Hermitage recently hosted a great intertube panel discussion on Wimminz in Academia, Now with 100% less Behbehs. The link goes to the hub, blog carnival style. Go read.
One thing that really struck me - very consistent answers to the question about "how do you command respect from your male colleagues/peers/students?" Everyone said something along the lines of "I don't 'command' respect; I earn it via my work and professionalism."
Which made me think - if the answer is so universal, why the question about "commanding" respect in the first place? After some thought I realized that this is an issue that has been brought up by speakers in a lot of teaching/career development/work-life/ladies in science workshops I've attended. Interestingly, it's almost never brought up by attendees, but rather addressed right from the get-go by the presenter.
And the advice given is usually in terms of "don'ts": Don't undercut your own authority on the subject matter, don't allow confrontational students (or conference attendees) to draw the discussion off track, don't let asshole colleagues provoke you into an emotional response. Admittedly, these are all things that perhaps women fall into more easily, or maybe other people are prone to reading into women's actions. In any case, the social narrative is there, and it's an obstacle to women's overall success as compared to men in academia. So I don't think that the don'ts are entirely off-base. It's important to be aware of our subconscious actions that may be ham-stringing our success.*
Which is all well and good, but you know, don'ts are kind of hard to follow. They leave us wondering, well OK I will try not to do that, but what should I do instead? What does *not* undermining my own authority/allowing someone to drag the convo off track/projecting emotion really look like?
It's like teaching my dog not to jump on people. "Don't jump" is not a useful command as he has no clear idea of what he should be doing instead. "Sit" works much better - he's got a clear action that replaces the one that undesirable one.
The answer that all these women have arrived at is a simple "do": Do conduct yourself like a professional, do produce good work, do make yourself heard as a serious intellectual by asking questions that show you've got some smarts. Much easier to execute than the don'ts.
I really appreciate all of the panelists addressing this query with a list of "do's" instead of "don'ts". Great job, and thanks to everyone for sharing their wisdom.
*And of course, the corollary, that since this is also a matter of social narrative dictating how we respond to women in the academy, then the onus is not just on women to change their ways, but on everyone to change how we react.