Is it UNFAIR to have women’s faculty groups?

Yesterday I wrote a rather lengthy post about a women’s faculty group that I have started at my institution. While I strongly believe that this is a very important support and mentoring group to have in place for mentoring, retaining, and promoting women faculty, who as a minority have some unique issues in academia, I have come to realize that having such groups may be more controversial than you might at first imagine.  After all, in my observations and conversations with various faculty- here on the blog and in real life- it seems like organized junior faculty mentoring in general is: A. very passive, and B. pretty pathetic across the board (I’m protected from this in my department through some active efforts, thankfully).  And hey- in general- men in academia might benefit from some mentoring as well- so, why should women faculty be singled out for special treatment???

I realize that I am throwing something of a bomb by talking about this, but if people are whispering it up then I think it is time to deal with it straight up. You should know that in real life several people have come up to me and mentioned that the exclusion of junior faculty men, and men in general, from such mentoring groups is unfair.  When the announcement was made that I had taken the initiative to start such a group, a male faculty members first words to me in front of a larger group were ‘Can we have a men’s faculty lunch as well???” To my description of support by the Dean for my efforts at starting a women’s faculty group, commenter Whimple wrote…

Must be nice. I hope your Dean is as supportive of the younger academic career men with 2 kids … pre-tenure.

Whimple- I love ya- and thanks for voicing this so I get to talk about it on this blog. These thoughts and resentments are out there, sweeping them under the rug is not going to help things.

But here is how it is…. and there is gonna be some ass-kicking.  Men have been the majority party in science… well, since the beginning of science.  It is tough for me to imagine men in science needing a support group because they might feel isolated- no actually, that’s just absurd.  If you guys can’t walk next door and talk to each other about your issues- I say that’s your own fault- get your booty out of the chair and make it happen. Otherwise you have only yourself to blame for not getting what you need when there is an endless supply of people to ask for help. Many of us women don’t have a female science next door neighbor, or even another female TT department-mate, who might understand our unique issues and teach us how to function effectively in a male-dominated environment. If we did, having a group where we could get the support and mentoring we need from people with like experiences to help us climb the academic ladder successfully, wouldn’t be such a pressing issue. What’s my point? Feeling isolated is a terrible thing- but you have to take an active role to find mentoring (regardless of your gender)- it is my opinion that this is easier for the majority to find mentors within it’s ranks than it is for a minority that is small in numbers and is physically isolated from one another.

Secondly- about the junior faculty- I quite agree, but this is a different issue than the leaky pipeline for women in academia. There SHOULD be great active junior faculty mentoring with a formalized structure at every institution that puts out huge startup $$ to recruit and groom up junior faculty.  If part of  how you want to get there involves junior faculty meetings- I’m all for that, 100%. But, to all you people who think junior faculty mentoring is a good idea- DO NOT sit around on your backsides and just talk the talk. I am sick to death of people talking like they want a real solution, complaining that other people take the initiative to improve their own situation- and then doing absolutely nothing but complaining about their own. If you want inclusive, creative, improved junior faculty mentoring- then by all means- GO TO YOUR DEAN AND ASK FOR WHATEVER YOU NEED TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN. This is NOT a zero sum game, where the mentoring of women faculty is competed off against the needs of all junior faculty regardless of gender- and making it so is, well- just silly.

And, just so you know.  The momentum of the women’s faculty group getting started prompted a junior faculty member (a woman FYI), to go to the dean and ask for support for a junior faculty mentoring meeting to meet on a regular basis as well.  I can promise you that no one is more pleased about that than me.

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43 thoughts on “Is it UNFAIR to have women’s faculty groups?

  1. Yes it is unfair, no it is not absurd that men may be unable to seek mentoring from colleagues, and it is not fair to treat pre-tenure males with the same contempt as their ageing senior colleagues.

    You usually write with a great deal more thoughtfulness on issues than you show here. Yes, men should be responsible for organizing themselves, but there would be outrage if the men in your university got together and had a ‘mens lunch club’. You would probably be the first person to call bullshit on that.

