The Pretty One
I was at a dinner party with my husband and a young group leader and his pretty wife. Somehow, the group leader started talking about a young woman he had hired who had recently invited him and his wife to an afternoon coffee at the home she shared with her boyfriend. The group leader started describing her to my husband so that he would know who he was talking about. His wife cut in and said, ” she has long brown hair”. Her husband mused, “no, it is more reddish brown, I think”. His wife was annoyed, but he wad oblivious. This woman employee was very, very pretty and the only woman in the group. He pulled out his phone and text messaged her, “what color is your hair?” Oblivious to the discomfort of the rest of us around the table. Around the office, the woman employee always looked lonely, tough, yet fully aware of how uncomfortable her situation was.
I was doing the same work as another grad student in our office. We had the same professor but different advisors and should’ve been cross checking results. His advisor invited him to present his results at various meetings. He was not encouraged to mention that he was collaborating with me. His advisor didn’t like my advisor and he credited all of my work to my advisor, even though I was doing all of the programming and data crunching – just like his student was doing. There was really no reason to make a competition out of it because we were all going to be on the same rather insignificant paper. His advisor pretended like I didn’t exist when he came into the group office. It was so obvious that a student outside of our collaboration commented on it. I told the professor about it an he assured me that I was misinterpreting things and that the egomaniac adviser was really a great guy. They went sailing together.
Not long after college, I married a mentor who was 10 years older than me. He is kind of an abusive tyrant/jerk, but I learned trade specific stuff from him that you don’t find in books and it was, honestly, the only way for me to get that kind of information. It provided a foundation upon which I have independently built for the last 5 years. As I progressed through my career, I saw most women drop out for lack of good mentors while most young men were taken under someone’s wing and given the sort of training that I got.
Acting as the Women’s Representative
I was asked to serve as the women’s representative for a few hiring decisions. There was one entry level position which was de facto reserved for a woman, so that they wouldn’t have any trouble rejecting women applicants for the leadership positions. In young woman’s interview, she came across as sharp and competent, yet, the person who would be her boss only had one thing to say about her in the session in which we were supposed to give our assessments, “she didn’t seem to pushy”. This was his highest compliment.
For another position, there were two candidates selected for interviews, a super sharp woman who’s talk conveyed a quick wit and depth of intelligence and capability, and a fairly dull seeming younger guy who came from a rather illustrious advisor. While the choice was clear (with the women’s representative in the room), the candidate’s future boss seemed saddened because the young man looked so obedient, while the smart woman seemed scary to him. (She was in no way scary). After that hire, I was no longer asked to be the women’s representative.
Criticize at Your Own Peril
Young men do not take criticism well. Many have developed the belief that they are entitled to women’s respect on the basis of being born male. this becomes apparent when a young man responds with hatred and contempt to a woman who points out an error or asserts equality. He may seek comfort for his wounded ego by rallying the boys club in support of his assertion that woman X is an uppity bitch.
(aside: I hope to see a blog like this take the form of skepticalob.com one day. The leader posts every day on things in the news and reader stories. the narrative has consistent and clear assumptions. She keeps people up to date about various boogeymen in the field and the commenters are always ready to correct an idiot. She works the blog as a full time job. If there is anything I can do to help build a blog like this, please let me know.)
The Sarcastic One
I had a possibly groundbreaking idea which I brought to the head of the group which could test it. It was acknowledged to be definitely worth pursuing and an expert in techniques which I did not use was made available to me. We put together an excellent paper, but I couldn’t get a green light to submit it from the group leader because I had refused to collaborate with a particular young man in his group with whom I had an email history of extreme contempt and sarcasm from his side. I wrote that I didn’t want him on the paper because our skill sets overlapped and I had other people willing to cross check my results. The group leader sided with his sarcastic young man because I was just an outside collaborator who was not essential to his central mission. When I presented the idea to a larger audience, I was told that it was something that I could use to launch my career to the next level.
The Ship That Sank
I was hired to organize a and execute a project using support from collaborating universities. I steered the project into new, groundbreaking territory and wrote up a detailed tolerance study/road map. A group with more resources which used the same facility as me had their project fail and they decided to adopt my plan and join their efforts with my collaboration group, but instead of giving the management role to me, the person who had studied and prepared for the role for 3 years, they gave the management position to a guy from their (failed) team who is younger and, as everyone now realizes, significantly dumber than me. The logic was that he was well liked by their of young men and could use me as a consultant.. except that he didn’t. He and his buddies tried to put their stamp on my concept by changing it in stupid ways. Eventually, the stupidity of the young manager and his changes became apparent. It became clear to management that I was the only one who actually understood how the system worked and that the decision to take control of something that I invented away from me was wrong, but this all happened years too late and the damage to the concept and project’s reputation had already been done. They were also concerned that I would have an ugly story to tell and didn’t wan’t it to become crystal clear to the broader community. It was embarrassing in terms of their treatment of a smart woman employee. I was advised to move away from the sinking ship lest it take me down with it. Meanwhile, another group at another lab is about to launch something that looks very much like my ship.
I am glad to have found this website. At many points over the last few years, I considered quitting and trying to start some sort of online community/forum where this sort of injustice gets recorded and validated. So many of us have no help in putting our isolated experiences in perspective.
From Margot Herster:
My story is too long to tell here, but you can read all about it in Herster vs. Louisiana State University. In sum my everyday sexism became such that it’s now a lawsuit going to trial this Feb 23. There is a standard of severity courts use dismiss hostile workplace and harassment cases, which especially hard to meet and go forward to trial in my region of the 5th Circuit court.
In 2009, I was hired by LSU into a joint position in the AVATAR visualization, digital arts and technology unit and the Digital Art department at LSU. The digital art & tech unit was 100% male professors, and LSU paid me 50%-75% less compared to the the male professors. I was also denied health insurance and retirement benefits that by policy accrued to my position, which the the university claiming I should get from my husband instead.
Diversity in the student population was similarly dismal, with few female students to be found. Gender demeaning and sexual harassment was pervasive.
I was fired immediately after whistle blowing and reporting discrimination complaint to the Department of Labor.
What I experienced and witnessed of the treatment of other women at LSU far exceeds anything I’ve seen in corporate workplaces. Gender bias and hostile climate for women in STEM & STEAM must be addressed in higher education. Universities should be leaders in this, taking strong stances that discrimination is wrong and actively design their recruiting and programming to promote and educate diversity and inclusion by gender and race in tech.