Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why have Lady Editors? A true story of balanced gender representation.

I’m following up on my previous post, to address this question left by an anonymous commenter: 

‘How to square the (thoroughly justified) criticism of a mostly male workshop with the evident pride taken in the production of an "all-woman edited, largely woman-authored" book?’

This is a really good question and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Building Babies, the book I co-edited with Kate Clancy and Katie Hinde. To begin, we have to have a reasonable estimate of what we’re shooting for. Fifty/fifty isn’t always representative  for a given discipline. In the case of Building Babies, it is a challenge to estimate what the gender composition “should” have been given that we approached scholars from several disciplines, as our primary goal was to be interdisciplinary. That said, the explicit themes of the book were mothers, pregnancy, infants, breastfeeding, and parent-offspring behavior, subject matter that historically draws female scholars. Further, we drew predominantly from anthropology and psychology, disciplines that in recent years have awarded more PhDs to women than men, approximately 60-70%. Drawing an even finer point on it, from within two already female-dominant fields, many of our scholars self-identified as primatologists, a subdiscipline that historically is female-rich. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that there “should” have been a large female skew to Building Babies.  Another way to get at this is through the analysis of Lynne Isbell, Truman Young, and Alexander Harcourt, who reported that by 2012 women contributed 67% (as first authors) of all primatology-themed presentations at the American Association of Physical Anthropology conference. This is not an exact science, but given the history of the disciplines we tapped, coupled with the fact that many of our authors were recent PhDs or even still ABD and thus hewed closely to the recent statistics indicated above, we should expect that the female:male breakdown in Building Babies is somewhere around 2:1 (perhaps 67-70% vs. 30-33%)

I crunched the numbers for Building Babies, and am pleased to report that the gender breakdown of our total roster of 34 authors across 22 chapters was 68% female, 32% male.  When it comes to just the first authors (which is maybe – but see below - more comparable to being an individual invited to participate in a special workshop), I considered 20 of the 22 chapters because two were equally co-authored by male-female pairs. Of those 20 chapters, the breakdown of first authors was 75% women, 25% men. For at least one of those female-first-authored chapters, the scholar we initially approached was a man, and he invited two of his female trainees to be co-authors, one of whom took on the role of first author. If he had remained first author as invited, the numbers would have been 70% women to 30% men. BOOM!

How does this compare to the Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health Workshop? We have the same challenges we faced estimating the gender breakdown “should” have been. Again, fifty/fifty isn’t necessarily an appropriate measure of accurate representation. While none of the speakers at the workshop are primatologists, they are anthropologists, physiologists, and evolutionary biologists, fields that in recent years have awarded at least 50% of their PhDs to women. With those numbers (and with an assumption that organizers pay attention to gender equity), it would be reasonable to expect at least a fifty/fifty breakdown of speakers. Instead, there are only 2 women out of a slate of 14 speakers, or 14% women, 86% men. That’s six times as many men as women from fields in which the distribution is likely at least equivalent. 

Similarly, Isbell et al. found that when primatological symposia were organized by men, women were underrepresented. Remember that in the context of primatology, a representative sample of women would be about 67%, and when women organized symposia, that’s exactly what Isbell and colleagues saw. In stark contrast, when men organized symposia, only 29% of the first-author presenters were women. Not even fifty/fifty. But at least it’s 29%, not 14%. How does that happen? I don’t believe it is a conscious campaign of omission. Rather it is a very unfortunate oversight, brought to you by the power of implicit bias.

But here’s another thing: It is difficult to equate a publication with an invitation to be a featured speaker. The former is generally highly collaborative, and the first author position is often determined alphabetically because the team deems the contributions to be equally valuable. Indeed, that is how the order of the names of the editors of Building Babies was established.  Even when there is a very clear division of labor, everybody still gets some credit. Every author gets to put it on a CV. Everybody gets to claim a little piece toward tenure and promotion, toward a scholarly profile. To be a featured speaker means that ONE person is being recognized in an important – and individual – way. Certainly that speaker may mention his or her mentors, students, and collaborators in their presentation, but it is solely that person who received the invitation, who was paid the honorarium, who was compensated for their travel and lodging, who gets to include that speaking engagement on their CV, who benefits from networking at the event, and who gains recognition from those contacts and any press that may be there. And collectively, that builds into the kind of profile that can lead to grants, publications, endowed chairs, and major awards. These are the collateral benefits of featured speaking engagements, making the continued benign negligence on the part of conference/ symposia/ plenary/ keynote/ competition organizers so problematic and stifling. It is a kind of gatekeeping, and it’s not all that subtle.

My Building Babies co-editors and I have had many career opportunities. We all have tenure-track jobs at well-respected research universities, and have benefited from speaking engagements, collaborations, and funding. However, our individual successes remain embedded in general patterns of restricted access. As successful academics with a fair amount of professional privilege, it’s our responsibility to say something when we see something. And it’s important not to pull the ladder up with us. My intention in this follow-up post is to address specifically the explicit and implicit questions posed in the comment. Some of us saw something and we said something about it, we got a response, we are moving forward. But it is important to point out that there is a systemic problem of implicit bias in academia (and pretty much everywhere else) that hits non-male, non-white, non-straight (and more!) people pretty hard. 

