Thursday, November 11, 2010

Be the Visible Bitch

Some comments on the last post got me thinking about this question of women being overlooked, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally.

That and a couple of links from about gender bias in hiring, specifically related to how women are perceived.

There was a question about how to get noticed. I can list some tactics here, but I'm sure there will be additional feedback in the comments.

1. Wear bright colors

It sounds trivial, but wearing bright colors suggests confidence and makes you more visible than dark or pale colors. Go ahead, wear solid red, orange, or magenta. Do something with your hair, if only because it makes YOU feel more confident when you look in the mirror. Being visible starts with your wanting to be seen.

2. Take up space

Yes, I'm talking about mannerisms here. Sit up or stand up tall, don't hunch your shoulders like a shrinking violet. Be the tall poppy. As tall as you can be.

Smile! And gesture widely (not wildly) when you talk. Don't sit on your hands, use them!

Lean in rather than backing away, make eye contact with everyone around, and raise your voice. Pointedly making eye contact will help you figure out if people are hearing you or not.

At a group meal, move quickly to get a good seat, then pull your chair up and make sure nobody crowds you out.

3. Go to the microphone

At meetings where questions are taken from standing microphones, GO THERE. Practice. You might be nervous every time you do it, but it does get easier. Your first questions might ramble a bit, but practice and you'll learn how to be succinct.

4. Argue

Don't be overly nice and or polite. When someone speaks over you, call them on it. Practice saying firmly and loudly, "Let me finish."

Yell if you have to. Practice belting out things like, "Hey! I'm sitting there! Get your own chair!"

If you still want to be liked, there are comical ways of doing this so that everyone appreciates that you're just sticking up for yourself, not taking it personally.

5. Sit front and center

Figure out where your eye is drawn in any room. This depends on the lighting, so pick somewhere bright, whether it's near a spotlight, or near a window. Figure out the eye-line of the speaker or professor, and make sure they can see you. Again, you'll be able to tell because they'll make eye contact, and might even speak to you just to be friendly. You might be surprised the first time this happens.

6. Introduce yourself

Even if it feels somewhat awkward or isn't usually done. Pretend you're from a place where people do this all the time, even if you're not.

Say, "Hello, I'm ___, " and shake hands. Come up with a harmless question to ask, whether it's about the meeting about to take place, or the weather, whatever.

Practice being outgoing with everyone, and it becomes second nature. Quite often when you do this, you'll find that whomever you meet is instantly put at ease, and actually feels relieved. You made THEM feel more welcome because you went out of your way to think of their needs (secretly, most people are shy with strangers, especially in science).

Yes, it takes a lot of energy. You will be nervous at first, and then tired. But hopefully you will meet some genuinely decent people if you make a point of putting yourself out there. And then it gets easier.

In every case, be prepared to be rebuffed. Don't take it personally, just shake it off. Sometimes people are grouchy (think House, MD). Whatever, that's not your problem. Try to be relentlessly cheerful no matter what. Ideally, try not to care what these people think of you. You'll make mistakes, you might put your foot in your mouth sometimes, but that actually happens more often when you're worrying about it.

They might call you a bitch. But they won't ignore you, either.

Now I know, I don't usually sound like this on this blog, but I can typically pull off this kind of good behavior when I put in the effort. And yes, they do call me a bitch. No amount of being friendly or supportive of my colleagues will ever make that go away. But it's (mostly) because I'd rather argue than be ignored, and I'm often (usually?) right when it comes to scientific arguments.

Nobody likes you when you're right all the time. Especially if you say it with a smile! ;-)

I'm rarely ignored unless I choose to be in hiding. And sure, I have had times when I just wanted to hide, and I am very good at being invisible when I want to be left alone.

If you want to hide, by all means, go ahead. Wear dark, baggy clothing, sit in the corner, don't speak to anyone. No one will see you or give you a hard time... unless they accidentally sit on you.

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At 2:25 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Reasonable advice, but some of us are a bit too autistic to manage some of it. However, I can be very loud and chirpy. This often leads to me making a very good first impression, and doing well at interviews, but then this backfires when they eventually perceive the strangeness and persistent gender anomaly.

In my field, there are one or two women, but as far as I can tell they are all flat chested. I would not advise red or magenta for curvy women - bright patterns look more business like. But I guess this depends where you are from - I am not from the northern hemisphere.

