Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CRA-W Grad Cohort: Being a Woman in Technology

One of the keynote talks at the CRA-W Grad Cohort was a little more female-specific than some of the others. It discussed some delicate situations that often arise more often among women in computing than men. It struck just the right balance between humour and frank seriousness, making it informative and enjoyable. Here are some of my favourite scenarios brought up...

The first situation involves the men in your research group belittling you, interrupting you, and so on; all the while, the supervisor is oblivious to the problem. Some of the more obvious advice includes "putting it on paper" so you can bring concrete examples to those in charge later on, and learning to be strong enough to support and argue for your ideas without getting emotional. I personally rather enjoyed the demonstration given by a very strong (what a firecracker!) woman on the panel, in which she glares at the interrupter and says very concretely, "Let me finish." Apparently they stop interrupting after hearing that a few times! Similarly, if your ideas are being poached by the others, you can regain credit by saying something like, "Oh! I'm so glad you agree with me," or, "Wow, you definitely articulated that idea better than me - thanks for that."

Another interesting scenario occurs when the guys go out to, say, the bars (where they may want to check out the women) and don't want to invite you. I haven't encountered this myself; my lab is awesome about having lunches or a Friday beer to which everyone is openly invited. I end up not going that often because I find myself way too busy, but that's my own doing, not the guys in the group! But if you do find yourself in this situation, sometimes just pointing it out is enough to get invited the next time. Just be careful what you wish for - if you ask for something, you'd better darn well follow through and go, even if it means heading to a crowded bar! You can also do your homework, learning about whatever it is that interests the guys and that they assume doesn't interest you. If all else fails, just make your own plans, and then invite them to come!

If you're faced with the assumption that women always organize the non-work events (social events and such), and you don't really want to be in charge every single time, the best thing to do is learn to say no. I know, it can be really hard to do - sometimes these things are just plain fun. You can accept these requests a couple of times to at least prove that you are indeed good at organizing, but do not accept every time, even if you like doing it! There are many other things you need to take care of! A good trick is to invite others to help you out, in effect teaching them how to run these events the next time (without you, of course).

Finally, my favourite: What do you do if you're attracted to your adviser? Don't do it! Apparently it's the "kiss of death for your career!" Granted, if played in exactly the right way (including switching supervisors - maybe even schools - and keeping it a secret until the defence is done), it might work, but really - if it was meant to be, surely it can wait until you graduate? (I'm sure this is easy to say when not in the situation, but if you ever find yourself there, remember that this advice is coming from some very knowledgeable and successful women.)

There were a few more scenarios discussed than I wrote about here. Some are included in this fellow conference-goer's blog post about this talk. If you have a few of your own, share in the comments!


PhizzleDizzle said...

great summary gail! that last bullet point - wow, i never even thought that was possible, but apparently it's common enough to bring up in panel! yikes!

Gail Carmichael said...

My thoughts exactly!

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