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June 21, 2012

So did I tell you I got interviewed?

Yup-- I was the first interview on the new UL Electrical Engineering & Science Blog.

Want to know more and more about Title IX?

If so click on over to the National Women's Law Center's Title IX Carnival.

PS Speaking of Title IX. Have you heard about the ACLU's Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign? It's worth reading about.

June 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Title IX, Happy Birthday to You

Title IX turns 40 on Saturday. What's Title IX you say? Well it's 37 words that changed the country, especially for women and girls in sports and yes in science. Title IX says "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

What does that mean? Well gather around and let me tell you some stories. While I didn't have to walk three miles in the snow to go to school, when I got to school I had to take home ec and couldn't take shop. I played girls' basketball (half court) but only against others in my school; there were no sports teams for girls. Two days a year we had field days where girls could compete against girls from other schools (I played ping pong) but of course we didn't have any of the luxuries like coaches.

One of my friends "got pregnant" as we used to say, our senior year. Of course she got kicked out of school. In those days we thought that pregnancy was contagious and the school didn't want anyone else to catch it. However mine was an enlightened school and she was a very smart girl, so the school let her do the work at home and she got her high school diploma. No of course she couldn't go to graduation - what were you thinking (1)?

I was a math and science geek in high school (go figure) and I was thinking about becoming an engineer. So I started looking for engineering programs in my home state- and found most of the schools with engineering programs didn’t let women in. Yes I wanted to go into engineering but as a young woman I had almost no opportunities to do so. I remember one institution would let me in as an engineering student but wouldn’t let me live on campus. Universities worried more about girl cooties in those days (2).

Things are different now and Title IX was the catalyst for much of that change. We're not where we need to be but we are a lot further along than we used to be. Happy birthday Title IX and thank you to those who made it happen--especially Bunny Sandler, Representative Patsy Mink, and Representative Edith Green. We owe you!

1. In case you were wondering, she's doing very well. She became a CPA and has her own firm.
2. I know Title IX specifically exempted single sex colleges. But Title IX changed attitudes as well as laws and soon after most all male schools became coed.

June 07, 2012

“I’m telling you this for your own good.”

Anytime anyone says that to me, my stomach churns. I know that something is going to be said that I don’t want to hear. I suspect you feel the same way. While I never use that phrase (or at least I hope I never use it), there are times when, especially as a mentor, I really need to say things to mentees that they are not going to want to hear. My current favorite euphemism is “not strong” as in your manuscript, proposal, evaluation plan is “not strong, perhaps you should consider….” Telling people that their work is not good, is not easy, but it’s a lot easier than telling them they are violating unwritten rules and this may come back to, ahem, bite them in the butt.

It is always tempting not to tell people the hard stuff- the stuff that makes us and them uncomfortable and it does seem harder to broach uncomfortable topics with some people than with others. But what are our responsibilities as mentors? Do we, as mentors, not say things that we should to some of our mentees? Are we more likely not to say hard things to mentees who are of a different race/ethnicity?

David Thomas says yes. He says that, in general, mentors and mentees “refrain from raising touchy issues because of a fear of disagreements and confrontations." Nowhere, he says, is this more true than when the issues are tied to race and the mentor/mentee are from different racial/ethnic groups and particularly when the issues are related to race. He calls this protective hesitation.

I’m finding this quite interesting. I know I have a responsibility to tell mentees uncomfortable things that are important to their professional advancement but do they have the same responsibility to me? Regardless of whether the mentorship relationship is same race or cross race, I think mentees are wise to practice protective hesitation. The power dynamic in the relationship is such that I am reminded of the difference between the chicken’s contribution to breakfast and the pig’s. A mentor might feel discomfort broaching touchy topics while a mentee approaching such topics may feel on the abyss (and very often they should feel that way).

The role of race in protective hesitation doesn’t seem clear to me. Is protective hesitation racial or is it more about not wanting to say uncomfortable things? Is it easier to speak about uncomfortable things when your mentee is the same race as you? Certainly race matters, but is race the salient factor or does race only become salient when the touchy issue may have racial implications or may tie into racial stereotypes. Thomas has an example that I found interesting:

Richard Davis, a white mentor, thought that his African-American protege's
style was abrasive, but he kept that feeling to himself in order to avoid any suggestion that he was prejudiced -specifically that he harbored the stereotype that all black men are brash and unpolished. Davis eventually found out that he was right when his protégé’s style became an issue with others. At that point, though, his protégé was deemed to have a problem -one that could have been prevented had Davis only spoken sooner.

Andrea* asked me if I provide different advice to Black and White mentees and yes in some ways I do because, well race does matter, especially when we are dealing with the unwritten rules. Is my protective hesitation racially based? I don’t know. I do know that I am much more apt to say the hard stuff to mentees who I like a lot regardless of race/ethnicity (I know you are supposed to like all of your mentees but hey…).

Mentors- do you practice protective hesitation? Does what you say differ based on the race/ethnicity of your mentees? Is it hard to even have this discussion because we speak so little about race we don’t know how? What do you think?

*Andrea has posted about protective hesitation from a somewhat different perspective. I think her point:

...challenging the assumptions and prejudices of others also means challenging the assumptions about yourself (and the cohort you identify with). Neither is particularly easy or fun and holds the real danger of being counterproductive.
is particularly important.