    Mentoring of new faculty is not just about gender, and the exclusion of either gender furthers the notion that there are ‘secret’ differences between the gender. Perhaps you should have days in your girls club where you allow male faculty, postdocs and grad students to attend – they might get alot out of hearing frank discussion of the issues, and they might find it useful for their careers.

    The solution to gender imbalance does, ultimately, lie in an area where both genders work together to solve it.

  2. And the pipeline is just as leaky for men, its just that there are more of them so people don’t notice as much.

  3. oh wow, dr drA, you kick ass! you’re right, btw, starting the women’s group could be the catalyst for someone else to start the junior faculty group. as a student, i have to say no matter what, i benefit by having the faculty get together and trade points of view, strategies and general stress/job management techniques. all that amounts to happier and more efficient profs which is good for everyone 🙂

  4. Anon- I’m not trying to treat anyone with contempt, and I apologize if it seems so- I’m trying to be a catalyst for people to think about these issues (which in many ways I’m conflicted about myself), and then act to improve things. And I would argue with the notion that the pipeline is ‘just as leaky’ for men. There are certainly men who drop out of academic science- but if you look at the proportion of women vs. men up the academic science ladder– the drop out for women is vastly larger than it is for men. There are links in that post to the recent article in Science.

    Yes, men should be responsible for organizing themselves, but there would be outrage if the men in your university got together and had a ‘mens lunch club’. You would probably be the first person to call bullshit on that.

    Ah- you may be right about that. But here’s the thing-part of the issue for me is isolation- as it is for many other women faculty- simply by virtue of the fact that they are the ONLY woman in their department…. so it is much more difficult for women to find each other because of this.

  5. “Girls club?” Seriously, anon? That killed any credibility you might have had right there. Now it just sounds like whinging.

    As for the pipeline, those numbers are percentages, so your argument doesn’t hold much water.

    But but but DrDrA, What About The Menz???

  6. I think greater initiative needs to be spent to encourage junior faculty of all genders. Faculty have a “do it all” sort of job; balancing demands of teaching, research, and service can hit anyone (and I daresay, almost everyone) square between the eyes. As someone who has taught and someone who has tried to do research (although not at the same time), these two tasks are tremendously hard to do well. Dumping a PhDs into classroom environments and say “Teach these students effectively!” does a disservice to both the new faculty member and the students.

    HOWEVER, this all being said, mentoring tends to work best with a variety of grassroots mechanisms. The Women’s Faculty Group works at your school because of the motivated internal organizing that happened. The Graduate Student Association at my school works because of graduate students stepping up to the plate to spearhead the initiatives. The Faculty Mentoring program at my last school did not work because administrators imposed requirements on everyone that didn’t necessarily meet people’s needs.

    The Women’s Faculty Group does not mean that there cannot be other mechanisms. The Women’s Faculty Group meets the needs of some people, but it cannot meet the needs of all women.

  7. (Also, my answer is NO, it is not in any way unfair for employees belonging to disadvantaged and marginilized groups to have mentoring programs that are devoted to concerns particular to members of said groups.)

  8. There is absolutely nothing wrong with members of a group that has been unfairly discriminated against since infinity and continues to suffer undue and inequitable structural obstacles to career advancement banding together and trying to help one another.

    This should be completely uncontroversial.

    BTW, DrDrA, thank you for the kind words on your other thread. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from sharing my experiences with others and seeing them benefit from it.

  9. Women’s support groups are a superb idea and badly needed. The non-females are card-carrying members of the Boys Club with all the inherent rights and priviledges of being all male. I laughed out loud at the thought of “fair” – academia ain’t fair alright. For WOMEN.
    So, whimple, if you happen to be in a rare dept where there’s more women than men (and I want to know if the dept is hiring!), then you will benefit from starting your own group.

    Alot of depts have faculty mentoring programs which pair up tenured fac with newbies. They can be formal or informal, but the purpose is to help with all kinds of issues, grant submissions, lab management, courses, student conflicts, etc. If you don’t have a program for junior faculty, then you need to seek out the dean and take the bull by the horns on that idea. Every new fac will benefit from that.

