My post yesterday on women in the academic workforce not only sparked some great comments, but also several interesting emails. One in particular got me thinking and with the author’s permission, I have decided to pose his concern to readers:
Your piece this morning is closely related to my current situation and I’m not sure how to navigate these waters. I am a 3rd year PhD student in fisheries science at a public university in New England, the lone male in our cohort and very sensitive to the challenges facing women in academia through the awesome women sharing my office. None of us can come up with the right way to approach a sensitive issue:
I hired a field assistant to work here while I have to be away a few weeks. After interviewing many candidates by phone, a young woman seemed the most interested in the project. She’s considering a PhD in fisheries and her role will be to work with fishermen and take measurements on boats in my absence. So far so good.
A few days ago she emailed she has no one to watch her six month old, asking if it’s alright to bring the baby to campus for our first meeting. Until then, I didn’t know she’s a new mother. Trouble is some of the fishermen are challenging to work with and old fashioned on the roles of women. But through my female peers, I’ve also seen many tough ladies show the guys a thing or too, maybe change perspectives. When I mentioned this to her in the interview, she seemed cool.
But if she ever shows up at the dock with a baby, she won’t be allowed onboard. They’ll call it a liability and it may strain my relationship with them working on the project. It’s not fair or PC, but it’s a rough industry. How do I speak to her about this without sounding like a jerk? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and do want to be supportive. It’s awkward but necessary, and none of my female colleagues have an answer. Do you?
I’m just not sure, but I do applaud that you’re sensitive to the situation and asking your female colleagues was a good start given they know the fishermen involved. The question sparks larger considerations as well for academic advisors everywhere: For example, when interviewing potential graduate students, would a 24 year old single male be–consciously or not–a more attractive candidate than a 29 yr old engaged female? These are not things we’re supposed to discuss during the selection process, but they also don’t go unnoticed.
So with that, I turn CodKeeper’s question to Intersection readers…