I spent a lot of time thinking about yesterday’s post where a conference presenter offered fashion and presentation tips to young women in an astroscience symposium. Even in the shower this morning. All I could think about was that silly slide. And then I got soap in my eyes and cursed the world.
Here’s the thing that still gets under my skin. We (as the expanse of academia, not as an individual or smaller group) spend a lot of time teaching under-represented groups to conform. I do think that there is value in teaching people about the inside baseball of the institution to allow them to be strategic in their decisions. As a first generation student, there have been plenty of times that academic culture has felt foreign to me. But, there’s a difference between informing young professionals about the norms and mores of a culture and prescribing behaviors. It’s a further leap over the line when we imply that there is a prescription for behavior that will lead to success. As I mentioned yesterday, there are plenty of data to suggest that underrepresented groups are treated differently than the majority culture, regardless of how they behave.
And that got me to thinking. How many times have I seen sessions at national conferences aimed at young women and under-represented scientists about how to behave, dress, balance family, present, network, etc.
About a fucktillion. I’ve even participated in some of them. If career progression was influenced by the quantity of professionally styled, workplace appropriate cardigans, I’d be chancellor by now.
How many sessions have I seen targeted at university leadership about how to create a welcoming and diverse culture, encouraging them to explore whether the norms are helpful or harmful?
None. Ever. It’s like a unicorn. You can tell me they exist, but I can’t tell you that I remember seeing a single one.
So, maybe I’d be a little more tolerant of our continued brow beating of young scientists if I had any sense that there was a push at the national level to get disciplines to look meaningfully at their own navels. That people weren’t just trying to pound square pegs into round holes in order to keep their own environments peaceful. In that case, the square pegs just gotta keep looking for square holes.
As we advance, we must double down on our commitment to integrity and the value of the individual.
It continues to be a trope that science and behavior are not connected. Friend of the blog and the Queen of the #MeTooSTEM movement @McLNeuo posted the following comment from National Academy of Sciences member Robert Weinberg on the potential expulsion of NAS members found guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct:
Last night, I wrote in reply…
I don’t understand how you can untangle the quality of a person’s character from the quality of a person’s science. The scientific method itself is a code of conduct. It seems plausible that someone who doesn’t value the dignity and integrity of a person wouldn’t value the dignity and integrity of the scientific process.
P’shaw, you say? Well, it appears ole Bob Weinberg has contributed data in support of my hypothesis…
So, what’s the point of this Tuesday afternoon rambling?
It’s great that organizations like NIH and NAS are taking sexual harassment seriously, but the problems of bias and discrimination are insidious and can be more subtle. Scientific societies and national-level endeavors put an enormous amount of resources into training young scientists to fit into the academic mold, but how much effort is there into training leaders to recognize their own biases, and biases within their institution? How are national level groups working with these leaders to offer tools to combat these problems? Not simply through symposia at meetings where information is received passively, but through working groups where the stakeholders and participants are identified and report back to the community (for example, these guys).
As I get ready to head to the Experimental Biology meeting at the end of the week, I’m hoping that future meetings will include more opportunities to create cultures of inclusion and integrity and the departmental and institutional level.