Where are all the women?
|But are we?|
I never felt particularly constrained by gender roles growing up. My family never seemed to label activities or interests as 'boy' things or 'girl' things--there were only activities and interests. I was active in sports, but I also was a dancer. My dad taught me how to throw a football, which I still can (albeit poorly) and my mom taught me how to cook (somewhat less poorly). I grew up with the notion that men and women could do whatever they wanted.The ski scene is male dominated, the knitting scene is female dominated, who cares? I love to do both.
I always enjoyed science and math, so it seemed reasonable to study engineering. I think the notion that not that as many women went into the field probably appealed to me--I've always been contrary--but it didn't factor too much into the decision making process. And it wasn't something I thought much about in college. I'm a materials engineer, which is one of the most gender equal fields of engineering. I was never involved with the Society of Women Engineers or their ilk, saying that I wasn't a female engineer--I was just an engineer. I spent some time working at a nuclear plant, where myself and two others who came in at the same time were the only women in the department. The guys took to us like fish to water, I think it really tickled them pink to have some young women working with them. Some of them took it as their personal responsibility to look out for us and I never felt like anything but an equal.
But as I have been moving further and further into academia and the research sector, the lack of women in my workplace is something that has progressively bothered me more. When I get bored at a conference, I'll sometimes count the number of women in the audience. It is rare that it breaks out of single digits. A friend who has taken a similar career path as mine, but in biology, shared this article recently. Some highlights of the study:
- "Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills."
- The professors were less likely to offer women a job, and if a job was offered the pay offered was substantially lower.
- Female professors were just as likely to discriminate against women as their male counterparts. In fact, "the bias had no relation to the professors’ age, sex, teaching field or tenure status."
Which has led me to two competing trains of thought. My career is an uphill battle: a field where I am going to be held back simply by who I am. I'm already a person who struggles with serious self-doubt sometimes, my scientific glass if often half-full as I realize just how much I don't know. Is it worth it? Would it be better to do something that I am more passionate about (something I'd also like to discuss in a future post), and where I have more opportunity for advancement? But! The second thought that creeps in--the situation is not going to change if women keep getting forced out. Do I have an obligation, even if I'm miserable, to forge ahead for the betterment of ladies in future generations? Is it selfish to move on?
What do you think?