Some of my fellow ScienceBloggers have been hotly debating the role of male science faculty in perpetuating a climate that’s chilly and hostile to women. From one end of the ring, we’ve heard the classic complaint “It’s not my fault, I didn’t do it.” From the other end, we hear: “It is your fault because you’re not doing anything to change it.” And, in the middle, we have a rational and thoughtful referee, pointing out that both writers see things from different perspectives.
I think the question boils down to this:
Are you automatically part of the problem if you’re not part of the solution?
To summarize the three points of view, and simplify things to the extreme (correct me in the comments if I’m way off base), I think Chad and Janet might vote “no” and Zuska, most definitely, “yes.”
Perhaps this problem doesn’t merit a binary answer.
If we use a range between 1 and 10, with 1 being “no” and “10″ being “yes,” my vote would fall somewhere between 7 and 8.
I know from experience that it’s not always easy to be part of the solution, nor do we always know the right decision at the right time.
When I was a tenured faculty member and I had a student who was getting sexually harassed during an internship, in a biotech company, by a scientist on our advisory board; the answer was pretty clear. We had her quit and we never allowed a student to work for that gentleman, ever again. I was at least part of the solution.
When a female colleague of mine was denied tenure, and the head of tenure committee, who had been asking her out six months before (without success), took extraordinary measures to make sure that she was denied tenure, I did nothing, even though I knew that he had asked her out. Was I part of the problem? It wasn’t my fault, after all. And, by the time that I heard that she had been denied tenure, she had already turned in her resignation. I thought it was too late to talk to the dean and tell her (the Dean) what I knew. No, I didn’t create the problem, but writing a letter or speaking out (then) seemed like a waste of time. In retrospect, I think now that I should have tried to be part of the solution. I should have written a letter, just in case that instructor did something again.
Consequently, my perspective is a bit kinder than Zuska’s, because I only learned the answer to that question through experience and time. I think it’s up to those of us, who do know some of the steps that can be taken, to help educate the Chads of the world and show them how they can become part of the solution.
I’m not sure that we can change society, but I’m sure we can change ignorance.
technorati tags: women in science