Friday, April 20, 2007

Semi liveblogging: Panel on gender and the job market

. . .with Grace Wang, American Studies, UC Davis; Cynthia Lin, Agricultural Resource Economics and Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis; and Karri Grant, a former model who is now an image and wardrobe consultant.

Cynthia Lin: Was on job market last year; received Ph.D. last June. Was on job market prior to that. In her first year of teaching served on search committee. Only female member of that committee. Also was involved in another search for an economist applying within an interdisciplinary department.

Each field and individual is different. There might be some tendency to draw generalizations based on one person's experiences. I'll share my experience and you can see if it applies to you or if it's specific to my particular field.

Ph.D. in economics; very few women in it. Specialized in fields without many women as well. Often in situations in grad school where she was the only female in her class or in the field. Hence, very few female role models. Professors in the field had less experience dealing with female students and female colleagues than they would have had in other fields. Ditto for female job candidates. She's currently the third woman in her department, out of 22 faculty members.

In current position search, first round of interviews included women, but campus visits did not. People in hard and social sciences may have similar experiences.

She applied for both academic and nonacademic jobs. One of the reasons she did that may have been gender-related because there aren't many female academics in her field, but there were non-gender-related reasons as well.

First round of interviews takes place at a big conference and a big hotel over the course of a few days. Often in hotel rooms, these first-round interviews. Second-round interviews take place on campus. Things happen at the same time for everyone in economics. One of her departments here is interdisciplinary, and some of the other jobs she applied for were as well. So she had interviews with departments other than economics. Also interviewed with business schools and liberal arts colleges.

Her philosophy on women's issues: Good to be aware, but at the same time, don't dwell excessively on issues that pertain to women, and in some cases it's best to ignore them. In being aware, we can develop habits and skills to cope with situations in which gender issues are important. These habits should become natural to us so we can focus on our research and work. If we focus on women's issues too much, they may actually distract us from what we're good at.

In dealing with women's issues, we may be prone to pessimism, but there are some strands of good news. If you're in a male dominated field, for example, you've already been in situations where you're the only woman in the room, so you're already developing many of the skills needed to cope in these situations. A second piece of good news is if you're in a male-dominated field, you're one on the women already breaking glass ceilings for other women and women in the future. And if you're a well-qualified candidate, departments want to hire women. So all things being equal, departments want every reason to hire a woman. The decks are stacked towards us. Academia is realizing that it's very hard to be a woman, and that we need more role models. If a woman has achieved just as much as a male candidate, she probably had to overcome more barriers. Such a woman may also have greater impact on students and others who might look up to her as a role model.

Her specific experiences: send out applications. She suggests in initial contact with people you don't know you remain strictly professional. In correspondence use first and last name, even in e-mail. Something as simple as that conveys more professionalism. Your voice mail (also on your cell phone) should also be very professional. Remember, these are all first impressions.

After the initial contact with applications, people get called for first-round interviews. The wonderful thing is, you will be called. You're all bright grad students in good universities, so people will want to contact you because you're bright women at a major university. (Trillwing says: Yeah, right.)

During first-round interview, she noticed some things about different candidates. This year, we did have first-round women candidates. Comments that male faculty members would make when rejecting a female candidate would be sometimes of this ilk: "She didn't really seem to know her dissertation that well, even though she had stacks of notes with her." You should know your stuff cold going into the first round and that you're very confident about what you're saying. You have every reason to be confident because you probably know more about your dissertation topic that anyone else does.

We had interviews with people just finishing their Ph.D. and with people who were going back on the job market after holding a junior faculty position. The new Ph.D.s tended not to be very confident. Those that were confident came across as particularly intelligent.

Many schools rent out hotel suites for the interviews. This leads to potentially awkward situations for women, especially if all your interviewers were men. She feels she may have been stiffer in such interviews than during those at a table in a more public space. You may be sitting on one bed, with a row of men sitting a few feet away from you on the other bed. If you're short and your feet don't touch the ground when you sit, and you're planning on wearing a skirt, practice sitting on soft things of different heights.

