Today is Girls Day in Germany, where young girls can take part in events all over Germany to learn more about jobs in science, IT and technical professions. We have a whole host of things happening here on the MPIA campus, although somehow I am missing out on the part where we make cryogenic ice cream. Darn.
What I will not be telling teenage girls about is the paper published by Heidelberg (dot-)astronomer Janine Fohlmeister and Christiane Helling of St Andrews in Astronomische Nachrichten, and posted to astro-ph today (timing: coincidence?), on the career situation of female astronomers in Germany. The results presented are based on a survey taken by 61 female astronomers, based in Germany or German but based abroad. It’s a typically bleak read: no female Max Planck directors in Astronomy, leaky pipelines etc. I have a few issues with the survey, mostly that (i) the sample is really very small, and (ii) we can only really assess how work-life issues affect women specifically if we ask men the same questions. And the authors do also state that as a limitation.
They present lists of recommendations, which are also very sensible:
a motivating, encouraging, acknowledging boss/super- visor who was a good mentor and trusted in abilities, and who helped getting hands on excellent data and who introduced into networks
finding projects as well as self-motivation and working
having role models for different topics and life phases
attending and giving talks at conferences, colloquia and
successful applications for grants, observing time and
stays abroad and flexibility, and
colleagues who helped to advance.
although I’d argue these apply to both male and female PhD students alike. As a woman, you really need all the above, and a supervisor who respects you irrespective of gender and who will stick up for you when others don’t.
More salient are the anecdotes offered by women taking the survey of comments they’ve had directed at them by men. These made me laugh, but of course it’s really quite depressing.
1. General designation (unconscious or conscious prejudice):
1.1. I know you would like to work, but if all women would stay at home, we would have much less un- employment.
1.2. For a woman your seminar was good.
1.3. You must be the secretary.
1.4. Female scientists are more masculine than normal women.
1.5. Special programs for women discriminate men.
1.6. Good morning gentlemen.
1.7. Dear Sir.
1.8. Ha ha, that is the alibi/quota woman!
2. Women are not treated independently of their partner:
2.1. The husband of this (female) applicant has a better position, so she does not need a job.
2.2. Why you want more money? Your husband is working!
2.3. Will you stop your PhD education now that you married?
3. Pressing into the mother-role:
3.1. You have a diploma [i.e., M.Sc. degree], why do you also want a PhD? Now you can go home and have children.
3.2. Women who give birth dont come back.
3.3. To a woman with children: The permanent position is for mister XY, he has to support his family.
3.4. She wouldn’t come anyway (for a job) due to the children.
3.5. It is better for the children if the mother stays at home.
If I had taken the survey (sorry!) I might have contributed a few classics from my own experience over the years. Sometimes these comments are meant the way they sound: nasty and prejudiced, but often they are said in good spirits or as a joke, and answering back creates more awkwardness than it’s worth. I just smile, mentally relive some noted scenes from Kill Bill, and toast my glass of wine to the morons of the world with friends later on.
But basically people: if there’s only one woman in the room, anything you say that singles her out as being different is a no-no. When in doubt, replace “woman” with “old guy”, “non-white person” or “disabled person” and if that feels wrong, just don’t go there.