My boss who was the CIO and I were exactly the same age — late 30s and we both had quite a bit of grey in our hair. He had black hair so his was more visible than mine; I’m a blond so mine looked like platinum streaks. I think it looks pretty cool. Not that this should even matter but I’m a pretty attractive woman and far more attractive than he is.
One day he said, “You don’t color your grey, do you?” He went on to tell me that it “wasn’t socially acceptable” for me to do that because “men want to date younger women” and that I should color my hair to try to look younger.
One of my classmates (and ex-office mate) in grad school always made snide and inappropriate comments to me like joking about me having “daddy issues”, making unnecessary comments about my relationship status, etc. Late one night, he sent me a text message (I had never shared my number with him nor did I know his number) asking me if I would like to go over to his place. He did not sign his name and I did not recognize the number, but my friend did some digging and found out that it was him. When I confronted him about it, he first denied that he sent it and claimed that it was probably a practical joke by a roommate. I decided to follow up on the claim. Shortly after that, he sent me an email claiming that I had misunderstood everything and he had only sent me that message because there was a get-together. (Note that everyone knew that I lived two hours away) and I got this message very late in the night. I was later told by him and some other male students that I should apologize for having been angry when confronting him (no shit) and by expressing my frustration without being concerned about his image, I was coming across as a “strong personality”.
Sexism in Civil/Structural Engineering
I have been working in the civil engineering field for about 5 years. My first job out of college was dysfunctional in that they made us stay long hours and work weekends for no extra pay, and there was no human resources department. I was the first female engineer they had ever hired in the 15 years they’d been in business.
When my feminist beliefs became known, I became a target of rape jokes, comments about girls being slutty, comments about girls in STEM being ugly, etc. That wasn’t even the worst part. I’ve had credit for my work stolen by the company owner’s pampered son, who also denigrated my work ethic WHILE he put his name on my work, had him attempt to pry into my personal life by contacting my friends, and when I brought this up to my manager, a campaign was launched almost immediately to discredit me.
I was purposely left out of important emails, left out of work events, had my outfits scrutinized, and demeaning and strangely personal comments made about my perceived lack of self esteem. I am still reeling from the effects of the abuse today.
That was the worst experience I’ve had so far. The everyday small things would take much longer to recall, such as a contractor constantly ordering me to smile while I’m on site visits, being talked over and dismissed daily, overhearing male coworkers insulting their wives & discussing female clients’ appearances, it goes on. It’s difficult to see any of this improving. I don’t think that it’s our job as women to change in engineering. We can encourage diversity and inclusivity in engineering(on top of our actual jobs), but until men make a concerted effort to making STEM a less hostile and sometimes dangerous place for women, unless they recognize what we go through on a daily basis, this cycle will continue.
Leading scientist says Science Hall of Fame needs to nominate more women.
Every year Canada’s Science and Engineering Hall of Fame welcomes three inductees into its prestigious ranks. In the past two years the number of women nominated for the Hall is zero. Two female selection members of its selection committee walking out in protest.
I recently attended a student conference where I networked with students from other schools. At one point, I was having a conversation with two men, one from my University and one from another institution. When we introduced ourselves and made small talk, the man from the other institution included me in the conversation. As soon as he started talking about his research, he excluded me from the conversation, only made eye contact with the other man from my University, and only directed technical questions at the other man.
When I was a graduate student, I was encouraged to attend a Women In Science luncheon along with a couple of other women from my department so there would be a graduate student presence. The speaker was a female professor from another institution who had just given a seminar and was guiding a discussion at this lunch event.
As an alumna of a prestigious women’s college, I’m quite familiar with the discussions surrounding minorities in science. I was incredibly disappointed, and somewhat offended, that this particular one was centered only around becoming a mom as an academic scientist. I don’t want children. I never want children. I realize a lot of women do want children, but that’s not the only thing affecting women in STEM. In fact, as I’ve gotten older, I have realized that there is a ton of bias against childless women in and out of the workplace.