  10. I find it interesting that whenever women or other minority band together cries of how unfair it is the majority power holders come up. My argument is that if the existing structures / systems were working, I wouldn’t need to be doing this. Like you said, look at the senior faculty and tell me what you see. Enough said.

  11. I don’t think it’s unfair at all to have a women’s young faculty group – in fact it sounds like a great idea. MassivePharma recently formed a Women’s Resource Group, with committees for career development and networking, among other things. Nobody will argue that being a young faculty is anything but hard, and getting your lab up, running and funded, is a fight, no matter what gender you are. Plenty of things aren’t spelled out for you, and you feel isolated & think you’re the only person this has ever happened to (like you mentioned in your previous post with ASP). Having a formal group to for advice, thoughtful discussion, and mentoring would be enormously helpful.

    Can you imagine what a shitstorm would ensue if a young male faculty member wanted to start up a men’s young faculty group. Would that reaction be fair? Sure, they can ask their older colleagues for advice, but nothing’s stopping women from asking their older colleagues (male or female) either. There’s no secret handshake for this old boy’s club – being a young male faculty doesn’t guarantee you patronage from the old male faculty.

    Mentoring, of any stripe, is enormously helpful for young faculty. Why can’t this be gender neutral?

  12. You asked if it was “unfair”. An organization, with membership restricted on the basis of birthright, devoted solely to furthering the career goals of its members… of course it’s unfair.

    You could also ask whether such an organization is productive. Haven’t we been trying this kind of thing for the last 30+ years? Don’t people recognize failure when they see it? In my view, the positive gains from such an organization to its members are significantly negatively offset by i) providing a focal point for the derision of your enemies, and ii) alienating those people of the “wrong” gender who would otherwise be allies to your cause.

  13. I do not think it is unfair. Why? because a “woman’s” only club is designed to mitigate the effects of past discrimination. Someone once made the analogy to me of a group of people cheating in a poker game for a long time, and then, when another group discovered it, and demanded that the effects be mitigated, said — OK, let’s play fair now. Playing fair after things have been unfair for so long does not result in fair outcomes.

    (However, in spite of the fact that I think it’s perfectly fine for you to organize women’s club, I think you should welcome anyone who wants to come. If there’s a young, un-tenured, faculty member who feels that they would benefit, I would welcome them at such a meeting. The fact that they’re unlikely to come just reinforces how much power lies in the hands of others).

  14. In my view, the positive gains from such an organization to its members are significantly negatively offset by i) providing a focal point for the derision of your enemies, and ii) alienating those people of the “wrong” gender who would otherwise be allies to your cause.

    Yeah, women shouldn’t organize themselves because it’ll piss off and alienate men. Women should just be nice and play along, and it’ll be all unicorns and rainbows.

    Are you fucking kidding with this horseshit!?

  15. Are you fucking kidding with this horseshit!?

    I’m just pointing out the unintended consequences. You may believe the gains outweigh the losses; that’s fine. We agree on the overall goals, we just differ on the best method of implementation.

  16. Any dude that’s pissed off because female faculty members decide to get together and set up a mentoring network to help each other succeed and therefore decides not to be an “ally” is highly likely to be exactly the type of entitled delusional asshole who wasn’t going to lift a finger to be an “ally” regardless.

  17. I only wonder why it has to be a woman-specific mentoring network. Do all new male faculty get a different handbook that tells them how to succeed? Shouldn’t all new faculty be facing similar problems? Couldn’t all new faculty benefit from the organized, formal advice of faculty who’ve gotten through the early stages of their career?

  18. Show me the guy who has agitated for a breast-pumping quiet space and I’ll show you someone who deserves to be in the women’s mentoring club. (Not saying there aren’t any–just betting that most treat that as a “women’s problem”–and then whine about how they’re not invited to the women’s club…). And DGT and whimple, what aren’t you getting about drdrA saying that a separate gender=neutral mentoring club IS being set up? What on earth is wrong with having an all-invite mentoring club and an isolated-women-could-use-extra-encouragement club both?

