Discrimination in different forms.

To some extent our gender will always affect our work; that isn't sexism, that is life. My husband didn't have to carry around 30 extra pounds, run to the bathroom every hour, or modify his work practices to avoid exposure of our unborn baby to hazardous chemicals or radioactive substances. He didn't have to write detailed to-do lists at the end of every day just in case he went into labor that night, and he didn't have to stay out of work for 6 weeks after finally giving birth. He didn't have to drive to work exhausted after being woken three times during the night to breastfeed an infant, and then stop what he was doing twice a day to go pump. As much as we might not want them to, these things do impact your career. And that, right there, is the problem; not that they impact your career, but that we don't accept that they will.

The fact is, when I was a technician and then a graduate student, there were very few women in tenure track faculty positions at my university. As a technician, I worked for the only female faculty member in the whole department. The whole OB/GYN department! While I was there she was undergoing all sorts of hormone treatments in an ultimately futile attempt to get pregnant- she had put it off until it was too late. Later, as a graduate student in a different department, things were a little bit better. There was not one, but two female faculty. Neither of them had children.

All of the married men did.

However, in my class, in my department, there were only female students. In our program as a whole, the majority were female. That is a trend that has continued. My graduate lab had a male PI… and the rest of us were female. My current post-doc lab finds itself in the same situation. In a way, that is hopeful; so many women being trained, some of them must succeed. The problem is this: the reason there were no men was because they all went out and got jobs.

The women, though equally talented, had more to worry about: their spouse's career; the extra time it took to have children; geographical limitations. It's nice to say "don't let these things impact your career choices" but the reality is that they do. I'm sure I would have a faculty job right now, maybe not at Major Research University, but certainly at Small Liberal Arts College… if I was willing to move. But I'm not. And I still have to reassure myself that That is OK. I am driven; I do long for success; I applaud those who have achieved it; but don't denigrate me for the sacrifices I chose to make. Because it is a sacrifice.

The hardest thing about it is not looking at it as a failure. It's not that I have failed to get a job… it is that I have succeeded to make a Home.

The other kind of discrimination that really gets to me, and no one talks about, is career discrimination: the idea that of these alternative careers (by which I mean, anything other than a full time tenure track position at MRU) is really just the backup when you fail to get a 'real' job. When I tell my PI "I made the top four for this faculty position at small college" and he responds with the completely unenthusiastic "Oh. Well, it's too bad you'll be leaving science now", I cringe. Gender discrimination stinks, but career discrimination affects us all. We need to understand that there are many different definitions of success; we need to embrace our strengths and let them take us to the best path for ourselves. We need to understand what it takes to be a successful scientist/mother, and then define that as success. Then the guilt and strings will stop holding us back, and we can be free to work on removing those gender gaps.


Anonymous said...

"That is OK."

It is OK. Men make choices, too, honey, and the art of life (and marriage, and parenthood) lies in the choices we make, and how we compromise, and what we choose to make our priorities.

You have a particular problem. Business (and admittedly some fields of business more than others) has long recognized that women have important contributions to make, and the world of business in general has proven to be far more welcoming to women, and their contributions, than science has. In my opinion science and academia, by comparison, is still inflexible, close minded, and despite all its liberal pretensions in reality unwilling to reorganize itself to accommodate the practical realities that women face every day.

But this is the field you chose. You only have two choices: accept things as they are, or try to change things.

Try to change things. Science is still a backwater for women, but it doesn't have to be. Just remember, most scientists are, basically, dopes (at least as regards anything that is not science). They'll come around, and in your lifetime (and career time). Just don't push; you have to lead.

And despite the old saying, if you lead a donkey to water, it eventually does drink.

Love, Dad

Stacey said...

wow, woman, you can add 'Writer' to your list of successes. This was such a compelling read!

Tina said...

Thanks, Stacey, that is the nicest compliment. I wrote this post several weeks ago, so I'm not quite so angry any more, but I thought it was still worth publishing.

JaxMom said...

Tina - Enjoyed reading your posts tonight. I have declined/did not entertain job offers in different cities and out of state because I couldnot bring myself to move Jax away from his father.....I am working to help myself redefine "success". I think bright, driven women (like us :)) often sell ourselves short because we have such great expections.