleagues that you see struggling. And for you- excellent colleagues and allies- I know that you are not purposely trying to keep women out of science- I know this in my heart.
But you can do better. You can educate yourselves about your unconscious biases you have (we all can, us girls too) and really try to listen when we come to you with an issue, and watch how colleagues treat us in faculty meeting. You are going to have to think outside the box of what you are used to doing in your professional setting- to really deal with our issues and change the culture of academic science to be more inclusive to women. You are going to have to take a lesson from #2 up there- and not take the easy bemoaning-the-status-quo way out, you are going to have to fight and think of creative solutions to some of these difficult problems, and sometimes you are going to have to find a way around the answer ‘no’.
Wow, I don’t know where that post came from- I haven’t pitched an angry fit in someone’s office in a couple of weeks!