A bright pink bus has been touring the UK this week. Well, actually, two bright pink buses. One is pushing the cause of frozen yogurt; I’ll save for another day my attempt to weave that into a meaningful topic for The Scholarly Kitchen. The other has been nicknamed “Hattie’s Batty Battle Bus”, and is an effort by politician Harriet Harman to try and encourage more women to vote in Britain’s forthcoming general election. The campaign has been ridiculed for patronizing women, and yet (whether because or in spite of the pink) there is also some recognition that it is working, at least in the sense of generating column inches about the issue.
The story reminded me of the wider issues around trying to promote the cause of women, particularly in the workplace. It is widely acknowledged that we need more women in senior management roles, but few feel confident that quotas are the answer. In my own little microcosm, as part of the committee that organizes the annual UKSG conference, we have been challenged more than once for not having enough women giving plenary papers (though the balance is usually more than redressed if the less prominent parallel sessions are taken into account). I used to scoff at such accusations, feeling – as many others did – that gender had no relevance to our choices of speaker, and that we were simply seeking the person best able to speak on a topic.
This is probably because I come from a generation fortunate and apathetic enough to be able to dismiss feminism as faintly embarrassing bra-burning. I also am lucky to work in the scholarly communications sector. Although Alice Meadows is right that “the top ranks of scholarly publishing are still predominantly male”, I have never felt there to be a glass ceiling and I’ve always had plenty of female role models to aspire to, from the woman who gave me my first job and various female managers since who have mentored and inspired me, to those at the helm of trade associations, and women like Mary Ann Liebert and Sarah Miller McCune with their own publishing houses.
More recently, however, as co-founder of a start-up seeking funding, I’ve begun to move in another world. One where, when my colleague Melinda and I arrive at an event, we are doubling the number of women in the room. And the other two are taking coats and handing out canapés. We’ve encountered jokes about the need for more men in our executive team, and conversations where the serious questions are all posed to our third co-founder, David. I begin to see that the battle is not yet won.
Back in the context of UKSG conference speakers, it was put to me that being gender-neutral is not enough, because there is a legacy imbalance. The person who comes to our collective mind as “best able to speak on a topic” is usually the person most visible in relation to that topic. That visibility might have been achieved because of previous invitations to speak; it might even be traced back to hiring and promotion decisions made by unknown people. How can we be certain that no gender bias has been at play in how that person has achieved their current visibility? That kind of “supply chain due diligence” is clearly beyond what our crew of committee volunteers can achieve.
Of course, it’s not just external factors that influence someone’s visibility. There’s the Lean In argument – among other points, that women are less likely to “fake it till you make it” (take opportunities they don’t feel up to). This sort of thinking is the focus of a current mini-furor in the tech sector (with which I know many Scholarly Kitchen readers feel a close affinity), where women in tech are infuriated that a man has appointed himself, and is making a career out of being, their “spokesman”.
These various cultural factors have made me reconsider my position. Perhaps we do need to be more proactively seeking to balance out the male:female ratios in the world of scholarly communications. It’s not about quotas for quotas’ sake (my initial position); it’s about ensuring that there are more opportunities for women, and doing what we can to try to equip women to feel confident to take those opportunities. We might worry about an individual’s lack of experience, or question their skills – I’m now challenging myself to confront those concerns, and provide support and guidance, rather than ducking the issue. I wince when I remember the first talks I gave – waaaaay too much information without a clear story, read-it-yourself slides, and a nervous tic that caused me to stray now and then into an Irish accent. Any improvement since is down to practice, practice, practice, and down to those along the way who gave me platforms for that.
Now I’ve been given another platform: writing here at The Scholarly Kitchen. This is as alarming as it is gratifying; It’s quite a parapet to put one’s head over. My first reactions were to question whether I had sufficient experience or knowledge to put myself alongside the other writers here, and to worry that I’d be little more than a quota-filler. But my inner Sandberg has taken charge, reminding me of how much fun can be had from tackling a daunting challenge, so here we are: I’ll let you make your own judgments as to whether my arrival in the Kitchen is “making it,” or just a new phase of “faking it.” Either way, I thank you for the opportunity!
33 Thoughts on "Woman’s Place: In the Kitchen?"
Great piece, Charlie, and welcome to the Kitchen! Where, I can say with complete confidence, you are nothing like a quota-filler — as demonstrated here, you bring a fresh perspective, sharp intelligence, and questions that need deeper examination. Thanks for raising them so articulately.
