the New York Times (NYT) published an article called “Feminism
of the Future Relies on Men,” in which the author talks about the
importance of speaking the language of the guys to change workplace
culture. This is not a new message; it’s
something that women have known for years.
been to many meetings about academia where women (and a handful of men) are
discussing how to improve the representation of women. And always someone at these meetings will
speak up and say that we are “preaching to the choir” and that we need to
involve men, especially white men, in these discussions so that they can be the
champions of the message.
this NYT article, one businessman relates the story of how his colleague
explained the importance of diversity.
He said that a gender mix made good business sense because it “improved
the atmosphere, gave rise to new ideas and was more in line with [their] clients.” Well, those arguments are great for business
(which, by the way, is light years ahead of academia on this issue), but let’s
examine each statement in the context of academia.
can discount the third reason right off the bat because academia doesn’t really
have clients. As for the second reason
(giving rise to new ideas), obviously this is really important, but academics
are in an environment where they hear new ideas all the time, so they don’t see
a need to actively work towards creating an environment that focuses on new
ideas. As to the first reason, improving
the atmosphere, I’m sure everyone thinks that is a great goal, but does anyone
in academia really have time to give it more than a passing thought when they
are focused intensely on getting grants to keep their laboratory going?
none of these arguments really fit for academia, but I think the real reason
that academia doesn’t seem concerned about gender balance is even more
fundamental; it is the independent nature of most research. Even if you attend
a lot of scientific meetings and have collaborators, it still comes down to the
experiments that YOU plan, that YOU conduct, that YOU interpret, and that YOU
describe in papers. This just means that
most academics are focused on themselves every day, and so may not even realize
that they might have biases (the so-called unconscious bias).
what should we do? How do we get people
to change something they might not even realize they are doing? That’s a real tough one, but I do have two
suggestions. One is active and can bring
quick results, and the other is passive and involves a long wait.
active suggestion: education. Right now,
go to the Harvard
Implicit Association Test and take either the gender-science or the
gender-career tests. It will take you
about 10 minutes and you will probably be amazed at what you find out about
yourself. Then, talk about your results
and encourage others to take the tests too.
The first step towards change is learning that change is needed, and
that you (gasp!) might be part of the problem.
Now for the second suggestion: time. I know, it’s depressing – who wants to
wait? But things are changing; there is
a new generation out there starting to become faculty. In this new generation, the men are just as
concerned about work-life balance as women.
And that makes it all the more likely that men will become the champions
of what has been known for so long as women’s issues in academia. So rather than trying to speak the language
of the guys, we can all just begin speaking the same language.