Anecdote from others in her field: A professor sensitive to light, so candidates found themselves sitting on a bed with the lights off. Awkward! Try to focus despite context.

Develop a firm handshake.

You may be called for a campus visit. One or two days, give a job talk, give tours of the campus. The nicer the area, the more enthusiastic people are about walking around campus. Which is fine unless you're wearing heels and carrying your laptop in a bag. Your committee may pick you up at hotels, and they bring you in their cars, and you should be able to get in and out of the car gracefully while wearing a skirt and heels. You might want to practice this.

Practice your job talk many, many times in front of various people, including people you don't know as well. Make sure people ask you hard questions so that you learn to think on your feet. Videotape the practice and watch yourself. It's very embarrassing, but you can pick up on a lot of things.

Campus visit is a mix of professional and more social settings. Lots of small talk with prospective future colleagues. You may be only female, and you may be far better dressed than they are. In some places where they'd never had young female colleagues before, they'd talk about sports or other subjects with which many women aren't comfortable talking. In a field that's mostly men, you may be accustomed to these situations. But you may find yourself in the middle of a long conversation where they forget that you're there.

Negotiating the offer: the hardest part, but particularly for women. Studies back this up. I don't like sterotypes, but in the aggregate there have been things that affect women more than men. There are systematic scientific differences in men's and women's brains during negotiation--the women's brains are more active emotionally. Read books about how to negotiate. Recognize that you should negotiate your offers. Familiarize yourself with what's appropriate and what's not. It may be best to negotiate at first over e-mail. You can buy yourself time to think, and you may come across as more professional.

Things she wishes she had known: Should have been more prepared for awkward moments and questions: small talk at dinner, people drinking alcohol, very relaxed interviewers who drop some social constraints they have in professional life. It's not your time to judge them based on that behavior. These are academics who might ask you questions that in industry jobs might be considered illegal. Are you married? Etc. This is one of those things where I wouldn't just stop and say, "That's an illegal question and I'm going to report you." These may be your future colleagues, reviewers at journals, people you see at conferences, etc.

Also she wishes she had known that she'd really have to convince them she's genuinely interested in the subject area in which they were hiring. It tends to be a male-dominated field, and some people had difficulty believing that a woman might be interested in it. And men may make assumptions. For example, at one Very Impressive School that Shall go Unnamed in this Space, a male professor said funds were virtually unlimited for ordering books, etc. But then he added: "But you can't buy romance novels with it." He thought she wouldn't really be interested in microeconomic theory.

Waiting is really stressful. Some of her peers took up a lot of hobbies. Male students suddenly took up yoga during this period. She recommends that instead of obsessively checking e-mail and voice mail. Become comfortable with waiting.

Schools that do call you for interviews already like you. So things are on your side. At times, questions may seem confrontational, but they really want you to shine. The fact that they called a woman to invite her to campus is a sign that they respect women as candidates.

Grace Wang: (recommends UC President's postdoc award that she received. Good experience.)

The types of job she was applying for: comparative ethic studies, literature. So she did MLA. Also sat on job search committees (informally) at University of Michigan. Also sat on search committee last year in American Studies. American Studies and comparative ethnic studies are very interdisciplinary, so there aren't major conferences, and the timing of application deadlines and follow-up varies by university.

Not going to discuss her own job market experiences much. Wants to address broader issues.

Grad school is infantilizing. Jobs in the humanities are few and far between. Grad school is a tough place, and you can feel run down. So it's good to have conversations like these.

Personally, she felt she didn't experience explicit questioning or experiences where she felt her gender was coming to the foreground. For example, in hotel rooms, she sat on chairs in the suite area of the room. And there were no questions explicitly about gender. In the fields where she was applying, more work on gender has been taking place.

But then she thought about how gender played out for her in more subtle ways.

See yourself as a scholar and be able to talk about your work as an important intervention.

As a female candidate, your recommenders are more likely in a subtle way to talk about aspects of your personality: you're warm, friendly, a good colleague. Whereas with men, they're more likely to talk about their work.

