AIBU about this career dvpt workshop?

(7 Posts)
wonkywheels Mon 23-Sep-19 12:57:14

Hi all. Earlier this year I was at a workshop for early career academics and I've been thinking about this ever since. It just so happened that most of the people in the room were women (many of them relatively young). The panel consisted of four people, three of whom were white men. They gave some great advice on career development and publishing, in the course of which several described their own route to success. The thing is not once did they acknowledge or even seriously entertain the possibility that this pathway may have been more available to them than it might be to others who are (for example) not white and male.

So the question is AIBU to a) think that being white and male may have offered additional help beyond pure talent and b) to even consider that one of them might have mentioned this? Would I have been totally unreasonable to ask them (in a non-confrontational manner) to reflect on that point? I didn't say anything and now I'm not sure whether I should have had the courage to do so.

I'd be really interested to know what others here think. For additional context, the workshop was broadly situated in the area of equality (and did not take place in the UK, although that's less relevant).

OP’s posts: |
SarahAndQuack Mon 23-Sep-19 19:55:43

I'd have pointed it out, I think (obviously I'm slightly second guessing as sometimes you get a strong feeling it would not be well received!). But definitely it wouldn't be unreasonable to say it.

wonkywheels Mon 23-Sep-19 20:14:16

Thanks Sarah. I don't think it would have been well received. And part of me thinks that it wasn't the time and the place - they were just successful academics who were passing on advice. But on the other hand they were talking as though academia is a blank canvas/entirely level playing field which isn't gendered, or raced when we know that in fact it is. None of them acknowledged for example that their work rate was (almost certainly) facilitated by a supportive partner. And part of me thinks that if senior men - who actually research inequality! - aren't encouraged to be honest about this stuff we'll go on just taking it for granted and even less will change.

OP’s posts: |
RedSheep73 Thu 26-Sep-19 07:21:36

They probably didn't even think about it, so maybe you should have asked, just to provoke the discussion.

BadnessInTheFolds Thu 26-Sep-19 08:13:37

I won't if you could have brought them round to it more generally? E.g. asking about the changes they've seen in equality/diversity over their career; what barriers they think still exist and what they would like to see to make real change.

I don't know if I would have thought about that in the moment though!

Could you raise it now, e.g. saying how useful the event was but it would be great to have broader representation in the future, asking for a team brainstorm on how you could do that next time, or suggesting a set of stock questions for the Chair that includes a standard one that raises the issue etc

I think it's a hard one as I think it's important and I want to be a vocal advocate for change but you don't necessarily want the reputation of being the person always "banging on" about equality or to have the negative effect on your own career progression (another way voices get silenced)

lljkk Thu 26-Sep-19 20:01:07

None of them acknowledged for example that their work rate was (almost certainly) facilitated by a supportive partner.

How would you feel if they said... their partner was a more senior professor than themselves? Or that they were gay? Actually, they never married to their great disappointment. Or that they did have such a supportive partner but then she died of a life-limiting disease and it turns out their kids have the gene too so they will have to face outliving their own kids (without even her support).*

*real stories of very successful male proffs I have known.

I just think it wasn't the time or place to be personal during your workshop.

Also you'll get Xenia types (among those also attending) who had nannies to facilitate their high-achieving career & can't understand people who don't strategise like that, and would be annoyed with OP for assuming that household management & childcare organisation must fall on only female partners.

murmuration Fri 27-Sep-19 10:41:33

It's tough. I was at a similar thing once where someone did ask, after a series of tales that included things like "so-and-so called me up and asked me to join in his big project" and "I was visiting X University and they mentioned that Centre Y was about to look for a new Head, and I chatted with the VC, and next thing I knew I was the new Head." whether he thought being male might have had something to do with the number of opportunities that had come his way. He acknowledged it was likely, but clearly had never thought about it before!

I wonder if a more politic way to ask such a question might be along the lines of asking how did they facilitate a work-life balance, and if they ever felt tension between career ambitions and family or other interests. Letting those who have struggled against things like lljkk notes tell that story, and perhaps have other recognise their priviledges more.

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