  19. Recently sat down with TT faculty in my college. I wasn’t focused on this, but after much conversation at my end of the table about children and schools and other family related issues, one of the women pointed out that only the males at the table had children. Furthermore, it was clear that the males almost exclusively had spouses who did not work outside the home. Being TT as a woman, particularly in science, is different from being male. The family issue is just one part of it, but I think it’s significant. Female academics are statistically far more likely to have partners with demanding careers, and thus a TT woman with kids is not necessarily experiencing the same demands as a TT man with kids. Of course this is not true of all cases, but I think putting a table of ~20 TT faculty together from one college and seeing that NONE of the women had families while most of the men had multiple children and doting spouses says a lot. I do think men should be actively mentored, but I see no reason why the different experiences of women (and other minority groups) shouldn’t be respected.

  20. Whimple you may or may not be an ally, but right now you sound like my post-doc colleague who stated to me “CIHR is wasting its money by printing those how-to-hire women phamplets” simply because there are female graduate students and post-docs.

    Secondly, as I stated on Professor Tams blog, many women miss out on the “informal” mentoring opportunities, ie drinks after work, seminars talks, due to family obligations. I am not saying the there are not males that are in the same boat, but the fact is that a greater percentage of women face this issue than men. If you do not see the benefit (or lack of it) of that alone, well then I am not sure how to get you to see the need for a Women’s Faculty Club. BTW are you advocating for better maternity leave and childcare along with that breast-feeding room? I happen to think these are gender neutral issues, but strangely it seems to be just the women bringing them up.

  21. On the other hand …

    When a women’s group advocates for flex-time or a breast-feeding room, these issues become “women’s issues” in the minds of many precisely because it is a women’s group that is championing them. (This might be part of whimple’s “unintended consequences.”)

    I would not complain if other women at my research institution wanted to form such a group, but I wouldn’t be running to sign up either. I think that a better strategy for achieving the changes that I’d like to see is to have gender-neutral groups organized around particular issues (e.g., flex-time, mentoring, etc.). My time is limited, so that’s how I choose to contribute.

    I also don’t think that it’s possible (or wise) to redress past wrongs with current unfair practices.

  22. To be clear, I think that the Women’s Mentoring Group is an excellent idea. It is always helpful to hear from those who have made it through the gauntlet you are currently facing. The pan-junior faculty mentoring group sounds like it will be very helpful for those attending.

    I don’t believe that the male majority is as inclusive as it’s painted to be. When you add in male egos and competitiveness on top of the overwhelming conditioning that most boys are raised with (to figure out their own problems and never to ask for help), you have a lot of young male professors in a very similar boat. To suggest that they have it all figured out by going out for a beer with a colleague sounds remarkably unlikely. Whether these men would participate in organized mentoring? I don’t know; perhaps not.

  23. Whimple-

    ‘You could also ask whether such an organization is productive. Haven’t we been trying this kind of thing for the last 30+ years? Don’t people recognize failure when they see it? In my view, the positive gains from such an organization to its members are significantly negatively offset by i) providing a focal point for the derision of your enemies, and ii) alienating those people of the “wrong” gender who would otherwise be allies to your cause.’

    Wait just one minute please- First- I haven’t been around for the last 30 years and my institution has barely been around for that length of time… and to my knowledge there has never been a women’s faculty, junior faculty, or other more formalized mentoring network set up here. We have to start somewhere. If you have a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

    Second- You are very defensive, why? I am not trying to take something from you, and I do not consider you – or any of my colleagues who are men- to be my ‘enemies’ . But I want you to understand something- my experience in academia, or as a woman in general, is not equivalent to yours. My experience trying to climb the ladder- and raising two kids, while my husband also works an academic job- is not the same as many of the older male scientists that I know who may also have had children but whose wives stayed home, or worked a less demanding career- and took care of absolutely everything related to children and home. You may not understand this but I am somewhat stuck between two worlds- not the norm in academia, and not the norm at the PTA meetings either.

    Whimple- Almost everything I have done in my career has been without a single role model who walked a similar path- taking the road less traveled and more difficult than just about everyone I can think of. I’m not sure you have any idea how incredibly difficult that is sometimes.

