Sexism and harassment in academia

This is why I’ve been offline for a while. I’m genuinely open suggestions here…

I’m not writing this to be facetious, I write this in all seriousness.

How do senior female academics deal with it?

As a woman working in geological research in academia, it’s not uncommon to face the scenario where I’m the only female in the room. It’s interesting (and not in a good way) that despite regularly being the most senior person in a research meeting that I still often struggle to get male colleagues to take me seriously. It is not unusual for male colleagues to treat me in a patronizing and condescending manner, while they treat the other men like equals.

I’m told to “be a good little girl and go and put the coffee on“. I’m told to “ignore the outright bullying and blatantly sexist comments made by the people funding the research project because we don’t want to harm the relationship“. I’m told to “be a good girl and go do the paperwork while the men sit around and talk science“.

I’m then told to keep my mouth shut about all of this because if I complain to HR then I’m at risk of losing my job because I’m only on contract.

Honestly, I want to know. Does this ever actually get any better? Does having a permanent academic position actually grant you some respect? Because despite being the most senior (and only female) postdoc in the department, I seem to get none.

What do you do when you’re forced to face this kind of reprehensible behaviour and you’re told your job is on the line if you report it?

You know what else? I was watching Q&A on the ABC on Monday night, and saw the conversation about how to encourage more girls into STEM fields. I got through all the sexist BS in primary and high school, the continuing discouragement and outright bullying by a number of male classmates in undergrad, the misogyny and sexual harassment in grad school, and actually became a scientist. There I was, naively thinking that I’d shown them! I’d made it, I was a scientist, I’d won the fight!

And look at me now? Still fighting the same fight. Still trying to prove that women should be taken seriously as scientists. They’re wondering why females are in short supply in senior scientific roles? They’re wondering why there’s so few female role models? This is why. Science is wonderful, I love it. The way I am treated by my colleagues is not. I’m not going to sugar coat the truth to young girls who ask me questions about being a scientist. I’d be doing them a great disservice to suggest that the sexism disappears once you’re in university or when you have a job.

I’m about ready to give up.


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