That glass ceiling is as difficult for others to see as any other form of privilege but screamingly obvious to those who have whacked their heads on on it. When I was in school in the 60s girls were required to take typing and home economics and were not allowed to take shop or drafting. If a teacher thought your skirt was too short we had to knell in front of the principal so he could see if the hem touched the floor. I thought those days were gone until the flurry of news stories about proposed laws and school regulations for women, e.g. yoga pants. Then came the news of the firing of a highly successful women’s hokey coach justified because “she made too much” while the higher-paid men’s coach kept his job. A male relative told me that it wasn’t sexist, it was rational because the men’s program made more money. Structural gender-based discrimination is still discrimination and it’s still wrong. I look forward to your columns and hope this is the last one that includes an apology for your qualifications!
Kudos looks interesting. Can you say something about it?
Hi David – it’s a web-based toolkit for helping researchers to explain and share their work for wider audiences, with dashboards and reporting for institutions and publishers so that they can see which communications channels are proving effective, which research is attracting attention, which researchers are active in this way. For researchers, the goal is increase the reach and impact of their work; for publishers and institutions, it’s about optimizing limited marketing / PR resource, too. As David C says – much more detail in the interview that our David So gave to your David Sm a while back. Four Davids in one comment. Is this a record?!
Cool! I see that your David mentions funders but that angle is not pursued. My beat is the US Public Access program, where I predict a lot of performance appraisals once the Federal agency, program and project impact measures become available. Performance measures are the rage in Federal Fantasyland. So Kudos may become of great interest to Feds looking to improve impact.
There are indeed some great female role models in our industry but I’ve also experienced the kind of meetings you describe, and it’s a bad habit (not to mention bad manners) that needs breaking, where the most confident person inaccurately equates to the most capable.
As a reader of this blog I’m so pleased (and not at all surprised) that you’re now one of the contributors, and I love that you’ve chosen this topic for your first post!
It has been nicknamed “Hattie’s Batty Battle Bus”. Yes. By right-wing sexists in the UK press who wish to belittle the issue of women voting, and prevent a Labour Government. I may not be the only one who finds this, and not the colour of the bus, offensive.
Charlie – I have always had a hard time with this. Like you, I mostly didn’t notice discriminatory behavior. When I did I always said to myself “their loss” and moved on (which may explain why for the first 18 years of my career I worked in 9 different industries!). That aside, when looking back I can see it now. In many ways, I’m glad that I didn’t notice or care when I was younger. It’s hard to notice and not come off like the whiner or the victim (understand I’m talking about how others perceive and devalue a legitimate issue). I certainly don’t have the answers, though. I think this is far more complicated, being weaved into so many parts of our environment, than simply “quotas.”
Anyway – thanks for a great, professional piece on this.
For another great response to this topic, I highly recommend finding Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s response to the question “why aren’t there more women in science?”
Thanks, Ann – I think you’re right that it’s hard to tackle in a way that feels constructive and not just as if one is whining or taking something too personally. I’ll check out the video! (I love that time zoning means I’m answering your comment an hour before you left it. That kind of efficiency is how I will take over the world 🙂
I have been hired by and reported to women for almost my entire publishing career. Most of the people I have worked with are women, and I am sometimes lulled into thinking that gender is no longer an issue in the publishing and professional society world. Reality smacks me up the side of the head, however, when a male is making a sales pitch to my boss and me, and that guy directs his attention almost exclusively toward me, ignoring my boss. Gender bias is alive and well, unfortunately. Looking forward to your point of view and contributions to the Scholarly Kitchen, Charlie!
If you don’t mind learning from a feminist sociologist, this book titled “Managing Like a Man” may be a useful resource: http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/0-271-01840-2.html. It was a co-publication of Penn State Press with Polity Press, which is where you can get it in the UK.
I currently work as a part-time acquiring editor for two schilarly publishers both headed by women: University of Rochester Press and Lynne Rienner Publishers.
I serve on the board of directors of the Copyright Clearance Center that has exactly equal representation (8 men, 8 women) and whose CEO is a woman. Back when i joined this board in 1992, it had 16 men and 1 woman on the board and the CEO was male. Some progress, I’d say!
The same is true for university press directors. When I started working at Princeton University Press in 1967, there was not a single female press director to be seen, and there had not yet been a female AAUP president. Now, though I don’t have an exact count, I’m confident that women are in place as directors for at least 50% of the AAUP member presses, if not more, and many women have served as AAUP president since Carol Orr was the first to be elected back in the early 1980s. Women in the profession can truly say “we’ve come a long way, baby,” even if there is room for more progress, as Charlie argues.
Hi Sandy, thanks for the book tip! And for sharing your experiences. Do you have a sense of how such progress was achieved, either on the CCC board or in the UP sector? Was it simply organic development, or quotas, or somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum?
