a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Fri Oct 3 21:39:54 EST 1997
First of all, this is a rather long-winded posting; be forewarned.
Someone from the New Scientist asked whether meetings were as good for
women's careers as they appear to be for men's careers. If not, why not?
Well, I started to think about meetings and how hard the last meeting I
went to was for me to digest and the two topics began to overlap....It
wasn't jsut that I was embarrassed about my behaviour at the
meeting---believe me I was and am---it was also that I felt somewhat
marginalized at the meeting, and I almost always do. Why is that, i
wondered? I think it is because I never feel as on top of things at
meetings as I always wish I were, and that sense of self-doubt is
something I recognize as being female. I don't know if men are simply
more confident or if they suppress fear better, but it seems to work for
them. I do think they get alot more out of meetings and conferences than
women do.....Of course, that could just be my opinion, but the New
Scientist woman ASKED for opinions....
It occurs to me, that the differences in women's personalities that make
it harder for them to get as much out of a meeting as men do, include the
1. Men are absolutely single-minded in what they talk about at these meetings.
Women aren't. To be sure there are exceptions on both sides, but on the
whole, men talk about science and very little else. Women talk about their
families, their kids, the people in their labs, friends....they try to
strike up friendships, whereas the men are there possibly to form collabora-
tions, but more often than not, to get as much as they can from every
encounter and to then move on. Women seem to go on the assumption that if
they make friends, that will be a very good and possibly even rewarding
thing. Men view everyone there skeptically, as competition.
When men at meetings have conversations with each other, their first goal
is to figure out where the other person stands in the heirarchy of science
in relation to themselves. If the person is at the same level from
the superficial level of things (same place in the academic career track,
similar number and quality of publications, etc.) they begin to test one
another on how much they know. They start asking questions about trivia,
sort of like baseball scores in the outside, non-science world...."Do
remember when gene X turns on? I seem to recall a paper that came out years
ago in the podunk journal of biology (the more obscure the better!)
showed it being on in the brain
at stage 8 already. Oddly, it wasn't on everywhere, just in the x,y and Z
cells." When women who don't know each other meet, they do a little of
the jockeying too---where are you from, what do you do, etc.,--but as soon
as that is established they move on to other topics of conversation....and
often begin by admitting something that they perceive as a weakness in
themselves in an effort to strike a chord....to bond. "I am feeling
totally intimidated by this meeting. I always leave here feelings like I
know absolutely NOTHING." I have heard at least ten women say this during
that meeting I was at recently; after a while I realized, I would never
ever hear a man say that. I think they might appreciate being able to,
but maybe don't feel they CAN. And if you say it to a man, the response is
always, "Oh please. And just how much do you think the rest of these
know?" Whereas if you say it to a woman, she'll say, "I know just what you
mean. I feel exactly the same way..."
2. Men are openly confrontational and do not worry about being that way.
At posters, they grill. During talks they don't take notes and make
cutting remarks afterwards. Women rarely grill---I rarely see women being
that aggressive. They ask questions pointedly, but usually being careful
to avoid risking offense. They may deride after a talk, but are conscious
of catty behavior and the fear of being branded a bitch. But the more
aggressive and confrontational behaviors ar ethe ones that are remembered.
Anyway, what DO men get out of meetings?
I think men leave the meeting feeling motivated and excited. They feel
they have won alot of little battles. They've made a name for themselves
in the trenches and they are warriors. They are people to be reckoned
with. They have appraoched the science with a focus on the science and
have learned alot. Women leave meetings feeling inadequate and wonder if
they really have what it takes and shouldn't they be considering other
careers right about now----after all, who are they kidding. Look at all
these people! There is no way that she/we/I can compete. Often they have
been so intimidated, they have managed to retain little of the
information. Men HAVE formed collaborations--in some cases even outlined
the projects. I think women are more likely to have established the
initial connections that might make collaborations possible later.
I am totally willing to acknowledge that maybe I am seeing things
one-sidedly. But I think these are not original or new observations, jsut
some things I have been thinking about alot more recently.....
One of the things i have noticed is that mena re totally willing to screw
people over alot more than women are. Is this something other people's
experiences bear out too? I mean, honestly, the things I have seen some
men do require nerves of steel! Women can't seem to pull it off. At
least not with the same rate of success.
But I have to admit, I am not so much worried that I know less, but that I
don't believe, deep down, that I can play this game and win!
Anyway, thanks again for the good advice....
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