Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Women in Science -- The Poor Babies!

Women in Science: The Battle Moves to the Trenches By Cornelia Dean, Health & Fitness, New York Times, December 19, 2006, Tuesday; Late Edition - Final, Section F, Page 1, Column 2 (2506 words).

So, there’s still a war going on and women are now getting down and dirty in the trenches, is that the message from Ms. Dean and the NY Times? It’s the NY Times, of course, so it MUST be even-handed with a balanced news perspective, right? And because of the “gravitas” of the NY Times imprimatur, you can Google the title and find over 13,000 other newspapers citing the very same article. Ah, yes, fair and balanced news about women of achievement once again hits the wall. NOT.

To evaluate the “objectivity” and the “balanced” nature of this article, we examined each paragraph, and then split them between two columns: the left hand column listed each of the positive paragraphs and the right hand column listed all the negative paragraphs written by Ms. Dean, quoting the women in science at the Rice conference.

There were merely 22 paragraphs in the left (positive) column, encouraging women to pursue science careers. Oh, wasn’t that a wonderfully persuasive conference in Houston!

The right (negative) column contained 64 separate paragraphs, telling women in science they are losers in a female loser world. They tell women they haven’t a prayer of a chance. It’s all “trouble talk”, telling women NOT to consider a science career: “forget it,” “don’t even try” or “watch out for the boogie MAN, MEN, MALES, all of whom are out to get you in the academic science environment. Or, my favorite distorted logic, “if you need encouragement, just talk to us female mentors, girls – cause we’re so-o-o-o-o positive.”

If I were a woman considering a science career, the overwhelming message to me from these women would be that I haven’t a prayer of a chance at achievement in scientific academia unless I’m ready to be a sacrificial lamb or a devious and conniving she-devil who plays the game “just right” to get that special edge. The message is: if you fail, do what all women in science do -- blame the men, the university, and the global village that doesn’t give you what YOU think you need to succeed.

But, what is most upsetting is how one of the female speakers dismissed the very important work and accomplishments of the women of science at MIT. Dr. Steitz trivialized 4 long years of intense negotiations and collaboration at MIT as simply “a report [that] criticized the institute’s hiring and promotion practices.” Perhaps the cavalier attitude of the women at the Rice conference explains why they are not give the credibility they desire. For a more admiring and complete review of exactly how the women of MIT accomplished diversity at this dominantly male school of engineering, see:
Not Every Apple in Cambridge is Rotten.

Women have a choice: they can whine and cry about the injustice they have seen or experienced. “Blame everybody else,” is the option presented at the Rice conference and at the 13,000 newspapers and blogs that supported that view. Women who make that choice must live with the consequences: whining in the academic or scientific world gets you nowhere except a reputation as a baby.

Women can quit: they can “opt out” as we so euphemistically hear everywhere today. “Walk out on the boys” is the advice of one woman of science. Women who make that choice must not want the scientific academic profession as much as they suggest. Women who make that choice will get you a reputation as a quitter, in any profession.

In both cases, don’t you just feel like saying “OHHHH, the poooor babies. Here let me kiss it and make it all better!”

Women could make a different choice. Women can do what the female faculty of MIT did: define the problem that you are willing to address, deal with the problem from the framework of change that you are willing to own, define alternative strategies, build the business case for each option, get support from others with similar vested interests, select viable alternative paths toward the objective in which you believe, and then work together – with other like-minded women AND MEN in your organization -- to implement effective, long-term change.

That doesn’t attract the attention or the headlines. It simply gets the job done. That, little girls, is what women in leadership do.

Nobody was more adamant that I in reacting to Dr. Lawrence Summers’ statement (in January 2005) about inborn gender differences that might predict female failure in science and math. Nobody! But nobody will be as strong as I in reacting to women-on-women verbal intimidation, stereotyping, prejudice, bias, and wrongful attribution of cause: effect relationships. Nobody!

If I were to tell my daughter, “It’s an evil world out there, with everyone in pants out to get you,” she is likely to believe me and therefore not make any effort to overcome the risks I tell her about – even if they represent the biases of 20 to 40 years ago.

If I were to tell my daughter the world is so confined and limited for you that you can ONLY have a family OR a career, that you can ONLY have tenure or children, that you can ONLY work 70 hour weeks, then I am telling her to aspire to only half her potential. And she might believe me.

Whatever we tell our daughters, they are likely to believe us because we are the first sources of authority with which they have experience. They are very likely to believe us. So we should be telling them about opportunities in THEIR world, in THEIR future, based on THEIR education and opportunities, not merely on the world in which we were raised.

The NY Times and the women of Rice University’s conference, do our daughters a major disservice. At least we should be giving them equal measure of hope, of opportunity, of context, of vision, of strategy. We should not simply repeat the “old wives’ tales” that were handed down to us by our grandmothers or even our mothers. Our daughters deserve better.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Path to the Boardroom -- Part 2

In October 2006, reported that for the first 10 months of 2006, 227 women were nominated to corporate boards of directors in the U.S. and selected international nations.

Is this a significant number or not? The answer is YES: not only are we seeing continued gains per month, but also more firms in more states are announcing new female directors added to the boardroom. The 10 month total of 227 female nominations represents 27% of the total number of board seats held by women (827) on all Fortune 500 firms as reported by Catalyst Inc. in 2005.

Catalyst Inc. also has tracked the number of women added to boards of directors on Fortune 500 firms over the past 11 years (1995 to 2005). LIke most of the "women on boards advocates," Catalyst reports that women have been added to these top Fortune 500 boards of directors at a rate of "only" one-half of one percent a year over this timeframe.

But they all ignore the very important fact that the TOTAL NUMBER of board seats available for BOTH men and women at these firms DECLINED by 645 seats as boards grew smaller in response to pressure for better governance.

Women, on the other hand, INCREASED the number of seats they occupied by 227 seats between 1995 and 2005, compared to the men who LOST a grand total of 872 seats during that same period.

This is what it really looks like:

Not too shabby a performance at all!