Insidious, hard to quantify, Gender Discrimination
This post is in response to Okham's post, on which I would have loved to log a comment but won't for reasons of maintaining anonymity.
I'm not going to comment on the paper, you can read Okham's post and get to the paper (it was sent to me in a comment on one of my posts).
Because I haven't read it yet.
However I am going to comment on a couple of interesting points raised by Okham's blog.
And yes, I read Okham's post first because it was easy and it pissed me off rather than reading the article because I had to download a file and I knew it would depress me whether it was convincing or not.
Either way, it's bad news for me that either Sherry Towers is right (probably) but nobody believes her or will do anything about it (likely) or she's wrong and making the rest of us look bad and actually weakening our case.
See? Either way, depressing. I swear I'll read it when I'm in a better mood.
Regardless, I think Okham does us a disservice, or needs to get a little of enlightenment on this one issue in particular. I'm going to excerpt this part of the post here since the original post is very long and this is just one small section:
What about speaking invitations ? Have women been reserved fewer slots than they would have deserved ?
Before we address this issue, it need be stressed that conference presentations, in and of themselves, are only a modest "reward" for one's scientific accomplishments. It is commonly accepted that the main objective of a postdoctoral researcher, is not that of speaking at conferences, but rather landing a university faculty position. Towers' case of GD is ultimately about jobs, not invited talks. Thus, the importance of any imbalance in the allocation among researchers of conference presentations, depends on the (real or perceived) impact of presentations on the main professional aspiration of a postdoctoral scientist. If only a tenuous connection with career advancement can be established, a charge of GD based on conference presentations alone is not likely to be seen of much interest, nor substance.
Towers' data seem to indicate that speaking invitations were mostly granted to male researchers, although the validity of this contention is difficult to assess independently, as no raw numbers of speaking invitations for female and male researchers are provided, and Towers' "conference reward ratio" gives disproportionate weight to talks given by "unproductive" researchers.
The most striking result, however, is that the correlation between speaking invitations and faculty appointments is weak, virtually non-existent for male researchers (Table 1). In other words, the lion's share of conference presentations may have gone to male researchers, but they derived no measurable benefit from that. Towers herself seems at a loss explaining this. Wouldn't you expect speaking invitations to be especially important for "unproductive" (i.e., male) researchers ? After all, by delivering an effective presentation, an "unproductive" individual (whose CV is presumably weak) may impress the audience and partly compensate for his productivity gap with respect to his competitors.
The observed little impact on career advancement clearly raises doubts about the real importance of conference presentations; one cannot help wondering what the perception may have been, among researchers in the sample, how many of them may have regarded presentations as a "chore", rather than a "reward", and to what extent they have actively sought to obtain speaking invitations in the first place...
Generally speaking, it is clear that any action (deliberate or not) whose effect is that of depriving a researcher of the proper recognition for the work accomplished (including a chance to showcase in public his/her speaking ability) is unacceptable, and should therefore be prevented and remedied. At the same time, given that the impact of conference presentations on career advancement is unclear (to say the least), serious allegations such as "gender discrimination" and/or possible violation of Title IX regulations seem unwarranted, if solely or primarily based on conference presentations.
At a minimum, more information on, and greater understanding of the process by which conference slots are allocated is required. It is conceivable, for example, that productive researchers may simply not be interested in, nor place too much weight on presentations, which they may perceive as scarcely useful in bolstering their hiring bids (rightfully so, apparently)."
Okham raises a good point here that is easily refuted.
Q: Do conference presentations correlate with job offers?
A: Only if you give good ones.
The point here is that more study is needed. Here's how I think about this in a nutshell:
data 1. Women are invited as speakers less often than men.
data 2. Women are a smaller part of the applicant pool.
Hypothesis: Face time is more important for women than it is for men.
The kinds of gender-biased decisions pointed out in one of the comments illustrate this point nicely:
"...qualified women routinely get ranked lower than men for the following reasons.
Many of the confidential letters of recommendation for qualified women dwell on personality and degree of assertiveness (either too much or too little), rather than scientific accomplishments. This personality rating is then used to either say they will not be leaders in the field (not assertive enough) or they may be difficult to work with (too assertive). Being "just right" is an extremely narrow window. The letter for male applicants match potential leadership qualities with their work, instead of their personality.
I have watched faculty meetings which drop qualified women to the bottom of the list due to vague comments about not fitting in, or doesn't act like a physicist. Such comments might have merit, if they refer to experimental style, teaching, or thinking. However, these comments upon later elucidation, refer to her clothes, her persona, her... femaleness.
Once low in the ranking, the woman candidate is packaged up as a "member of the minority pool, who was interviewed, but didn't make the cut", and this satisfies the University rules about affirmative action (or whatever they call it these days)." -- Anonymous
Now, I only have one good anecdote on this point, but I'm used to use it because this is a blog.
A couple of years ago I went to meet with some collaborators, and they wanted me to give a seminar so they asked for my CV.
After my talk, one of the PIs said to me, "Wow, you're really MUCH more impressive in person than you are on paper."
So there are two points to my logic here.
1. Women appear less productive on paper than we really are.
One of the reasons we appear less productive is because we often get bumped down the author list, or our papers get downgraded to 'lesser' journals because of the catch-22.
You know the catch-22, I blog about it a lot. If you self-promote, you're being arrogant and/or bitchy. If you don't, you're screwed. It's a lose-lose.
So we often get less of a byline than we deserve.
In other words, our publications systematically under-represent our productivity.
But I don't have to support that with evidence- other people already have. It's the middle of the night so I'm not going to hunt for the references, but I'll do it if you're too lazy to go look for them. (I don't get the impression that Okham is in any way lazy.)
2. The chance to change people's minds by meeting them in person is priceless. Maybe Sherry Towers tried to make this point, I don't know. But it needs to be made vehemently.
My impression is that many of my problems at work have been because of one simple thing.
Assumption based on observation: Men are terrified of women crying.
(I hope you're laughing because I think this is a hilarious topic, but bear with me because I do have a point.)
Because men are terrified of women crying, they tend to avoid confronting us even more than they avoid confronting their male colleagues and advisees (passive aggressive types that we get in science, especially).
Since there is no direct communication with us, assumptions are made. Men confer with each other about what they think is going on with us.
Erroneous assumptions are always made in the absence of actual data.
Assumption based on observation: Men who don't have much contact with women besides their family members (i.e. especially in fields where women are in the tiny minority) DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WOMEN.
Ahh, that reminds me of a great song from a Broadway show....
And so, dear folks, this brings us back to the Great Divide. At the end of the day, here is the take-home message from Okham's post:
"I cannot really say that I have ever witnessed a blatant case of gender discrimination (GD) on the job" -- Okham.
Dear Okham, I have. And so have most of us women bloggers. One reason Sherry has only 9 people in her study? BLATANT GENDER BIAS AT ALL LEVELS LIMITS THE NUMBER OF WOMEN.
In other words, YES, IT'S THAT BLATANT, BUT ONLY IF IT'S HAPPENING TO YOU PERSONALLY.