Speaking practice is always good. If you are never invited anywhere, you should arrange your own seminars and workshops. I used to be happy if only one or two students showed up. Make the best of the interest you have.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once had a professor come up to me in a poster session and say, "you were in my talk this morning." I couldn't remember the subject of his talk, which lead to an awkward several minutes of conversation. It turned out to be a topic far from my research and his talk had been fairly incomprehensible to me. I am convinced this only happened because I was a young female graduate student in a pink sweater in a room full of old men in suits. I will now wear my bright colors a little more selectively.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is so good to read this. I'm really glad I found your blog. Nice to read of someone else dealing with attempting to make themselves a 'space' in what is not just a male dominated area, but one where so few of those guys have the social skills to be inclusive. I agree with everything you've written, sometimes it's just difficult to keep it up. But thanks for your writing!

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was linked on Historiann's site by Maggie, to follow up on the other link from your commenter about letters. It's an analysis of letters in support of female and male applicants for medical faculty. There's alot of jawdropping statements that completely undermine women with the guise of supporting their applications. Figure 4 is a wow, as in ugh, massive ugh.
grrrrrr, jc

At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Thinkerbell said...

Even though you might not "usually sound like this", this is the YFS that first made me aware that maybe some of the things I've always taken personal (i.e. they ignore me because I look young or am short) are in fact because I am a woman and therefore don't display the typical male-science behavior. I think your advice is spot on. Although I don't really agree with the bright colors tip, especially as number one, but maybe once the Punky Brewster flashbacks have subsided I'll see your point on that one.

Most importantly, I think, your advise can be summarized by "speak up." Don't sound mousy mousy and insecure, asking questions (also in conversations, during coffee breaks at a conference) will make you get noticed. Often, the whole overlooking thing is not by malicious intent (I'd like to think).

At the same time, though, be yourself. Work on speaking up and displaying confidence (which will be more difficult if you feel ignored), but rinse and repeat will eventually get you there. We don't all have to turn into 'bitches', but find your power.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Kea wrote: Reasonable advice, but some of us are a bit too autistic to manage some of it.

We all have our autistic days!

I would not advise red or magenta for curvy women - bright patterns look more business like.

Interesting point! I have trouble finding patterns that don't look like noise. They definitely stand out even more, that's for sure.

Anon 3:38,

I forgot to add that if you're going to be noticed, you better be paying attention! =D

Anon 4:26,

Thanks & welcome!


I think someone sent me this, but I haven't looked at the figures - I should do that, ugh or no ugh.


I did think twice about listing bright colors first, but in a way it's actually the easiest thing you can do differently. And for whatever reason, it was one of the first things that stands out in my mind between the confident and the insecure.

re: We don't all have to turn into 'bitches'

My point is that whether you think of yourself that way or not, other people will call you a bitch just for being yourself.

It's a hard thing to get used to, but I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

It's a tradeoff, and it's part of why so many women choose to disappear rather than fight. We'd all love to be loved just for being ourselves, but if you want to be in science, you can expect to have at least as many enemies as fans.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

jc, I just checked that paper, and Trix & Psenka is from 2003. I think I've blogged about it before.

I actually gave it to my recommenders. They said it didn't apply because I'm not an MD.

And no, I'm not making that up.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course is a pile of horseshit of course. They make it up as they go.

At 8:36 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I do all of these things and sometimes get down on myself because of some of the negative things (usually colleagues) I hear but the positive ones (from professors) definitely outweigh those "haters."

I may be a bitch but I will be a remembered bitch.

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my. How superficial this is. A scientist will be noticed. Whether it is a man or a woman, when he or she is good. When he/she has good ideas, produces good results, works hard. You will be noticed. Nothing to do with gender.
Wear bright colors. As if....
What is next? Get a pink labcoat?

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous jp said...

I love this post! I've taken up this attitude in the form of brightly colored fancy shoes.
However, I'd like to gently suggest that using autistic as an adjective to describe feeling socially awkward is a little insensitive. If nothing else, it pains the parents of autistic children.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

jc, I'm going to have to remember that one. Great play on words!

You go, Brandi Badass!

Anon 3:30,

I disagree. Good scientists are NOT noticed, without a lot of self-promotion and PR, usually at the expense of others. And women are more often remembered, as Brandi said, for being called a bitch than for their science.

