I’ve been off sick for a while, so have had a lot of time to think about things like gender issues in academic science. While it didn’t really catch up with me until I reached the tenure track, I’ve experienced the cronyism and sexism (both blatant & hidden) – as have many women whose experiences have been recounted in books, journal articles, blogs, etc. On the flip side, I’ve also had fabulous interactions with male colleagues who see no reason to treat male and female scientists differently. Unfortunately, these are the exception rather than the rule.
After all that thinking about gender issues – and given what’s been coming across my virtual desk in the past few days – I spent some time putting together a detailed post on the subject. It combined outcomes from the 2010 committee that examined the CERC selection process (which followed on from my last post), the just-released report from the Council of Canadian Academies on the status of women academics, a new PLoS ONE study on the reduced representation of women in symposia organized by men, and a (relatively) recent blog post by Athene Donald on women and self-promotion.
It also included statistics on the number of women in the Canada Research Chairs program, as Theme Leaders in the Prediction in Ungauged Basins (PUB) hydrology initiative, and nominated to AGU Fellow positions in 2012 (only four, and none of the nominated hydrologists are women). I stopped there as the numbers showed that – surprise! – academia is far from a meritocracy. Though some persist in thinking it is – particularly the G&M’s Margaret Wente, who last week trotted out the old argument that ‘maybe women don’t want to be scientists’ and complained that excellence is being superseded by a drive for equality (Note comments are now closed on this article, which seems to happen often with Wente).
By the time I got halfway through the post, it was too depressing to continue. Gender discrimination in academia is so pervasive that it sometimes seems we’ll never get out ahead of it. It’s the same feeling I had after reading Virginia Valian’s Why So Slow, which largely pointed to socialization and cultural structures as major drivers of people’s attitudes towards women. And these are as difficult to change as an economy and infrastructure based on fossil fuels.
So I scrapped the whole thing, and will be looking for something more uplifting – or at least more hopeful – for my next post. Perhaps something about Bora Zivkovic’s latest ideas on what makes a good science blog – and what makes someone an ‘expert’.