Reports from the Breakout Sessions
Following the presentations described in Chapters 1 to 3, breakout sessions were organized to enable more extensive discussions among the workshop participants. The following questions and statements were suggested to the breakout groups as possible topics for discussion:
Tell some stories about your workplace.
What gender schemas do you see operating in your workplace?
What are the consequences of underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, especially at higher professional levels?
Discussion leaders from the breakout groups then reported in plenary session what they believed to be important ideas and topics that had emerged in the discussions.
Sandra C. Greer, University of Maryland, College Park: In our group, which consisted mainly of chemical engineers, we addressed the first two of the three questions, and we started out with some stories about our lives as scientists and engineers. Some of us have been in this business for 30 years or so, and the war stories that we've told in our time are getting a little wearying. Instead, we each attempted to tell a story that had a positive outcome and see what could be learned from that in terms of both strategies and tactics to help us to move forward.
Let me talk first about the tactics or short-term lessons from these stories. One was the notion of networking in a very broad sense— networking in terms of students talking with their peers and finding inspiration and support in their pursuit as underrepresented groups.
One story described a corporate culture in a company where new scientists and engineers move around in the organization and get to meet many different people. This could be particularly valuable for women to get their faces seen and get to know people around the company.
Another way of accomplishing this kind of networking is through professional meetings, and our discussion focused on small meetings like the Gordon Conferences. These are very different from large national meetings, where you are a face in a crowd of 20,000. I remember going to my first AIChE
meeting—which wasn't that long ago, because I am a convert from chemistry—and even at my age it was still intimidating to go there and be surrounded by 20,000 men.
The argument was made that small topical meetings facilitate better networking. At Gordon Conferences, you sit down at a table with people, talk to them one meal after another for a whole week, and they actually get to know you and you get to know them. Then, miraculously, when these people see your proposals and papers, they look better than they would have had you not had the opportunity to meet them. This kind of networking is a very valuable aid—a sort of short-term tactic —at all levels, for both students and senior professionals.
Another topic that we discussed extensively is inclusive language. We talked about how many of us have fought this battle repeatedly: the battle of “he or she.” It really matters to keep saying “he or she,” even though many people have thrown up their hands in defeat. Among chemists and chemical engineers, this has been a hard fight. Many of our colleagues won't use this language—at least many of mine just won't do it. I confess that recently I have not put as much energy into this as I should, but I will return to my institution with renewed commitment to inclusive language.
Other stories in our group led to longer-term strategies. One of those is having leaders who care. In my own department, when Jan Sengers was chair of chemical engineering at Maryland, he made it one of his high priorities to diversify the department. A long-time practice in academia is that you never hire one of your own students —your student finishes and is expected to find a job somewhere else, but certainly not in your own institution.
We had a fine student, a young African-American woman, who was a chemical engineer. There are five of those in the country, as we learned earlier. Jan worked out a plan that allowed her to go elsewhere for a postdoc, but then we offered her a job. She came back to Maryland, where she is now a faculty member and has just won an NSF CAREER award.
Setting that kind of tone—violating an unwritten law and getting away with it—is moving the institution in a direction that it needs to go. Establishing that kind of caring and that kind of leadership is a long-term goal, and we need it among chairs and deans. But all of us can be leaders. All of us can step forward and help as senior professionals to move things in that direction.
Another long-term goal is to generate critical masses. Several members of our discussion group brought up this issue. Let me come back to AIChE and ACS meetings. If you begin to find even a fluctuation such that there are enough women in one place to have a conversation, you can make it happen. If you can force such an aggregation, then you will begin to feel more a part of things and be more comfortable in that environment. This won't happen overnight, but it is certainly a long-term goal.
Visibility is related to the shorter-term goal of networking. Our speakers raised this point this morning when we talked about getting national prizes, being elected to the National Academies. A long-term goal would be to move women chemists and chemical engineers toward more visibility in the community. Women will then be considered for these kinds of rewards.
Lastly, as a long-term strategy what we would look for is respect for personal priorities. I phrase this carefully because issues of women in the workplace often get boiled down to the issue of day care. But children need day care for only short periods in their lives, while other family-related problems continue. At my age I find increased responsibilities for taking care of sick friends or elderly relatives. These personal priorities—issues in your personal life that really matter and that have to be taken care of—more often fall to women than to men. This is a lifelong problem—it is not just a problem in your childbearing years—so respect for those kinds of personal priorities in the workplace matters for our careers.
