Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Gramineae is not necessarily more verdant over there...

My entire professional life, and all of my postgraduate scholarship has been in a male dominated field (MDF). It's not without its perils - the possibly older, definitely wiser Female Science Professor has a depressing litany of the kind of bigoted fuckwittery that goes on above my paygrade in her particular MDF. In the main though, I've had to deal with far less overt sexism in the academic version of this MDF than I ever did in industry. Sure, there's still wayyyyyyy too much of this, and the odd well meaning suggestion that this constitutes a viable alternative to childcare. But in the main the sexist ass-hattage seems to be limited to those with an evolutionary psychology bent.

Now over to my friend P, in a particular Female Dominated Field (FDF). The friend, the field and even the institution will have to remain unnamed for now, as legalities may be about to ensue. I was in P's office the other day, in the FDF department of Nameless Big University (NBU). P's colleague popped her head 'round the door, visibly choked with emotion. P disappeared for 30 minutes or so and came back far from gruntled.

Turns out that P's colleague has just come back from maternity leave, and has asked to discharge her role part time. It's a research role so some mix of part time and home working is usually possible. Not only has the (female) head of the FDF rejected her application for flexible working, she's actually increased the number of hours that she wants P's colleague to be in the office. She has to be visibly at her desk from 10-6 every day.

To put in context - academics are not in front of their desks 9-5. I for example am writing this from the members' bar in the Southbank Centre with a nice cup of Earl Grey and my Macbook Air - ain't life grand? No other academic in the department has set hours of presence, as far as P knows.

Now the refusal to consider flexible working/a job share/part time hours is bizarre enough. Yes, everyone wants papers and grants written yesterday, but an experienced head of group should understand that the best insights aren't written between 9 and 5, aren't written at your desk and certainly aren't written when you hate your job. Keeping good researchers productive is 90% of this person's job description, and it appears that she's failing dismally at it.

Making a new parent's terms and conditions more restrictive beggars belief. It seems like P's colleague's is being pushed into quitting. But there's a name for that: constructive dismissal.

So MDF may not be perfect - but FDF is not without it's problems. The sisterhood is a myth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

:( Got it right there. Learnt it in a female-dominated department and other places. Some animals are more equal than others indeed.

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