On the CCC Board the change was incremental, but no doubt was fostered by women on the board who served on the nominating committee recommending other women they knew for consideration. And it was a no-brainer, for example, to add the previous Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters, after she had retired from that post.
As for the AAUP, Carol Orr helped found the Women in Scholarly Publishing (WISP) organization in 1980, and it flourished well into the late 1990s, achieving many of its goals, including getting more women into the upper ranks of the profession. That WISP now no longer exists says something about how far the AAUP has progressed in gender equality. If you’d like to learn more about WISP and women in the AAUP, send me an email at email@example.com and I can put you in touch with Carol Orr.
Our industry is so much more woman-friendly than most, but we’ve still got a ways to go. About 10 years ago I was substituting for my (male) boss at my company’s director’s meeting, where the publishing unit was headed by a woman. At one of the breaks, we found ourselves alone heading to the Ladies’ Room. She looked at me and said, “You’re the only other woman here. I guess that’s my fault.” Charlie, thanks for raising a touchy subject with such intelligence & good humor – let me join in with a hearty welcome and an eagerness to hear your point of view.
As the daughter of a woman who was initially prevented from studying her choice of discipline because it was a “male subject”, who subsequently did succeed at the highest level in that science, but also suffered in myriad small and less small ways throughout her working life, I consider myself fortunate to live in a more enlightened time. I don’t feel that I’ve been disadvantaged in any way in my working life by being female. That may or may not be true, but am I just kidding myself about the wider situation?
Although women are extremely well represented in publishing if one looks purely at numbers, and there are undoubtedly some great role models, a glance into any senior management meeting or board room usually shows a different picture. I’ve experienced a few shocking comments to and about (female) colleagues from (male) management, one along the lines of “you don’t need a pay rise because you have a husband”. Sure, there are awful anecdotes, but I think there’s also a more pervasive and subtle mood, often one we don’t intend or are not even aware of.
I really like your point about “due diligence”, which I think is something we could all do well to keep front-of-mind when hiring, managing, selecting speakers and so on. And that counts for ethnic minorities and other social groups, as well as gender. Not a question of quotas, but of us noticing and picking ourselves up when we run the risk of letting ourselves – and our companies – down by acting on assumptions or preconceptions about other people and their talents, skills and motivations.
Rock on Charlie for reminding me to pick up on this if I run the risk – and carry on leaning in!
I’m excited to see that a marketer has been added to the chefs’ table. Marketing seems to take a back seat to most other subjects on this board … more often than not people seem to apologize for actually having to market their products. I look forward to you bringing a fresh perspective.
Welcome Charlie – an excellent post on an important topic! I 100% agree that the challenge we all face is making sure that there are genuinely equal opportunities for women in publishing (or any other industry, come to that). Although we’ve made some good strides, there’s still a way to go – even here in the Kitchen, where although three great new women chefs have joined in the last year or so, we still only comprise one third of the total (kudos to David for actively recruiting you all).
Great first post and welcome to the Kitchen! Another issue for women in publishing is working within societies or industries in which women are not well represented. That didn’t come out right but I mean, for example, working with civil engineers. I attend many editorial board meetings where I am the only woman. I work hard to make sure that me and the female staff members are not thought of as “the girls in the back office.” We are making some progress but it’s annoying to have to establish my publishing street cred, as a woman no less, to a group of influencers so dominated by men.
Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. Nothing wrong with that. The other rule is to never apologize for being the expert. Never.
Excellent piece. This legacy issue of those with past experience and access making up the selection pool of experts is a real one. Acknowledging that, as you have done, is progress and remaining cognisant when putting together boards or speakers or authors, important.
Another phenomenon I’ve seen is projections of perceived inferiority by women in senior positions onto women they manage. This is harder to address but real. I’ve seen dramatic changes in female managers’ contribution and self-belief when a man joins a previously female project group. I’ve also experienced ideas I’ve contributed dismissed until a man makes the same suggestion.
These hardwired and unacknowledged behaviours may have to die as a generation of senior managers retire but I’m hopeful pieces like this may inspire self reflection – a crucial element of leadership.
I would like to see an annual survey of the demographics of the academic publishing industry at least. When I enter publishing companies, I often feel I leave the real world outside. A snapshot would be interesting.
Finally, as someone I have long admired and been inspired by, I’m delighted to see you writing here Charlie!
Thanks, Bernie. I am pleased to have so much feedback to this post / a bit disheartened to hear of so many experiences like yours / encouraged that we are calling them out – and that they’re mostly in the past tense.
I do like your idea of an annual demographic survey to track some realities as well as surface perceptions and experiences. Are you volunteering?!
Charlie you’re already a role model for women in this industry! Great to see you blogging here and great first post