  24. Dr. J.- I’d love it if there were more parental support. Period. But as enlightened as many male faculty are, I haven’t seen a one of them making this a concern.

  25. my experience in academia, or as a woman in general, is not equivalent to yours

    Really? I’m untenured junior faculty, trying to climb the ladder – and raising two kids, while my spouse also works an academic job.

    You may not understand this but I am somewhat stuck between two worlds- not the norm in academia, and not the norm at the PTA meetings either.

    Actually, I understand *exactly* what you mean.

  26. Don’t mess with me.

    But for the sake of argument let’s just say that’s true. – As a man, you still do not have to struggle with a power structure that intentionally or unintentionally excludes you and devalues your contribution on the basis of your gender. You do not have to perform better than your male colleagues, just to end up in the same place. I would have a hard time seeing our experiences as equivalent because of this.

  27. Whimple, if you did understand who would see how inherent, cultural barriers that exist within academia. No one is saying that you don’t need or require mentoring, but your failure to see the other side makes me wonder why?

  28. It is a great thing to have this.

    Fairness is not a concept that I think is meaningful to apply, but rather, good idea or no. This is good.

  29. Yes, it’s unfair… But I’ve never worshiped the god of equity. I don’t think women should ever be prevented from forming a group… ever. And, not that I would attend or even want the option of a male alternative, but I think they should be free to form their own group… even if I don’t see the purpose. If I want guidance, then – as DrDrA pointed out – the onus is on me to seek it out. It might be harder or easier for me for a lot of reasons (gender included). I don’t think the playing field will ever be equal for everyone, but it’s still up to each individual to find mentorship themselves.

    As an aside, it seems dis-empowering and a little condescending to say men are capable of finding mentorship on their own, and they have only themselves to blame for not doing so, but that women need a group to formally facilitate it. What’s wrong with finding a suitable mentor regardless of gender? Why does a woman need a woman mentor? I happen to be a man with a female mentor… is there something wrong with females finding suitable male mentors? Just a thought.

  30. Matthew- On that second point- I suppose I was just getting at the issue of proximity. Hard to walk next door and find a colleague to mentor you on situations that you encounter that are particular to women- if there is no woman next door, or on your floor, or in your building.

    And as for that part about male mentors. I have mentors for lots of different purposes. I have a couple that float my boat science-wise, I have a couple that teach me the ins and outs of the institution, I’ve got some (and this includes Whimple) who are standing around with awesome advice at the right moment about a particular situation involving $$, I’ve got a couple whose advice I trust on grant writing. And they are almost exclusively men- and I feel amazingly fortunate to have these wonderful people in my corner.

    What I want, what I need, is to see someone like me (woman, 2 kids before tenure, academic spouse) make it up the academic ladder. Because seeing someone in your shoes make it- goes a long way to building confidence that you can too…

  31. Accidental Professor-

    Female academics are statistically far more likely to have partners with demanding careers, and thus a TT woman with kids is not necessarily experiencing the same demands as a TT man with kids. Of course this is not true of all cases, but I think putting a table of ~20 TT faculty together from one college and seeing that NONE of the women had families while most of the men had multiple children and doting spouses says a lot.

    Yeah- this is absolutely true.

  32. Don’t mess with me.

    Who’s messing with you? Interest in your blog selects for those in similar situations.

    As a man, you still do not have to struggle with a power structure that intentionally or unintentionally excludes you and devalues your contribution on the basis of your gender.

    Maybe. My contributions nevertheless get devalued for other reasons.

    You do not have to perform better than your male colleagues, just to end up in the same place. I would have a hard time seeing our experiences as equivalent because of this.

    I have to perform as well as my colleagues, male and female alike, but I am handicapped by having a family life and kids to actively raise, in a way that some (many?) of my peers are not, or were not when they were coming up the ladder. Frankly, tenure issues here are decided on the basis of the amount of grant dollars and the number of scientific publications, of which neither metric is particularly gender sensitive.

    You and I have common problems and we could both benefit from the implementation of common solutions. Your sexist attitude that men generally, and therefore me specifically, can’t possibly relate to issues of relevance to you, and therefore should be excluded from the discussion, is intensely irritating, as well as counter-productive.

