Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On (Not) Being One of the Boys

Or: Networking Is So Important

In my lab, there are N people, where N>10, and 2 women.

The men spend a lot of time together outside lab. They play tennis. They go running. They go out for dinner. They go out for drinks. They invite one another to parties.

I don't. Why?

Well, probably they don't like me. They're civil enough at work- at least, now they are (and may the Evil Ex, the Untreated Bipolar, and the Physics Harpy be forever forgotten). But I'm sure I wander about with a scowl on, looking quite unfriendly. And then there's the three years I spent really, really depressed. I wasn't so good at the socializing then.

Besides that, it would be weird to invite a girl out for drinks; it would be weird for me to ask just one of the guys out for a drink. It somehow wouldn't be appropriate; insert bizarre societal taboo here. And then come the pursuits which women are expected not to share: basketball, golf, football watching. I read periodically of other women who are shut out of the 'network' because what, they're going to go golfing with the chair? Out for dinner with the male junior faculty down the hall? Not so much.

In fact, 'Lifting a Ton of Feathers', among other excellent scholarly works, confirms that We're Not Making This Up. It really happens. Women are, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from the social networks that will make up (on average) 60 to 75% of their professional colleagues.

It's frustrating when I see others assume I wouldn't be interested in, say, playing tennis, because I'm a girl. Many other women, as well as me, are excluded from the next generation of old boys' club because we're not boys, because it would be uncomfortable, because women don't talk about sports. I can see the club forming before my eyes.

How do women break in? How do we make ourselves part of the club?

We go to meetings. We organize parties for the department. We round up people to go to dinner. We hang out with... who? We find a mentor. But what else? What can take the place of golfing with the chair? Is it possible for the current chairs-of-departments to recognize the inadvertent discrimination and make an active effort to change? (I must say I am well acquainted with my department's chair and he thinks he isn't discriminating. It's hard for people to see their own bias, no?) How can we help this change? Discuss.