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something I hadn’t noticed before

February 18, 2010

A former student of Ara’s dropped by lab late last night to catch up with people.  I found myself standing in the hallway with him and some of my (male) coworkers, chatting about life in Ara’s lab.  None of these guys were the lab members I was close with, and a couple sorta rub me the wrong way.  Nothing terrible, just the sort of guys who I don’t trust not to make a sexist joke, or to denigrate women’s abilities when there’s no women around.  I stood there in the hallway talking to these guys, and was somewhat uncomfortable because of those couple, and I thought maybe I’d just go home since it was late anyway.
And then I stopped.
And thought about it.
That wasn’t just a conversation between labmates.  That was a chance to talk to a successful alum about what we do.  That was networking.  Networking is primarily a social event, at the bar after the conference, at dinner with the former students, over a beer at the poster session.  But because it’s social, sometimes there are people who are bothersome for whatever reason.  And you have to put up with it if you want to network.  I had two thoughts about this though.  First, how often do people realize that something like that is networking?  If it seems like a social event, do people go home without realizing that maybe they should stay?  Second, a guy wouldn’t have been as uncomfortable as I was.  So if I hadn’t thought about the fact that there was a reason to stay, I would have been driven home in a situation where a guy wouldn’t have been.  And there are a lot of such situations for women in male dominated fields.  There are guys you simply don’t trust; there are guys who have treated you poorly because you’re a woman; there are guys who make you worried.  In situations where you’re the only woman in the group, and especially in situations where you don’t really know the other men, it’s hard to feel welcome.  Since networking is so often done under the guys of social events, you miss opportunities.

I’d never thought about that. I’d never thought about the social dynamic that makes women sometimes more uncomfortable, and that it really does affect your ability to network.

(Necessary caveats: I’m not saying that this applies only to women.  A gay man, a minority, heck even a straight cis able-bodied white guy could very well feel uncomfortable in similar situations.  I’m not saying it’s necessarily worse for women than any other group.  I’m just reflecting upon it for women, because that’s the group who’s membership affected me last night.  I’m also not saying it’s a terrible crime that this happens to women.  Granted, guys who say that shit need to realize that they shouldn’t, but it’s by far not The Worst Thing Ever.  I just think it’s an interesting subtle thing that I hadn’t noticed before.)

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