Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

WomenPrisonRiot-1950sThere has been a flurry of conversations recently about women speakers at conferences. This was all spurred by a recent article in Salon.com about the fact that a “theoretical chemistry” conference had ZERO women speakers. Here is the article. The subsequent, real, and valid outrage by women in the field resulted in a boycott of the conference by women of the field. It seems odd that we have to keep having the same conversations about how it is important to have diversity, yadda yadda. And women have to keep fighting to get invited to talk at conferences in their field.

When this situation occurs, the OrganizingGuys always claim that they invited A woman, but she turned them down. What are they to do?

As usual, they should ASK A WOMAN for the solution to this problem. No one asked me, but I am going to give my opinion anyway, because I have an advice blog! Here is a solution to the OrganizingGuys:

Let’s say, you want a program with a person you does fields/subfields/specialities we will call A, B, C, and D. Because there are so few women – especially at a certain level – there may only be 1-2 women in each of those fields/subfields/specialities. What is the first inclination for most organizers? Typically, you might invite 3 men who specialize in A, B, and C. Then you ask the one woman who does D. And, guess what, that woman cannot come because she is doing 100 other things. Now, there are “no more women who do D,” so you “have to ask a man.” (This statement may be debatable, but let’s assume that is true for some fields like “theoretical chemistry.”)

Here is how you can get more women: ASK THE WOMEN FIRST. Then backfill with men. If you ask your favorite woman in fields A, B, C, and D first, and some say no, you are likely to still get a woman. Whichever women say no, replace with a guy. The worst case scenario? A session of ALL WOMEN? Which doesn’t sound bad at all, actually. If all 4 women say “no” you could have a back-up list of women, but I feel the likelihood is pretty low that they would ALL say no unless you are competing your event against another event in your field (bad idea for conference/event planning in general).

This solution is very easy and results in a high representation of women, assuming that is actually what you want.

In an interesting side note to this story, I was recently asked to participate in a proposed session for a major national conference in a field related to my own. The organizers, two women, specifically put together an entire program with all women. Their goal was not only great science, but also a nod to the women in the field. Their session was rejected and told it was “not diverse” enough. I do not see one field in science where women are the at majority or even at parity with men at the faculty level. Please correct me if I am wrong. Thus, I feel like any session that is trying to bring the inequality of women in the field to light by having a session with mostly women should be applauded – not rejected – for their efforts. Alas, although we are ready to accept that “there were no available or acceptable women” resulting in a session with 100% men, we cannot accept a session with 100% women?

I also want to point out that the plight of minorities is EVEN WORSE. Many scientific societies cannot even publish statistics on minority graduation rates at the PHD level, because there are too few, and the results can be directly linked to the 1-2 minorities graduating each year. It’s not exactly anonymous aggregate data when there are 0-3 of you.

What do you think? Post or comment! You can follow this blog by pushing the +Follow button and putting in your email address.

Comments on: "Ways to Get Women Speakers: A Solution" (1)

  1. Agree 100% with your solution for conferences. And I would love to see panels and conference speaker lists with entirely women, or as a strong (read >70%) majority.

    On a related note, my HusbandOfScience showed me this blog post which tries to explain exactly this problem to “Straight White Male”

    “In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore.”

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

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