Becoming an Ally

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a lot of cryin’ on the part of senior male faculty about the rate at which their young female grad students were dropping out of science after finishing  their Ph.D.s., coupled with an inability on the part of said faculty to educate themselves to recognize the reasons behind this phenomenon. In private, I did my best to provide the resources to these potential allies so that they might better understand this leaky pipeline… and on this blog, I implored said faculty to get off their asses and do something about that… think outside the box, become an ALLY. I offered a few suggestions, …. turns out you don’t even have to think very far outside the box.

This week I received an email from a colleague, it read:

Dear DrdrA:

I am organizing XYZ meeting, and I was wondering if you could help me out. I was looking over the schedules from previous XYZ meetings, and I was struck by the fact that the list of keynote speakers looked like this:

2008   Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2007  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2006  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2005  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2004  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2003  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2002  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2001  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2000  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1999  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1998  Great Scientist, Woman, Ph.D.

1997  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1996  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

I am sure you can appreciate the paucity of women and minority keynote speakers at past XYZ meetings, and that is so obviously wrong.  I wonder if you could help me identify some great women and minority candidates who might be interested in giving the keynote talk at this meeting.

Thanks for all your help!

Senior Faculty Ally.

HOLY COW!! I couldn’t make up that list fast enough.

I’m totally thrilled that this colleague looked at the data, realized the overwhelming bias in favor of white guys (no offense to you white guys), thought about it, and took the next step to try to even out the balance. So, to add to my previous list of all the ways to encourage young women to stay in science… how about choosing EXCELLENT WOMEN SCIENTISTS and EXCELLENT MINORITY SCIENTISTS as your keynote speakers from time to time. And for all you women (and/or) minority scientists out there, how about making a mental or actual list of excellent women and/or minorities in your field that might be keynote speaker candidates… so that when an ally asks for your assistance, you are ready.


11 thoughts on “Becoming an Ally

  1. It’s critical that women step up to help other women in situations like this. I’m the first woman plenary speaker for a meeting that’s been running for 50 years! It’s taken me a while of going to meetings to get to know the geezertariat, and each time I’ve made some headway establishing myself with my talks or by publishing stuff for a wide audience. It takes an eternity for women to get noticed and supported doing it little by little alone. There are very very few senior women, I’ve never met them, but I have emailed a few for advice over the years. Putting a woman at the front of the line for one moment isn’t going far enough when the power and numbers are so skewed, especially when female PhD graduates are more than 50% now. We are losing women at the postdoc level, and we are getting our asses handed to us at the faculty levels.

    Asking a woman to speak is just the first step. Organize a women’s symposium for your society. Ask women who are grad students, postdocs, asst profs, and assoc profs to participate so that that they can each provide advice from different perspectives in the chain. It also helps them for hiring and promotions to have invited talks and papers on the CV. You can get funding for symposia from the societies and shoot for matching money from fed agencies (NSF/NIH) to cover registration and lodging/airfare, at least for those who don’t have a grant (like students and postdocs). These kinds of meetings allow women to form mentoring networks and build up research contacts for collaborations that they never would have met or been in contact with, because it’s so hard for women to be on the radar. When I asked colleagues and advisors to nominate women for my symposium idea, they all had the same exact list: the very few senior women and maybe, one of their grad students/postdocs! I read ALOT of papers (flipped through journals looking for women authors) to see what kinds of research women were doing in different avenues of my field, and it was surprising that I hadn’t heard of some of these women before. It wasn’t hard to find women at all academiclevels with really cool research once I started looking.

    I absolutely promise you there will be some knucklehead who says “what, no dudes allowed?” and utters something stoopid like “reverse-discrimination.” Point out your list above and say the last 12 speakers minus one were male, therefore, it’s been discrimination all along, nothing reverse about it.

  2. JC- ‘geezertariat’? That is a good one! – as for the ‘women’s symposium’ a colleague who recently visited me brought up that idea and we talked about it for quite a while. Do you do such a symposium in your field???? How did that go??

    Abel- I know you are an ally… big time!! Thanks for that!!

    Bugdoc- Indeed. It is also nice to know that people listen once in a while, even if you don’t necessarily think they heard you while you were talking… in the end they heard what you said loudly enough to act on it.

  3. I think that maybe it would be really cool too if some of these folks did some homework before asking people from traditionally marginalized groups for this kind of help. That way it wouldn’t be completely on the shoulders of a person who may already have a lot on their plate, and the “helper” may feel a little better about offering advice (though everyone is different, of course). It’s kind of like when you ask a question in class that reveals you’ve done none of the required reading, or like asking a PI for a protocol you can look up yourself. These minority and/or female scientists aren’t exactly hidden, are they? There are times when a person has genuine gaps in their knowledge, and then there are times when we know we’re just being lazy.

  4. Many years ago my mother-in-law, a crystallographer with an international reputation, asked at a Canadian geology meeting why there were no women speakers. Told there were no women geologists in Canada – she promptly sent them a list of all the women geologists she knew in Canada, with a note that here was a list they could use for the next meeting.

  5. doubledoc, I stole geezertariat from DM. Instead of having a symposium on “Exciting New Crap”, I’m doing one for women at a MAJOR meeting to bring together women in one of the societies I belong to. We’ve got some funding already, so the fed grant will be to cover lodging/travel/registration and partial publication costs of an invited paper for each participant. My hope is that each woman will have an invited talk, an invited paper, and a group of women who work on similar stuff to build a network on. We all are so isolated, so I chose women from the different levels so that each of us has different experiences to draw from and the invites will put extra umph in their tenure packet, postdoc apps, etc. I’ll let you know how it goes, if I’m still standing! I’ll gather up some of my material and email you – give me a few days.

    Samia, +eleventy. I’m doing this whole she-bang because I don’t want to be the ONE *cough* YOUNG WOMAN that when you ask any dude in the society to name a woman for an award, that only my name comes up. My name came up this year, so I’m bringing a dozen more women with me! I was a bit surprised (although you would think I would know better by now) when I asked the male allies for names of women to include in my symposium, the same 4 senior women’s names came up over and over and over. *sigh* The senior women are not a weak link in the chain, the women grad students, postdocs, and asst profs are. The non-senior women are not hidden, they are de-valued. I went through journal articles, making note of women authors, and then googled them. Some of them are at some big labs, but the webpages weren’t updated (grrrr to the lazyass PIs). It does take effort to expand the radar and put more dots on it.

  6. I’m proud to announce that our sub specialty association committee chose it’s 3 key note speakers for our next conference the other day.

    No men were even discussed as possibilities. Nobody mentioned this and this did not actually occur to me until I read this post.

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