Gaslighting and Implicit Bias – Academic Style

So – I just got an email from an administrator. After discussing the business at hand, he ends the email by requesting that I change the “tone” of my emails. Setting aside for a moment that “tone” is not easily discernible in written correspondence, here are my issues with a male administrator telling me, a female faculty, to change my “tone”:

1) This is the same administrator who once sat across from me in a meeting and BEFORE I EVER SPOKE told me that I shouldn’t get emotional. Classic step on the slippery slope of gaslighting. In that meeting, he assumed I would have a “tone” before I ever even spoke.  More than anything else, it seemed like an attempt to silence me. Or, put another way, if  you discredit me before I speak, you won’t have to pay attention to what I am saying.

2) The “tone” the administrator objected to was my reasonable, and often repeated, request for policies and procedures for administrative tasks. How does the unit assign job duties, complete paperwork, spend funds on students, hire new faculty, etc.? The problem isn’t my “tone” – the problem is a fundamental disagreement about the place of equity, inclusion, and transparency in the academic workplace. I would argue that an effective working environment must include practices that promote equity (here, for an example, is a discussion of equity theory in the workplace).

3) Accusing a woman of having a “tone” is all about implicit bias. In my case, I think my administrator is engaging in prescriptive bias – essentially penalizing me for engaging in the traditionally male behaviors of being successful, promoting my (and my lab’s) successes, negotiating for resources, and making reasonable requests of the unit. This prescriptive bias leads to me being seen as problematic and not a team player.

The effect of the bullying and implicit bias I have experienced in the workplace (not to mention sexism) is that I am no longer as engaged in the success of my units and institution as I used to be. I am very involved with my lab, of course. Those few units I am affiliated with that explicitly promote equity and inclusion get most of the remainder of my attention. The units that are secretive, or which allow discriminatory behavior to persist, or which spend little to no time dealing with implicit biases (everyone has them!) simply won’t benefit from my time and attention. If I knew how to change things for the better, I would. As it stands, the best I can do is focus on impacting those spaces that are safe and inclusive and work to educate my students on the best mechanisms for navigating the rest of the world.

 

My Experiences With Sexism in Science

I think I have finally had it. I am sick of women being told to “put up with” sexist behavior because to speak up would be career suicide. I am sick of the defenders of academics who prey on students. I am sick of seemingly smart people spouting stereotypes that portray women as somehow different and less capable than men, from the President of Harvard’s 2005 comments that women are innately less capable in science to a Nobel prize winner’s 2015 comments that, among other things, women and men should be segregated. And, if being a woman in science is bad enough – the situation is even worse for people of color who are actively discouraged from careers in STEM. Most importantly, I am sick of people claiming that we are in a post-sexist, or post-racist, society when we clearly are not post anything. Many people simply do not know what women (or people of color, or people with disabilities, or any people who are different from the perceived majority) experience in their daily lives, including at work.

I have decided to speak my experience as a woman in science. I doubt I remember every gendered and sexist moment in my life, but here are some highlights from my career. I won’t bore you with the everyday sexism I experience out in the world – these are things that happened to me while I was out in the field WORKING, at conferences while I was WORKING, or in a university building while I was WORKING. From inappropriate comments to outright groping, here are three examples each from grad school, pre-tenure, and post-tenure life. Trust me, tenure does not make you immune:

As a Graduate Student:

1. The male graduate student who told me I only passed my oral exams because I am a woman.

2. The senior scholar who propositioned me in the field, verbally and physically.

3. The student evaluations that discussed my smile, body, and attractiveness rather than my teaching ability.

As a Pre-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior female faculty member who asked me if I was going to quit my job when I told her I was pregnant.

2. The senior female faculty member who told me women shouldn’t have children until after tenure. She looked a little shocked when I reminded her that I had a toddler.

3. The junior faculty member who openly ogled my chest and talked about my “Magic Planets”. (Look up Magic Planet – it’s a real thing, and not at all related to my chest).

As a Post-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior faculty member who asked me about my sex life and encouraged me to have a good one. Perhaps with him.

2. The department chair who told me funding was easy for me to get because I am a woman and work in an easy field.

3. The senior emeritus faculty who…this is a hard one to put delicately…Came up behind me at an on-campus retirement party, dropped his knees, and pushed himself up against me several times. Trust me – I had NO idea how to react, and recovering from that violation took me about 6 months.

That’s my reality of sexism in science. I can’t possibly be alone.

The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEM

What she said!

The Other Sociologist

The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEMA new article on CNN by psychology professors, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, boldly proclaims that gender bias in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a myth. Their research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Unfortunately, their work has a flawed methodological premise and their conclusions do not match their study design. This is not the first time these researchers have whipped up false controversy by decrying the end of sexism in science.

Williams and Ceci write on CNN:

Many female graduate students worry that hiring bias is inevitable. A walk through the science departments of any college or university could convince us that the scarcity of female faculty (20% or less) in fields like engineering, computer science, physics, economics and mathematics must reflect sexism in hiring.

But the facts tell a different story…

Our results, coupled with actuarial data on real-world academic hiring showing a female…

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