We also talked about schemas and what I would call antidotes to schemas. One antidote might still be to use inclusive language. Another antidote is mentoring, in which we can help one another to see through these schemas and to sidestep some of this classification of women that we find handicapping.
A final antidote is development of our own self-esteem, which is a personal thing. A story in our group reminded us of the term that psychologists use, the “impostor syndrome.” Many of us—more women than men—secretly think that we are impostors in the workplace. It's the feeling that one day we are going to figure out that we don't know what we are talking about and we will be done in—that we have gotten away with it so far, but only because others haven't figured us out—so eventually we are doomed. I think we women have many more problems with this kind of impostor syndrome, and development of self-esteem is something that we can use as an antidote to these schemas.
W. Sue Shafer, University of California, San Francisco: In our group we attempted to bring up both the positive and negative. I will give examples of schemas and of situations in which it would be important to have women as leaders.
One of the starkest stories described a department where there has never been a woman as department chair, but we also heard many stories about being the only woman in a particular situation. The clear conclusion was that numbers really do make a difference. Instead of trying to populate every place and every institution, maybe it would be better to identify just a few and bring up the numbers there. Even if everybody else were left to fend for themselves, it might be better having a few success stories to show what high-quality places resulted. Maybe then we would have built a better mousetrap that other people would want to emulate.
In another story, a young woman went to an institution where she joined an all-male laboratory group soon after the departure of another woman who had become pregnant and left the laboratory under emotional conditions. It appears that the men in her group felt that women achieved their ends by means that were inappropriate in the workplace. The narrator of this story was determined not to behave that way, but finally, after months of unsupportive treatment she asked, “ What do you think you are doing anyhow?” and the answer was, “We are just treating you like one of the guys.”
In a final story, Marjam Behar described her arrival at NIH to work in what was then called the Division of Research Grants. Her newly assigned female assistant came up to her and said, “I have never worked for a woman before, and I don't think I am going to like this. ” Needless to say, Marjam got her to see the light, and they worked well together over the years. I remember hearing that story when I was a fairly young manager, and it illustrates the point that sometimes women are their own worst enemies. If women who achieve positions of power don't treat employees in a caring manner but rather take on the worst characteristics of some men, the costs can be high. Unfortunately, everybody thinks you ought to know better because you are a woman.
We also discussed people being left out of the loop and what to do about it when this becomes a problem. In one person's experience, a man's unwillingness to include her in the loop was deemed her problem rather than his; she was counseled by male colleagues—who were otherwise very supportive of her—that in order to keep the peace in the group she was going to have to learn to live with it. I wonder whether a more creative solution to the problem might have been developed if her boss had been a woman.
Another theme that came up in several stories was the feeling among women that they have to do it all—and all at once—and that they have to do it all, but men don't. For example, such expectations affect how student evaluations are used as a part of the promotion and tenure process, although they are subject to the kind of schemas that benefit men more than women. There is some research on this (described in Deborah Tannen's book1), and one participant related that she intended to share it with
Deborah Tannen, “The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue,” Random House, 1998.
high-level officials in her institution. She was concerned that her chances of earning tenure might be compromised by the institution 's use of what they incorrectly believed to be objective measures.
If we are talking about the consequences of not having women in leadership roles, one of the most important is that, until we have enough women in leadership positions for everybody to get used to it, women are very frequently not taken seriously when they assume leadership roles or positions of authority. We had a few stories to illustrate that.
We had two different views of industry that were expressed. One was that things look pretty good right now, that maybe most of the problems were solved for women in industry. On the other hand, we had a story about an R&D department in which every time a woman got pregnant she was transferred out of the department. This was told by someone who, while home recovering from the Caesarean birth of her child 2 weeks earlier and without adequate sleep, got a call from her boss offering her a transfer to the library. Needless to say she got up from the bed, put the kid down (presumably in somebody else's hands), and stalked in to work to raise the sensitivities of her male boss —who, by the way, did withdraw the offer of the transfer out of R&D.
I think we all know that leadership makes a difference. This is my bottom line. If leadership at the top is committed—regardless of whether the leader is a man or a woman, but preferably if women are seen to be high in the management team and if both men and women at the top are committed—we can make a difference, and we can set the tone, and we can change our environment. If we seriously want to invest in infrastructure to support women's careers in science, we can make a difference.