  33. yeah, we’re all misandrists here.

    whimple, go read the previous thread on how women get screwed in grant dollars. big time. Just try to imagine how that translates into papers and productivity. And for fuck’s sake, go start your own support group for new faculty – do it NOW. Email every new hire, men+women at your college, and ask them if they would like to participate.

    And I gotta say that your experience here whimple which you say is “intensely irritating” is EXACTLY how us women feel when dealing the Boyz Club. But we don’t have the luxury of being angry and we certainly don’t have the power to do anything unless we enlist allies, men and women.

  34. Whimple-

    You and I have common problems and we could both benefit from the implementation of common solutions. Your sexist attitude that men generally, and therefore me specifically, can’t possibly relate to issues of relevance to you, and therefore should be excluded from the discussion, is intensely irritating, as well as counter-productive.

    Yes, we do have some common problems and there are many areas where common solutions will fit. I wouldn’t argue that point- because you are right. Maybe common solutions will be enough eventually- I don’t know. Maybe the whole bias against women in academia is about women bearing the children and doing most of the parenting (traditionally anyway)- but I doubt it. Why do I doubt it?? Because 99% of my women colleagues don’t have children. They are being handicapped by something else, and it is not because they suck as scientists.

    Secondly- it’s not my intention to exclude or irritate you- I want you to understand where I am coming from- and I want to understand where you are coming from. Otherwise I wouldn’t be bothering with this discussion. At the end of the day I want a fairer, more family friendly academia where one can have a real life and do great science- and I want not to be held back because I am a girl.

  35. Forming a subfaculty mentoring group comprised of people sharing a common problem and looking to hash out solutions seems like a great idea.

    My only criticism of drda’s initiative is that I don’t think it need be selective in terms of its contributors gender (if it is at all), but only in terms of its issues. Why not simply describe it as a faculty meeting group specifically aiming to discuss issues relating to women in science? If some jr faculty guys want to tag along with their 2 cents, let them. But it is self-defeating for a group to end up mirroring rather than overcoming the very inequalities that inspired its formation in the first place. The only criteria for an attendant should be a) do you have anything relevant to contribute? and/or b) will it benefit you to participate in this mentoring initiative?

    So, a more appropriate response to the following reSnark:
    “Must be nice. I hope your Dean is as supportive of the younger academic career men with 2 kids … pre-tenure.”

    Would be,
    “He certainly is. We meet on Fridays, by the way. I’ll put you down for bringing the bagels shall I?”

  36. Male junior faculty resenting female junior faculty for asking for/wanting more specific mentorship is like the poor in America resenting the poor in third world countries for getting more attention and supposed aid. Yeah, it sucks for everybody, life in poverty and desperation is hard, and the poor people in villages in Africa get on TV more often. But at least in America your kids aren’t dying of diarrhea and you can afford to go to McDonald’s once in a while. You can buy your essentials at the local Walmart instead of having to walk 10 miles to a rice dropoff then walk back.

    You can look around you and still dream the American dream even when it’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard to get up the energy to do that when you have to keep finding where it is and who it’s for, and prove to people you know what it is, again and again.

  37. I do not think a women´s faculty group is unfair. I also do not think there is any reason why any institution should not also set up a junior faculty group for both genders if people so desire. One of the major issues for me, and I am not the first person who has brought it up in this thread before, is ISOLATION.

    I fail to see how this issue would also affect men.

    And I think this is reason enough to set up something where women can get together, meet, discuss and not feel that maybe they are inherently unsuited to academia, purely because of their gender.

  38. The issue of ‘fairness’ has two faces here. Is it fair to form an exclusionary group (girls only)and is it fair that it gets some special support from the management. The way to answer this is to flip the argument on its head by finding some workplace example where men are the minority, and it is in the best interests of the management to encouragement their greater retention and recruitment. A good example might be elementary school teachers – male teachers are few, may face special issues, and it would be better for the students to have more male teachers. In this case, it would make sense to have a “Male Teachers Group” that got some coffee and doughnuts from the superintendent to meet & discuss their issues. Not unfair at all to ‘exclude’ the women teachers. Not quite equivalent our woman in academia reality, since male teachers probably do not deal with lesser pay or promotion, but it’s the best hypothetical I could come up with!