I don't know what field you're in, but my field values superficiality of Big Names - you have to both work for a man who has one and publish in a journal with one - how is that not superficial? You'd think scientists would know better than to confuse causation with correlation, but they don't.

I can go out and buy a pink labcoat if I want to. Nobody would know my name though, they'd just call me "the one with the pink labcoat".

But I'd rather be that than invisible.

jp, Sorry about that, no pain intended. Kea and I mean it in the sense of Asperger's Syndrome and the Autistic Spectrum. We mean it in the sympathetic, not derogatory sense.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Anon, yeah. We must all be bad scientists, not to be noticed. That must be it.

jp, I am probably autistic. I come from an autistic family, and I was exactly like my autistic nephew as a kid. So I don't feel guilty about using the term.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous jp said...

I'm not the parent of an autistic child, but I have a number of friends who are - and unless you and Kea have been diagnosed as being on the spectrum, (in my opnion) I don't think it's all that sympathetic.

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Isabel said...

"However, I'd like to gently suggest that using autistic as an adjective to describe feeling socially awkward is a little insensitive. If nothing else, it pains the parents of autistic children."

I also refer at times to my autistic side, and mean it in a real way. I've always scored super high on those "highly sensitive person" tests, and just scored almost at asbergers on one of the popular on-line spectrum tests, so I feel it is valid for me to express at relevant times.

Is there a more appropriate way to say this?

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

jp, I'm referring to this Autistic Quotient Test.

I'm not sure what kind of diagnosis would appease you. Does it have to come from an MD to be meaningful? You sound like that's the only opinion you'd respect.

I'm not going to apologize again, clearly you were offended on behalf of your friends and obviously you get to decide whether we're just ignorant or if we're actually arrogant jerks.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Kea said...

jp, like MsPhD I do not use the term Autism likely, and I always score Aspergers (or even higher) on those tests. These character traits have had an enormous effect on my life, and I am offended that you should tell us off for using the term. I know my own family, and you should remember that until I was in my 30s the diagnosis was unknown. Besides, my diagnosis has been confirmed by a medical practitioner, even if there some who would disagree with it.

It is known that women are better at 'faking' social skills, probably because of its importance for their assigned gender roles. I am quite sociable in my own way, and very very intelligent, so it is not particularly noticeable, but I can assure you it is real.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Tim said...

oh god, i hate it when people get sensitive about the use of language like autistic. Will you please stop your whining. Even after miss sexist apologizes you still continue. It's not like anyone meant any disrespect, so shut the hell up go feed your autistic dog or something.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Dear Miss PhD,

As you know, i hate your views. I do try to be unbiased, which does not work at all.

I have to say, out of all the retarded posts that have come out of your head this really is the worst one.

Wear bright colors. Jesus. Are you serious? Wear bright colors? We are talking about scientists here. It's not an expedition in the rockies where you have to watch out for bears. I cant believe you actually wrote that! Don't you think that's a little demeaning to a woman, yeah if you want to get noticed wear bright colours!! Sit in front! Wiggle! Stick your hand up, c'mon ladies don't be shy!! HAHAHAHAHA you make me laugh with your ridiculous stuff. Maybe women in science should have whistles!! What? My results are not significant you say? TREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE If I had a penis that R-square would closer to 1!

or no wait, flashing light helmets! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA im sorry i just think it's sooo funny!

Bye i will be watching this stuff and discussing it with my female scientist friends with much derision.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous jp said...

I'm really not offended, I'm not looking for an apology, or an official diagnosis.

In recent years, I have had a number of students in my classroom casually throw around the word autistic - in the same manner that people used to casually use the words retard, gay, etc. My colleague with an autistic daughter is not unaffected when his students say these things.

I just wanted to point this out - to encourage you to be mindful of other people's feelings - that's all.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I have to admit that while insensitive as usual, your comment go feed your autistic dog or something was a pretty funny burn.

But seriously, re: bright colors, do you feel comfortable wearing a neon green shirt to work? Bright pink? Bright yellow?

I know plenty of guys who feel like they would stick out like a sore thumb. They're just not confident enough to pull it off.

Obviously it's optional. You can wear black all the time and still be noticed if you do all the other things, especially speaking up.