Geraldine Richmond, University of Oregon: Our group focused largely on the discussion of schemas and leadership; as an additional point we talked about mentoring, which you could also describe as championing or coaching. The discussion had as much to do with setting the framework for the workplace as it did about some soul-searching of where to go in the leadership area. The stories that we heard are disturbing and unfortunate, and the most disturbing part of it is that they don't seem to change—they are the same stories we have heard for a long time.
Another point that was brought up about schemas is that women must work very hard to put in a filter; they must decide which remarks may be negative toward them, which are just irritating, and which are harmful. Otherwise we would be buried in details.
A point that I found interesting in our discussions was that the schemas, or the atmosphere, tend to worsen with the success or perceived success of the woman. As one example, nurturing from colleagues is offered when a grant proposal is turned down. But when a person is very successful at getting grants and becomes competitive with the best people in the department, the nurturing may disappear, and then negative personality traits may appear when colleagues are uncomfortable with the woman's success. I must say that I don't think that applies necessarily just to women, but I think that it happens to women more often than to men.
We spent a lot of time talking about leadership and found that what results in someone being a leader in an institution largely depends upon the institution. Our group had representation from a variety of institutions (from government labs to small colleges, including women's colleges, to larger research universities and industry), and there were some differences particularly as our discussion focused on small colleges and particularly women's colleges. For the large research institutions and government laboratories, being accepted and respected as a leader largely depends on your research capabilities and how long you stay competitive or active in research; there is little correlation with actual leadership skills. Your ability to be effective up the ladder in order to bring change to your unit often depends on the reputation that you bring external to the institution. Consequently, if women are to hold leadership positions in some of these institutions they must maintain their research credibility. I'm not sure that
that is a message that we are sending down the line to the troops. It can become a very important factor in achieving career recognition —becoming a department head or being elected to the Academy. I think these issues are important to address on a national level. Achieving the necessary research success—in government laboratories as well as academic institutions—is dependent on maintaining research funding, credibility, and visibility.
There was a discussion of the “male” method of running a unit or a department, which again was a perceived extreme. But most of us see males as department heads, and the extreme is the autocratic rule of a linear thinker, someone who stays inside the box with regard to thinking. I don't think any of us would necessarily say that is the best model. The other extreme is that of the “female ” model. One of our group members observed that this other extreme is not necessarily productive either: faculty meetings or unit meetings that are just a free-flow discussion, soliciting everybody's opinions, and letting everyone feel nurtured, wanted, and needed—without necessarily coming to any final decision.
The question is, in that spectrum of leadership, where are women most comfortable? Where do women feel they can be effective and still retain the qualities that they perceive are important? To be a leader do you really have to become an individual that you dislike, or can you be an effective leader and still retain the values that you respect? Where is the happy medium between linear thinker and what was called circular thinker?
On the issue of mentoring and championing it was emphasized that mentoring requires work and training for both the mentor or the championer and the protégée. The mentor must understand how important that role is—it is not just having lunch with the person once in a while—to actually help open doors and promote that person. At the same time, the protégée must be willing to take criticism, to say, “Well, that's all very nice, but now tell me what really is wrong, ” and then move forward.
I am struck by the lack of progress we are making in how women are perceived or evaluated in their jobs—whether the evaluation is in terms of our research, our effectiveness as department heads, our leadership roles, or our efforts as mentors or champions. We are still searching for how best to be a leader, how best to be a mentor, how best to be a champion, and how to take on these roles. There are so few women in leadership roles that we don't have enough examples of effective leadership among women in the chemical sciences to know who are the appropriate role models. We need more women as leaders, not only as role models, but also as champions and advocates for other women coming up the line.
Lou Ann Heimbrook, Lucent Technologies, Bell Laboratories: The stories discussed by our group all fall into three areas. One was related to the consequences of supporting specific individuals, a category into which all of us fall at some point in our careers. The particular situation that was brought up involved the only female faculty member on a search committee during a search to fill a faculty position. A female candidate was hired, but she left the university after only 6 months. To whom did the other members of the original search committee turn and ask, Why did that person leave? What is the issue? To their female colleague on the search committee, of course. We need to continue to support women candidates, but all the stories showed the possible consequences.
