Friday, July 3, 2009

The token woman

I spent three weeks at a conference in New York City in June. At one point, I looked around the room and realized that I was one of the three most senior women in attendance, in a conference of around 90 participants. Me. The untenured junior professor.

Sure there were a lot of women attending, but most of them were grad students. A lot of them were friends of mine. When we spoke of finishing and futures and careers, a couple of of these women grad students admitted to me that they weren't committed to staying in my field at all. If they couldn't find a good job near their loved ones, they would drop out and go elsewhere.

I'm proud of them for making that choice -- for valuing their families and making a difficult decision. But it sucks for me. It means at the next conference, there still will be few senior women. And the same for the next and for the next.

How can you blame them for leaving? Finding jobs for two people in the same location in a specialized field is very tricky. In fact, this month the major American professional society to which I belong printed advice to grad students on the job market with a spouse.

Summary: Be willing to live apart from your husband or wife for an extended period of time. And "the wise" delay having children.

With advice like that from the major professional organization, it's no wonder that women, and men, are dropping out of my field at the grad student level. Some things just aren't worth giving up. Such as families. There are other jobs that will take these brilliant students and allow them to be with their loved ones. Higher paying jobs. The wise will move into these fields.

Meanwhile, I recently was asked to join a grant proposal. Everyone on the proposal had a specific purpose. Mine was to be a woman -- the proposal needed a woman on board. And just today I was asked to please suggest good women speakers for the department's undergraduate lecture series, because I am a woman and therefore must know such people. Huh?

Something is broken here, but I don't know how to fix it.


Soul-Fusion said...

at least you are sticking with it and forging a path for the few that follow and hopefully more will come later!

Tiffany said...

Sigh. (Actually heaving shoulders and then a sigh.)