Wimminz in Academia the Second II

Hermitage is once again hosting a blog Q&A by female academics.  Last years can be found here.  I agreed to answer 4 questions and because I go on a bit I’ll do it in two posts!  Some of the questions confused me as I hadn’t really experienced that stuff personally, but I’m always happy to wade in with a bit of opinion.  Part 1 of my answers can be found here.   I shall answer the following questions here (below the fold):

2. For those of us who like things like pink, skirts, baking, sewing, knitting, heels, makeup, and other things girlie, how important is it to not do / wear / talk about these things lest we be seen as fluffy girls who can’t do Science?

4. It seems to me that often women don’t have as strong professional networks as men – the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

2. For those of us who like things like pink, skirts, baking, sewing, knitting, heels, makeup, and other things girlie, how important is it to not do / wear / talk about these things lest we be seen as fluffy girls who can’t do Science?

My first thoughts are that I don’t know why you would be talking about half this stuff at work.  Like who the hell cares if you can cross-stitch up a kitten cushion in 30 minutes?  I have as much interest in talking to my colleagues about their varied hobbies as I do with hearing each and every student’s description of the food poisoning that kept them off class – really not all that much.  I don’t have much time so I’d prefer it if we could keep the majority of hobby small talk out of the workplace, regardless of whether it is sewing, knitting, being a member of a gun club or some spooky martial art.  If you’re a baker and want to bring in goodies for your colleagues, it would be a bit infantile of them to condemn you for it.  I know it happens, but you’re probably capable of judging the tone of your workplace and acting accordingly.  I would ask you the question: why is it important to you to talk about these things to your colleagues?  It probably isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things so keep hobbies at home (unless asked about them, when you can give details proportionate to the level of interest) and work at work.

Clothes again cause issues: pink/skirts/heels/makeup.  Wear what you want, and what you are comfortable in for the day’s tasks, and that fits in with appropriate health and safety for your workplace.  If you’re going to show up to work draped from head to foot in pink, green, orange or any colour every single day, people are going to think you’re a freak (and probably rightfully so).  How would you respond to someone who turned up in camouflage every single day? Don’t do the same with pink, right?  If you’re going to wear a nice pink sparkly t-shirt with dress pants/trousers, where’s the harm?  Seriously, if any of the above list causes people to question your ability to do Science, tell them to sod off and join the 21st century.  Wear heels if you want (with the above caveat about health and safety etc), wear make up if you want to and wear skirts if you want to, but if your clothes are distracting your students or bringing unwanted attention, come up with a few good putdowns to remind the offenders that we’re in the 21st century and we should be judging people by their smarts, not their skirt length.

I’m not convinced by knitting in meetings.  I get that it’s not a reflection of the attention the knitter is paying to the meeting that its sort of subconscious-keeping-hands-busy activity, but it doesn’t really work for me.  I think the clicking would annoy me (but for the record, people using their phones to check email and stuff irritates me greatly in meetings).

The bigger issue here is that these activities are seen as stereotypically female things that reinforce the idiotic stereotype that those who do not do these things do Science (i.e. the males).  The only way you’ll change that stereotype (pink equals not science) is by challenging it head on.  There will be some conflict and awkward moments, and some idiots will devalue your ability to be a Scientist on that basis, but provided you’re great at your job and doing interesting Science, it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

4. It seems to me that often women don’t have as strong professional networks as men – the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

I don’t like this question, and have no obvious way to answer it or flippant response to give.  It sounds like its asking about how to obtain membership of the alleged ‘old boyz club’.  The simple answer is you probably don’t need/want to join.  Are major decisions being made in your department over squash matches? Then do your job well enough to become one of the decision makers and change where decisions are made.  Gravitate towards others like you – it may not be obvious but not all men like playing sports or drinking with work colleagues.  They may be more upfront about wandering into someone’s office and asking for things they need or want, but they’re not all arranging covert tiddley wink matches just to get the ear of power.

With all the networking tools available (online) or opportunities (conferences, inviting people for seminars, giving seminars), it strikes me that simple politeness may be the best networking tool around.  If you invited someone for a seminar, take them for a meal or coffee before or after, then follow up a few days later with a personalised thank-you email.  If you heard a particularly interesting talk at a conference, drop the speaker an email with a question or area of mutual interest.  Get conversations going somehow.  We encourage people to do such things when they’ve interviewed for a new job, but why not do it as a matter of course?  Don’t fall into the trap of hero worship, and it’s safe to assume that everyone is at least as busy as you so keep things short and to the point.

With busy colleagues, simply asking the question ‘do you have five minutes to discuss subject X’ seems like a good way forward. I dislike the question ‘do you have a few minutes’ because largely it depends on what those minutes will be used for.  I never have a few minutes for root canal, and conversations that make me wish I was undergoing root canal work are never worth any time.  Similarly be careful with ‘when would be a good time to talk to you about something?’.  Be specific, and ask for what you need, specify the timeframe within which you need it*. Neither of these sound like networking tips but they are – they’re about maintaining a good working relationship that is respectful of how busy your colleagues are.

*And that goes double for email.  If you are asking your colleagues or collaborators for input, tell them when you need a response by, and follow it up with reminders closer to the date.

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