A second theme in the stories was the frequent exclusion of women from decision making, in both academics and industry. A case in point was the story of a particular department that was diverse in both racial and gender characteristics. There were two females in this particular department, one tenured and one not; the faculty also included a group that basically knew they were in the retirement phase but still wanted to decide the future of the department. As they held meetings and activities about planning the future of the department, some of the faculty—including the two females—were excluded. Perhaps this was just the tenured versus non-tenured? Unfortunately, no! One of the women was a tenured professor. I think it all comes down to what we heard earlier, which is the question of critical mass.
So what were the schemas that caused the problem? I alluded to this before. There was the issue of separation, in which men held separate meetings to make decisions. If you are not included, it is tough to make a difference. A second problem is, “When in doubt, blame the woman.” If another female comes into a department, whether in academics or industry, and doesn't succeed or simply doesn't stay, there is a retention issue that acquires an immediate association with all women in the department. The third concern is the titleless woman, an issue that appeared in several of the stories that we heard.
What are the consequences of these stories? They leave us with a discomfort level, and we all know what we do when we become sufficiently uncomfortable. We don't show up. We opt out, and we can give a lot of reasons for opting out; but if enough of us opt out we will never get to the critical mass. Another consequence is the immediacy of need for women in higher positions. I call this the need for speed. The statistics that have been presented here show 10- and 20-year gaps that consistently seem to look the same. One of the consequences is we are running out of time. There is a need for speed in many of the activities that we need to drive if we are going to get critical mass and if we are going to make a difference.
What are some potential solutions to these problems? First and foremost is continuous attention—by both individuals and institutions. We need accountability and responsibility, and we need to hold other people accountable and responsible for the actions that we are trying to implement. And we need to use positive and not negative reinforcement.
Frankie K. Wood-Black, Phillips Petroleum: Among the schemas that you all notice is that the lapel microphones are designed for men in business suits with pockets. Women's attire is not necessarily conducive to business suits and pockets. We've been seeing different solutions to this during the conference.
Our discussion group was smaller than the others, with a good mix of people from industry, university, even some representatives from government.
Two of the industries in the group were my company (Phillips Petroleum) and Bell Labs (formerly AT&T Bell Labs, now Lucent Technologies), both of which have been recognized as being positive places for women to be. Phillips Petroleum has two women on its board of directors, which is unusual for a petroleum company, and Bell Labs has made a huge effort over the last 10 years to incorporate women and help women make progress up into the management ranks. We sat in back and said, Let's look at how the workplace has changed in the last 10 years. We looked at the efforts other companies were making and what different organizations were doing and we concluded, Oh, man, we were successful. We now have women vice presidents. We now have two women on the board. We are successful. This is great.
Wait a second! What happens when those new executives retire or move on to other opportunities? Where is that new tier? Can you think of a woman who is in the progression or the chain of promotion who is going to be the next vice president or the next board member? You can think of a whole bunch of entry-level women, but you cannot necessarily think of women who are in middle management on the way up.
So, were we successful? I don't think so. Something is happening in the mid-tier. Organizations are not dealing with this mid-tier very well. What is happening and what is going on? The organizations have been working really well to get women into positions of leadership. The question is, How do we keep them there and keep them in the chain?
It worked out really well when our breakout group began to talk about the mid-tier, because then we just kind of rolled right into the different schemas. By coincidence, our group included Mary Jordan, the ACS statistician who deals with all the career surveys. She is going home with lots of opportunities to
follow up on these discussions. There are questions about women in mid-career for which we did not have the answers. Where are they? Where are they located?
One of the big things we are seeing is the change in the workplace in big chemistry. If you went to work in chemistry in the past, you went to a place such as Dow, DuPont, Phillips, Mobil, or Exxon. Wait a second. I just gave you a whole bunch of names of companies that either aren't there anymore or have merged with other companies. But now you can open any journal and see 50 small pharmaceutical start-ups, especially chemical start-ups, little companies. So, it is big chemistry versus small chemistry. What's happening there? Is that changing our workplace dynamics?
Those questions brought us to the subject of group dynamics, and we discussed the effect a woman has in a meeting. Is she heard? Not necessarily. Is she looked at when she is talking? Some people talk around her. Is she excluded? The critical issue is group dynamics, where communication styles also come into play. Is the woman's behavior looked at positively or negatively? If a woman interrupts she is being aggressive, she is viewed negatively; but if she is not interrupting, she is not being heard. So this is a complex situation, and power positions don't necessarily correlate with reactions.
