How did I get here, contributing or rather eliciting information on women and careers? For periods of my life (when I was a bit younger and stronger-willed) I would refuse to check the “M/F” boxes when filling out forms. It seemed that to the world the most important identifying characteristic I had, next to my name, was my gender. Certainly at some points during the day (e.g. finding a restroom), it was useful to be aware of my gender, but for the most part, it seemed irrelevant, especially when I was studying or working.
Once in graduate school, I went to one “women in science and engineering” event; thought I’d give it a chance for the sake of networking, but came away a bit frightened. There was a panel of 3 Stanford faculty talking about having children. One had started bringing her newborn to work at 2 weeks. The other 2 had done similar things to return to work as soon as possible. When asked what was most important, there was a chorus of “a good nanny!” More recently, at UofM, I attended a “women and tenure” event. If I recall, again there were 3 panelists. They all spoke of long hours and high stress. When asked what it took to get tenure, one, an MD, said she had worked 80 hour weeks. The other two panelists nodded in agreement. I raised my hand and asked “Did you literally work 80 hour weeks? Because I’m working 60 hours/week and am feeling pretty worn out”. And she replied “Yes. 80 hours/week”. Eventually, after receiving tenure following my 60 hr/week efforts (and let’s be honest, many weeks it was somewhat less), I concluded that 80 hour work weeks are self-inflicted by people who volunteer for such tasks as being on panels. Even if a person like me were to end up on a panel, she would be unlikely to fess up to “reasonable” hours, because it is perceived as wimpy in academia to do anything but brag about how incredibly busy and overworked one is (see my other posts for how incredibly busy and overworked I am ).
Now that I am older and wiser, I recognize that there is benefit in looking into issues that are gender specific in the workplace. I just hope that the info I’ve helped collect is diverse enough such that those looking for encouragement, rather than just stories of heroism (which are great, don’t get me wrong), will find it there.