But my most successful friends and colleagues, both men and women, all wear bright colors. One wears orange all the time. Another almost always wears shirts with happy patterns.

I really do think there's something to it. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. I can pretty much promise that wearing a super bright shirt, whether you're male or female, will invite comments from both friends and strangers. They might be making fun of you, sure, but my point was about being VISIBLE.

Is being visible part of being successful? Sure. Is science above all the things that matter in business? NO.

Although most scientists will try to tell you they are more observant or fair, they're not. Plenty of studies have shown that scientists are just as prone to -isms and obliviousness as other professionals.

Is any of this advice meant to be specifically geared toward women? No. Not at all.

Btw, tell your female scientist friends I said hi. I'm sure none of them have ever been attacked by bears at work.


I'm sorry to hear that kids throw the word autistic around. I still know way too many people who use the word "retarded" far too frequently. Of course they aren't thinking about being mindful.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous former post doc who still loves science said...

It's funny, but of all the comments the "if you are a good scientist you will be noticed" sticks out the most. No. You. Won't.

That is one of those "childhood lies our parents told us". In the world today, you can do great science but in the end - ONLY if you have great support from BigWig and/or others will you get noticed. You will have to network (and probably kiss ass) to make it.

And the main problem imho? Only the truly opportunistic ppl learn this before they go to grad school (or have paretns who are profs and therefore they know it is a harsh reality). The rest of us middleclass children are hopelessly behyind, and if you get this tidbit of infor as a post doc - well, sorry. It's most likely to late.

great post YFS!

At 3:32 PM, Blogger CaT said...

saw you over at fsp commenting about what to wear during interviews.
i quote:
In my experience, men don’t usually notice or care about women’s fashion so long as it’s not getting in the way or distracting.

then why u suggest here, as a first point even, to wear bright colors and all?

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

CaT, It's funny, I wondered if anyone would ask about that.

It's really two different things, I think.

Standing out in a crowd of "colleagues" who tend to ignore you = wear bright colors, it can't hurt and it might help.

It's logic based on the cognitive science of how our brains work.

And as I pointed out in my reply to Tim, it's not just advice for women. It's advice for anyone who wants to be visible.

On the other hand, when you're the person on display at an interview where you're being scrutinized all day anyway? Maybe better if you're not wearing a blindingly bright color, but by the time they invite you to interview, they've already noticed you. So then you don't need it.

On the other hand, if you wear something distinctive, somebody might remember you as "CaT, the one who wore purple".

My point is that the straight guys are not the ones who will remember & judge you on your shoes or your hair.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

p.s. CaT your photos are fantastic! I'm glad you stopped by or I wouldn't have known about your blog.

At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Femme de Science(s) said...

[...] No woman was ever promoted purely because of hard work.

Well, I think this book is really worth having a look at...

At 10:12 AM, Blogger CaT said...

ok, i see your point and although i dont agree with the wearing colors to get noticed, i do agree with not doing that during an interview.

scary; i always, or almost always, wear something purple. i might be the one that wears purple... are you around here somewhere?! :P

and im glad you like the photos! thats what i do when not in the lab...

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Tonoje said...

Is this a joke?

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me it was refreshing the post about wearing bright colors.

When I was in my 4th year through my PhD, my advisor fired me the day after finding out that I was pregnant. To me it was a devastating blow. My co-advisor, a woman, also told me to leave. By God's grace, a great world expert accepted to hear my research and accepted me as a student. He has been very supportive, but I still had to start from scratch. I didn't feel welcomed in science as a woman. I thought about finishing the PhD and leaving science, but one day I went to a scientific talk, by a woman dressed in a tiger print dress, knee high boots, necklaces, and a nice haircut. I was skeptical of what she would say. The man who presented her praised her intelligence. She was confident in her talk. I saw that she was proud of her work and of being a woman. She was not hiding her feminine side. Even though she did research in industry, and it is different in academia, I held on to that idea of a female scientist. She was the vicepresident of the Computational Chemistry Division of a big company. When I went to give a talk about my research about 2 years later at a big conference, I wore a black skirt suit with sequins in the cuffs, and a purple silk blouse. I was a woman talking about science. I was not going to wear pants and a shirt. You may think it is trivial, I want to feel that I belong here as I am, that I don't have to blend in the see of men.


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