Today I had my first women in science peer mentoring meeting. The idea is that female grad students get an opportunity to meet up with other female grad students and talk about how they are finding grad school and any challenges they face as a female. I think this is with the intention to retain more women in academia, although I think that universities need to try and do a better job trying to keep students in general interested so they have a larger pool of candidates to choose from. Not that politics and immutability of departments doesn't play a major role in the selection and retention of tenure-track faculty.
Anyway, the idea of a female challenges group is so completely not my thing, and I only went because the boss thought I might benefit. Fortunately, my co-mentees weren't into the whole tragic female thing either, and two of them, coming from primarily male departments, didn't really seem to care that much that they were the only or one of just a handful of women in their building. The major underlying theme of the discussion was that male mentors (advisors/committee members) were generally supportive and hoped that the students would find women in the same place (or higher in the ranks) that they could speak to about grad school and careers. I don't know if that is just because the other group members are in larger departments and/or are less aware of departmental politics, but it was good to hear. I should probably be clear that I'm not neccessarily advocating for more women in academia - the job requirements aren't typically what women want to be doing in their thirties - but pretending that all careers are open equally and set up for both genders would just be lying.
Which brings me to my next point - a non-academic careers workshop run by the graduate school last week. The other students in my peer-advising group hadn't attended, so provided them with a review of how well the workshop had unintentionally demonstrated what kind of jobs boys do, and their attitudes to them, and what girls do.
After a brief highlight of the career and support programs the grad school is sponsoring (including the women peer mentoring program), the workshop began with a panel discussion where panelists discussed a number of questions (How did you get to where you are? What do you wish you had done differently? Do you really need a PhD and/or post-doc for your job? etc). First off, all the boys (yes - boys because of the arrogance and immaturity with which they answered the questions) sat at one table while the lone woman sat at another (a second female panelist arrived a few minutes late). It is difficult to know whether the seating pattern made the males make more arrogant comments, but the attitude towards work and success was very clear. The males were all in industry and stated that they were driven by money and the desire to climb the corporate ladder. One even said that he didn't really care who got hurt in the process, and collaborated only when necessary to improve his own position (I, and I think most women would have found it very hard to resist the urge to kick him at this point). But his male conspirators nodded along. Meanwhile, the (two, very successful) females took an "I do this because I like it, I think it is interesting, I like the people I work with and the collaborative nature of my work, and I think that my work really matters for science". Not to say men and women can't switch in these roles. But this is how the grad school portrayed it.
So while the grad school may be trying to bridge the gender gap in academia, it managed to do an exceptional job of forging the dominant male stereotype. If a women were to behave similarly to the men, I imagine they would be seen as a cut-throat bitch. But men are just trying to be successful. So maybe next year the panel should have arrogant industry-driven females and more soft-spoken males in order to flip the picture and prevent perpetuating the gender divide it is trying close. Industry was never going to be my thing, but this career workshop further closed doors to careers, rather than opening them. I'll take quiet subservient "failure" (poverty) over arrogance and "success" (money) any day. As long as I don't become a feminist.