Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What women can do to get ahead

There's an article called "Ten Things Companies - and Women - Can Do To Get Ahead" that I came across, and there's one particular item I found interesting that made #3 on the top 10 list for women. (If you're curious, the other 9 items were somewhat typical advice such as network, articulate your skills, have an elevator speech, etc.)

Item 3:
Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that "women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements." That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.

First it makes you wonder how the data was gathered (eg, an objective assessment of candidates' experience compared to the requirements for the job, versus a subjective self-assessment in which case some interesting gender self-perceptions affect the results).

But assuming for a moment we can believe these numbers, what does it tell us about women in general? (Yes, let us allow ourselves a little room for generalizations and stereotypes here.) A couple possibilities:

1. Women are less willing to face rejection / failure, ie, "I will only apply for a job I'm very likely to obtain."
2. Women take metrics much more literally and do not leave as much room for the nuances of what actually goes into hiring decisions, eg, "My background is in 'limes' not 'lemons' so I don't qualify."

It also makes me wonder if women would hold others to those same standards. For example, if a female hiring manager and a male hiring manager were both given the same candidate to interview who met 60% of the job requirements - would men be more likely to consider this adequate? Would women hold the candidate to a higher standard? Hmmm.....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What women (don't) wear

A CNN article today reported on a declaration by an Egyptian cleric that women will NOT be allowed to wear an all-covering veil (niqab) anymore in areas of universities frequented only by women, eg, female dorms or all-female classes.

There is no specific reason given for this other than the speculation that it's meant to counter extremism. Also, the article mentions that there have been protests by women who choose to wear the niqab and are now being denied this right.

I for one don't understand why anyone has to dictate what a woman should or shouldn't wear. Although, you might play devil's advocate and ask if it would bother me if at the opposite extreme some women (or men) chose to attend university in the nude. I would personally find this distracting, though I don't think it would offend me as long as no one lingered in my "personal space" (which I assume would be of a much larger radius in this situation).

For now we will just satisfy ourselves with this quote from a cleaning lady who was apparently interviewed for this article:

"The niqab should be worn under two circumstances... A very beautiful woman should wear it to prevent men from fighting over her, and an ugly woman should wear it to hide her face."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Parenting pickle

Some graduate students were telling me about a student in their lab who attends conferences with her small child. They spoke of it with a slightly disparaging tone (only insomuch that they could still walk the fine line of being PC), and I couldn't help but feel sad that there was no sense of empathy for what it must be like to be that mom. Although it's possible she takes her child along because she wants more QT, I think it's more likely that she does it because there aren't too many alternatives. This made me think of other moms I'd heard of who take their children to conferences (a brave few I think given that I have yet to notice the presence of children at any conference I've attended). These are the reasons I've heard people give for doing so:

1. The child is small enough that it is still nursing
2. The cost of childcare is too high for students / post docs to leave the child with someone
3. The spouse works full-time and there is no nearby network of family / close friends who can watch the child

These are the reasons I've heard people give for why this is a terrible idea:

1. It makes it difficult for the mom to concentrate on the talks
2. It makes it difficult for anyone else in the same room to concentrate on the talks (I assume this mainly applies to louder children, or to people who are easily distracted because they hate/love babies)
3. It's unprofessional (I'm not sure what this means unless it means 'different than what's typically done by those in the profession,' in which case this is certainly true.)

I've also heard that some people will book an extra room for a grandparent / spouse who can watch the child during parts of the conference. (Some women have also been known to try this solution if they're nursing while going on job interviews.) This sounds like a great solution although it's somewhat cost prohibitive.

Long story short, I think people need to get over it when someone tries to live their life and balance their job in a way that isn't "the norm." The face of academia and the job market in general has been changing (slowly but surely) over the last few decades. I for one am excited about what this world will look like in another few decades. (Who knows, maybe they'll have temporary daycare available at conferences.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ebb and Flow

I decided it would be interesting to quantitatively track my perspective on "desirability of an academic job" this week. First an intro as to why...

A graduate student I spoke with recently was surprised / disappointed when I told her that being a postdoc didn't automatically make you any more certain of your future and that many postdocs still wonder whether they really will end up in academia.

She said "darn! I was hoping to have the answers by then." But I had to tell her that, alas, just being 1 year (or N years) "wiser" doesn't mean you actually have all the answers. (In fact, many of the faculty I've spoken with echo the same sentiment of "still trying to figure it all out.")

And now to the plot! At the beginning and end of each day I recorded my desire to go into academia on a scale from 1 to 5 (Monday was retroactively averaged since I started this Tuesday).

1 = No way, Jose
5 = Academia, here I come!

A few observations:
~ Though my desire does fluctuate, the average is definitely a significant shift upwards relative to my theoretical plot from graduate school
~ In most cases I gave higher ratings at the end of the day. Apparently I enjoy working in my postdoc enough that it makes me want to stay in academia. (Or maybe I'm just not a morning person.)
~ I was surprised that specific events didn't always catalyze the ebbs and flows of my desire for an academic job. Rather a lot of the fluctuations were related to whether I was over-analyzing the future (as usual), was tired / cranky, was optimistic for no particular reason, etc.
~ I wonder what it would take for me to feel a "5" on any given day...

All in all, this was a rather fun and interesting self-reflection game, so I may play it again next week.

Notes on points A and B
A: Met with my advisor who was feeling overwhelmed. This was not for any reason related to me, but it still made me question my sanity in wanting an academic job.
Submitted a grant application for money I was unlikely to get, but it still felt good to get it off my plate!