A woman in a team-leader or managerial role is not necessarily accepted as a leader. A junior person in a hierarchy can still tell you, “That is just your opinion. You don't have any basis for that.” A woman in a position of power doesn't necessarily elicit the respect that a male counterpart would receive in the same position.
You also heard in several of the other groups about the problem of women's self-image. When women succeed, they sometimes consider themselves impostors. “Oh, I was lucky. I got a break.” “This is really good. I got a break.” “If I don't win, it's not because I tried and I did everything I could, but there was somebody else out there better than I was.” “ It was because I didn't work hard enough.” So it's lucky versus lazy—We are always looking at it as our being lucky or lazy. It is not talent based. Men, on the other hand, say, “That guy—that professor—was just a jerk. He didn 't recognize my talent.” Men do not necessarily blame themselves. So there is a self-image issue.
That discussion brought us to the consequences—of not having people in that mid-tier or not having people in the hierarchies. Everyone sees it as paying the cost to get there.
We heard stories this morning about how women who had advanced in hierarchies typically did not have children. They had to make a choice between career and family, and that is seen as paying a cost. It may not have been a cost to that person who made that choice, but it is perceived as a cost to someone who is in the lower tiers: “I want to have both a career and family,” or “I don't necessarily want to work 60 hours a week in the laboratory. I want to be able to do other things.”
Those are costs—or at least perceived costs—and generally those costs have a negative image. We have only a few role models, and we ask, “How did that person do it?” From my experience there are role models out there. I know a woman with nine children—a successful dual-career family, and nine children. How did she do it? I couldn't do it. I have two children, and we have a little problem with that. Seven more children? No, I don't think so.
People see the sacrifices, and the lack of role models causes students to look and say, “That person spends 80 hours in the laboratory, writes three grant proposals a week,” and so on. They say to each other, “I don't want to pay those kinds of costs!” because they don't have other role models to illustrate other solutions to the problem. There are multiple solutions here to the problem, but there are not enough women in the middle and upper tiers to demonstrate the solutions. We need to show our younger colleagues that there is more than one way to skin that cat.
Career path choices: these are our trailblazer issues. You need a trailblazer to show the company and to show younger women that there are options. That is why we must have creative thinking so that someone can say, “Look, you want this, I want this. This is how we can get a win/win situation.” We
still tend to focus on the costs—the self-image issues and the career path choices—as demotivating forces. We are getting hit in the stomach all the time, and—you've all watched boxing, a very masculine type of thing—it's always the stomach punches that get the guy in the end, because they're one after another, and they weaken. These are the demotivating forces that we need to overcome.
Marylee Southard, University of Kansas: Someone asked for more data from the statistician in their group. It may be extremely hard to track, but where are the engineers and chemists going who go directly out into the workplace with their B.S. degrees? We have been producing between one-quarter and one-third women for 15 years or so, but we don't see those numbers out in the workplace in industry and government. It is very difficult to track those. Is there a way to go about it other than asking individual alumni groups to get out their address files? I ask because our advisory board has addressed this as well, and we cannot find our own alumni in the workplace.
Janet G. Osteryoung, National Science Foundation: Could I just make one comment about this? I think people should be clear on the fact that the only reason NSF has a reasonable database for Ph.D.s is that somehow they have conned everybody into thinking that nobody can receive a Ph.D. unless they fill out this form and send it in. But this may be an insurmountable problem that you are addressing.
Mary Welsh Jordan, American Chemical Society: The ACS data look very good. We have survey responses from 50 percent of the Ph.D.s and 40 percent of the new graduates with bachelor' s and master's degrees. That is better than most surveys do, and compared with the national data that we have, it is pretty well right on. So I think they are considered very sound data, even by NSF and other organizations.
Janet Osteryoung: I think we all owe ACS a debt for persisting in collecting these data. There is no question in my mind that they are the best that exist.
Robert L. Lichter, Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation: I just want to elaborate a little bit on some of the discussion in our breakout group. The notion of immediacy of role models has to do with not only the speed of getting people into the higher positions. There is also a need for those in higher positions to have a more immediate relationship with people in the lower positions. It is fine to have women who are presidents of academic institutions and CEOs of corporations, but at the entry levels it is important to have women who are just above the women who are coming in as well. That is the other aspect of immediacy.
Another notion that was discussed in our breakout group was the idea of creating pathways of training. A number of corporations are preparing employees for management positions, but this seems woefully absent in academic institutions—indeed, it seems to be antithetical to the notion of an academic institution.