I spent the entire lunch silently fuming, because I was hoping for something more than “here’s the story of how I found a work-family balance and how my colleagues supported me after I proved that I could still do science as a mom!” I really, really hate that the vast majority of people (including other women) assume that all women are concerned about getting married and having kids. True feminists know that the wife/mother life path is just as valid as the single/childless one, and that all of us will face struggles unrelated to our marital/family status, but none of those other issues were brought up. In hindsight, I really wish I’d spoken up and demanded that we discuss something other than babies. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, thinking I would sound rude and bitchy. Sound familiar?
Committee Member from Hell
There are a lot of reasons I’m a PhDropout, but a HUGE part of my decision to leave academia was the attitude of my advisor and one of my committee members (at an Ivy league school). Both of these professors were men in their early/mid 30s who prided themselves on being super “cool” and super fair with all of the students. Unfortunately, there were subconscious biases in both of them that eventually made them lash out on me. This entry is about the committee member…
I remember getting a bad vibe from him during the lunch with grad students during his interview. He asked us about our research, and when one of the 5th year girls talked about her research on bees, he clearly wasn’t listening and lectured her about how she should be sequencing the genomes of her butterflies. Entirely irrelevant, very perplexing, and we spoke up about it after the interview, but he was the best of the 3 interviewees, so he got hired on.
The first incident was during a small class my committee member taught that was for grad students and a couple of advanced undergrads. It was run like a journal club; during each class, two of us would each have a paper everyone had read, about which we’d lead a discussion. One day I started doing the brief summary of my assigned paper when the professor started aggressively cutting me off, asking questions to the class in a snarky tone, and ignoring me when I offered answers. During that entire class session, he was incredibly demeaning to me and wouldn’t let me finish any of my thoughts. I stood my ground and blew it off, knowing that his wife was pregnant (maybe there was a complication he was upset about?) and that he was waiting on an NSF decision (was his grant rejected again?). Even if something awful was happening in his life, he had no reason to take it out on me, but I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I get moody when my life is falling apart, too…
I approached my advisor about it the next day, since they were friends. He had the same thoughts I did. Wife? Grant? He closed his office door to call the moody prof and came out half an hour later shrugging and saying the guy had no remorse and that I should approach him myself. I did that Friday at TGIF beer hour. I asked him if we could chat about what happened in class that week and he sat down on a table in the middle of the room full of department members and said “I’m here. Talk.” I started to explain that perhaps I’d missed something about his expectations for leading the discussions, etc. but he cut me off and lectured me about how I’d “disrespected the paper” (because I didn’t go into every tiny detail while summarizing it for a room full of people who’d already read the paper). When I tried to explain my approach, he continued to cut me off and belittle me in front of the entire department. I eventually walked out of the room in the middle of him talking because he got so aggressive and insulting.
My favorite moment was when one of my friends was doing her proposal defense and this guy was on her committee and kept cutting her off in the middle of her talk to fire questions at her in a nasty tone. She almost always had the answer on the next slide and told him to wait, and she’d get to that next. Eventually, her PI took over answering his questions and defending her while she stood at the front of the room smirking at him while he got visibly more agitated that people were turning on him.
He continued to pull this kind of behavior on a regular basis until he left the college and moved to another university. The horrible thing is, he only got aggressive against women in the department who would stand up for themselves. The spineless pushovers and the men were fine, but fiery women who would call him out on being wrong were the victims of his verbal attacks.
He became notorious around the department and nobody was sad when he left. He was supposed to bridge the gap between the two branches of the biology department, but instead of building bridges, he just burned them. Nobody misses him.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Jack’s my buddy, we’re in the same program, we sometimes work on projects together, and we swap useful information. We’re at about the same level skill-wise, and I might even be better. I know this based on our shared assignments. Jack’s not the problem here – in fact, the guys in my program are pretty terrific about gender. So, there’s hope for the future. That said, I can’t wait for the old guard to die off.
One piece of useful information that came to me today was about a professor we’d both like to work with. Projects are a huge part of our program – they eventually lead to a thesis, which leads to graduation, and so on. I’d approached the professor about a project two months ago, and he’d offered me a selection of work that his lab had already done, and steering me towards something “not too difficult.” Jack, on the other hand, got a selection of seven different projects, including industry contacts.
WTF. Some of this is that I’m in Europe, and they’re racist as fuck, but seriously? I’ve asked two classmates and a mentor if I project incompetence or something. Nothing they can detect. So I think I’m going to talk to the professor next week to see what the hell’s going on.