  39. I don’t really see this as a fairness issue, just as a self-help issue. I am new to the TT, and in all my years in academia, I NEVER ONCE had a woman as a science professor in class, let alone as a supervisor. I had a woman instructor once, who was from industry team-reaching with 2 male profs.

    The 3 departments I studied in all had a “token” woman, who of course did not have kids. Even the grad students noted how shabbily the male profs treated the token diversity profs, so I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to be that person. Keep in mind that I got my PhD in the early 2000’s in the physical sciences, so it isn’t like this is ancient history! I have had ZERO role models in how to deal with gender issues in academic science. I find it hard to imagine a man in science with the same experience.

    When I finished my PhD, I ran screaming from academia. I did a postdoc then a staff position at a National Lab in the US, where I met several successful woman scientists in academia, industry, and government. They inspired me to pursue my dream of being a professor at a research university. I need role models myself, and I want to be a role model for those who follow me. I do have male mentors for different things at my university, which is awesome. But the men can’t tell me about what it was like to be the first woman in the department to have kids, or about how much of my entitled maternity leave I should consider taking early on in the TT without screwing myself over for productivity on proposals. That is why I am interested in women’s groups in academia.

  40. I have no problem with any group wanting to get together for mutual support – groups defined by common research interests (e.g. reading groups), by an interest in pedagogical research when at a research university, by any demographic factor such as gender, career stage, race, religion or nationality (e.g. there’s a contract post-doctoral researcher’s group, a Christian staff group and an Islamic staff group at my place… and a Chinese staff group… and a group for people who have research interests in a particularly remote part of the world…) – and if someone’s willing to organise it, then I see no reason why the institution should not make a small investment (and really, a little help with group emails, room bookings, and the odd coffee and snack is a very small amount of money – it would hardly pay for one professor’s room in a conference hotel for one night, whilst a group can benefit multiple people).

    It becomes an issue of unfairness when only SOME groups get this sort of support, which doesn’t seem to be the case described. Maybe in an ideal world there’d be no ‘special interests’ that bring people together to share experiences, support each other, and possibly campaign for better facilities, and we’d all be so perfectly integrated into the network of our organisation that we’d always be able to find people with common interests, but I can’t imagine a world where that was true. Especially not in academe!

    Blogland lets us make contacts with similar-minded people and make ‘sorting decisions’ about who we associate with easily, at the click of a mouse – readership of particular blogs may as Whimple implies indicate commonality of experience, though I’d argue that it’s NOT necessarily the case, and that blogging is a relatively painless way to learn about different experiences of the academy – but in the real workplace this is a lot harder.

  41. I am in a similar situation with a support organization for female graduate students at my university.

    Our department(full information, I am in the social sciences) has very few (3) TT female faculty and we are having serious problems attracting female junior faculty and retaining female graduate students. We should not have a less diverse program than physics or engineering, but we do. Figuring out how to support female colleagues is not about teaching you to demonstrate contempt for your male colleagues or the system that seems to do such a poor job with getting women to tenure, it should be about assisting them to navigate a system that appears to be especially difficult for new and junior female faculty to navigate.

    I think you are right on about the difficulties that all of us face in navigating the transition to faculty and progress toward tenure. That said, finding mentors who are outside your gender or outside your race is complicated. Athey, Avery & Zemsky demonstrate that homogenous organizations generally develop the talents/productivity of the dominant type (AES:2000). Which is fine if we think the talents are concentrated in that type (males). If we think that talents are not, then we need to find some way to transition from that functioning homogenous organization to a diverse one. Helping men and women equally does not seem to fit with that goal- it seems to be addressing a different problem entirely. I do not think that better junior faculty mentoring is a common solution if mentoring is going to focus on improving the mentoring of male colleagues that we might expect if the authors are correct.

    I am not advocating hindering male colleagues, but why is establishing an organization to assist and mentoring female colleagues frequently treated thusly? Is it a failure to understand the numbers?

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