Instead of saying, "I'm building on this person's work, say I'm in dialogue with this person on these issues." Claim the importance on your work.

One thing she found very helpful in preparing for the conference interview. Practice not just with your friends, your grad school colleagues. Her chair arranged for a faculty who didn't know her work to read her work and ask her some hard questions about her work and teaching. It was sobering. Learn to talk with ease about your research and teaching.

Find out who's going to be on the interview panel and do your research on them. Who's tenured, what work do they do, what's the gender breakdown of the panel, etc.

She didn't go out and buy a suit right away because she felt she was jinxing herself. So suddenly she had to go buy her suit, shoes, bag, clothes for different kinds of weather. Practice wearing your suit so you become comfortable in it. Just wearing it will give you a sense of authority. She wore pants, and it didn't occur to her to wear a skirt. She feels she should not be memorable in terms of her dress for any reason. She wants her clothes to be under the radar, even if she was the best-dressed person in the room.

At the campus visit, act like you're already their colleague. Act their equal. Be confident about your work, speak of it with authority. Toot your horn without being obnoxious. You can show your personality a little bit and be yourself. They're looking for people who are going to be their colleagues. So it's more comfortable maybe to chit chat about things you're comfortable with. She loves TV and pop culture, so small talk on those was very comfortable for her. She was advised, too, to scan the headlines in the New York Times.

On campus, you may be meeting with many different constituencies, people who may not understand the intricacies of your scholarship or field. Students, different kinds of faculty, deans, administration. Be prepared to talk about your scholarship for multiple audiences. She heard a lot of other faculty's own impressions about her work, some of it based on stereotypes. She said to just roll with it.

Get a good night's sleep if you can between the first and second day of the interview.

She wore comfortable shoes. Not heels--Danskos instead. Especially important in places, like Minnesota, where it's icy.

Absolutely true difficulty of gender, not subtle: negotiation. Very hard. As women and as women of color in particular, that's a process where there'a lot of image management, how they're seeing you, what you think you can ask for. Gender definitely plays a role in that.

Also a tendency to make them want to like you. But remember you want to like them, too. You're evaluating them as well. It's not a one-way street. It's hard for her to give advice on negotiating because she's not sure if she did it very well. Your mentors, if they're young women as well, may not be the best people to ask for advice. Possibly seek out a white male colleague or mentor about what you're offered, what you ask for. She negotiated over e-mail because she found it easier to ask for certain things via e-mail than over the phone. She still wants to learn more about negotiating.

Internalize the feeling that you're already their colleague. She's not sure exactly what to do to get to that feeling, but it has to do with rehearsal.

She also wishes she had known to be prepared for all the steps to happen.

She mentioned academic careers wiki as a way to take agency over one's own sense of insecurity during the waiting.

Kerri Grant: She has worked corporate, so her background is a little different. But she sees the big barrier as the fact we're women, not the field you're in.

She always tells her clients that if we look good, we feel good, and if we feel good, we succeed. If you already feel good about yourself, others will perceive you that way. It really is difficult to meet someone for the very first time, especially if you're meeting with men. When you meet someone for the first time, you make an average of 11 judgments, about academic background, class, etc. And 55% of that is based on what you're wearing.

Good handshake. Eye contact. Not interrupting people. Remembering their names. All important.

Kerri says we're getting where we are because we're intelligent, while in corporate world, people have to climb the rungs. (Trillwing: I call BS. As if we're not working hard and working our way up a ladder, too? I'm also made queasy by how she keeps calling these two Ph.D.s "ladies." And she just admitted to not wanting to read after graduating from college.)

Dress appropriate for a situation, for a school. There may be subtle differences among schools, especially between West Coast and East Coast. She gave an example of how she hadn't done enough research on one audience of 350 women make-up consultants, and she showed up in pants when everyone there was wearing a skirt. And she sensed they saw that as disrespectful, as if she didn't understand them.