So yes, anonymous commenter, we are extremely proud that Building Babies was largely woman-authored, and we embrace the fact that it was edited completely by women because that may not so coincidentally be why it is so well balanced along gender lines for the disciplines we targeted. (Of course, one could argue that we shouldn’t be so chuffed up over doing plain old due diligence.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saw something, said something: the personal and political collide

Not long ago I had the great privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana University Anthropology Graduate Student Association Research Symposium. The theme of this terrific event was "Breaking Down Barriers" so in my address I talked about various barriers researchers face at multiple levels. This included talking some truth about the barrier that gender still is to full inclusion in science. I talked about the unfortunate image Elsevier used of white men to depict "reputable science." I talked about the very public boycott of a major chemistry conference because the list of invited conference speakers contained the names of men only. I talked about the landmark 2012 paper by Isbell et al. on the disturbing persistence of gender disparities in AAPA conference symposia: even though women make up about 60% of attendees at AAPA conferences, when men organize symposia 70% of the speakers are also men. When women and men co-organize symposia, the distribution moves but still overrepresents men. When women organize symposia, the breakdown is representative of the actual membership, i.e. 60% women, 40% men. 

My take-home message for these students - for our future colleagues and future mentors of the next generation of scholars in our field - was if you see this kind of disparity, you need to speak out about it. Because it ain't right, people. You cannot pretend that you don't see women or people of color. You cannot pretend that we are not here doing our science thing RIGHT. NEXT. TO. YOU. You cannot pretend that excluding people is merely an accident. At best, it's just ignoring your privilege and not examining your biases. At worst, well, it really really sucks and I don't have the energy to tell you what you already know what "at worst" means.  

Fast forward to recent days. A good friend and colleague Pablo Nepomnaschy asked me to promote a workshop he organized for this coming June at Simon Fraser University called Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health. I like Pablo, I respect his work, he has been incredibly supportive of my career and of BANDIT, so of course I earmarked that email as something I would get back to and post widely. When I opened it (after my colleague Kate Clancy, whom he also asked to promote it, pointed it out to me and then wrote this great post about it), I could not believe what I was seeing. Out of a list of 14 perfectly respectable, expected, eminently qualified speakers - some of whom are former mentors and current collaborators - only TWO were women. My reaction was like this but with far more nausea and profanity. Just as in the Isbell et al. paper, a symposium organized by men completely overrepresented men, in a field that is rich with major innovations and paradigmatic shifts produced by women. Only now, it's super personal. 

One simply cannot make a compelling argument that women aren't making substantial contributions to the fields of evo-devo and evolutionary medicine. The all-woman edited, largely woman-authored book Building Babies eliminates the argument (yep, I went against type and self-cited). And Pablo and the rest of the men who organized the workshop or agreed to speak in it are NOT explicitly making that argument. But the thing we all have to understand is that there is intent, and there is message. This lineup sends a very strong message to me and my colleagues - women AND men - about the inroads women must NOT be making to not have been invited to speak.  (I checked with Pablo, who knows I am writing this post - this list is very much a reflection of who was invited, not the leftovers after all the polite declinations came in.) Being invited to speak at these kinds of workshops and symposia and working meetings is an honor, a recognition. Not seeing a representative number of women honored this way is a punch to the gut and there really isn't a good way to sugar coat that. And even if there were, I don't think I'd want to. Because I'm tired. So very tired

I saw something. It was time to say something, just like I told those grad students at IU. EEEK. Me and my big mouth. So, I wrote Pablo last night and told him how dismayed and disappointed I was, how shocking this was, how I couldn't promote this on my blog without pointing out the jarring disparity. It wasn't an easy email to write because I had no idea how he would respond, what the fallout for either of us might be. And you know what? Pablo took it like a champ, meaning he issued a heartfelt, horrified apology. He manned up: he wasn't defensive, he didn't try to "calm me down", he didn't tell me I was overreacting, he didn't make this my problem. He agreed that he had failed to see his own implicit gender bias. He said he was sorry. He let me know he was supportive of my need to write this post. Had he expressed a lack of support and understanding and deep sorrow, I still would not have kept quiet, but I can't tell you how hopeful it made me feel that men and women can have these conversations and really listen and learn. 

So go to the workshop. It will be great. But if you go to this workshop, or others like it, and you look up at the dais and notice a whopping discrepancy between the faces of the speakers and those of the people sitting in the audience, from the one you see in the mirror, from the one you see sitting across the lab bench from you, contact the organizers. Tell them they missed a fantastic opportunity to set an example and that they can do better next time. Maybe they'll listen. Pablo did. At the very least, they will have to stop pretending they don't see what's going on. We all have to stop pretending. And it's time to say something about it.