Women dress for women. You dress to impress a person. You shouldn't look like you rolled out of bed. (Trillwing: Talk about not knowing your audience.)

Be careful about non-verbal clues you send.

Never rush around to get a suit. When you get a nice suit, you're putting out to the universe that you have a fantastic suit that fits you phenomenally and you're going to get a job. Plan ahead of time for different seasons in different areas of the country. Out here, you're not going to be able to buy a sweater now.

Act like you're already worth a million dollars. If you look the part, you are the part. Nobody knows otherwise. Show up and have an air of authority. Dress as if you already have the job, as if you've already landed it and you know what you're doing because no one else knows that you don't. She tells entrepreneurs, just get a business card and say you're something, and you are it.

Fit, flatter, function is more important than fashion. So many of us are taught to dress by our mothers, older sisters, or television. That doesn't always work. If you don't know how clothing fits your body, you need to find someone who does.

Never wear prints that are bigger than the back of your fist. Don't wear anything loud or obnoxious. (Note: she's wearing a flattering black dress with a pretty wild white print.)

She advocates pants over skirts where it involves men. She said she's talked to men who feel more uncomfortable seeing our legs than we are showing them. Once you get to a place where you want to be, you can dress like the other women in the field.

Some of the things that she talks to women about corporate jobs: keep a journal and scrapbook as a wishlist. She keeps scrapbooks of things she wants in her house. You should see how women in your field already dress. Mimic the dress of a woman who's already at the level where you want to be.

Know your body type. If you haven't stood in front of a mirror in your bra and underwear for awhile, do it. If we don't understand that a blouse doesn't fit us properly, we're sending out the wrong signals.

Dress age appropriately. Women frequently dress too young because they're too trendy or fashionable. If you're in your early to mid-twenties, dress a bit older to be taken seriously.

Splurge on a good handbag or attaché. There's a status symbol. For men it's shoes. For women it's handbags. It's an unconscious thing. But you don't want to be carrying your laptop in your backpack anymore. (Trillwing: guilty as charged. I bike to work and I'd fall over, plus tweak my back, otherwise.)

If you're going in for promotion, wear a white suit. Don't wear white or black at your first interview. Women shouldn't be wearing black all the time. Navy blue, browns, and charcoal gray are flattering.

Never be underdressed. If you're going from an interview setting to a business mixer/casual setting, you should still be the best-dressed person in that room. It says you're very serious about this position.

Never walk into a position where you have not landed a job if you're wearing jeans, no matter how expensive. (Trillwing: duh.)

Invest in an expensive suit. It can be mixed and matched with other pieces. You'll just feel better in a good suit. Find a good tailor who does alterations. Not all size 4s, for example, fit the same.

Be well-groomed. More a problem for men than for women. Carry mints or gum for after lunch.

She's interviewed people with fabulous résumés, but she remembers how they smelled bad.

Change shoes and jewelry for a new outfit.

Just about everything we wear is inspired by men. Even though you may be surrounded by high-powered men, they don't want you to look like one of them. They like to have a female in their presence. They think in terms of personality: warm, affectionate, nice to be around. Not terms men use with one another.

She learned how to make her masculine suits look like she's not trying to be one of the men, but rather like a woman who has an air of authority.

Consult experts if you're unsure.

Q & A:

Q: What do you do if you're in field biology, and you may have an interview, and then you're invited on a tough hike. In a field where ratty jeans and a beat-up backpack are status symbols, how do you dress for a day's multiple contexts?

A (Grant): Bring a spare outfit in your car. It also shows you're thinking ahead.

Q: I was told to come in business casual for a group interview, which I respected. But other candidates came in suits.

A (Grant): People don't understand what business casual is. We forget what we look like when we're in our cubicles. And maybe others were overdressed.

Q: If you wear a suit, at what point is it OK to take the jacket off?

A (Grant): It depends on what you're wearing underneath it. And it's hard because it's so hard here in the summer. I don't think it's appropriate to every expose large parts of your arms or legs because it makes other people uncomfortable. If you're in a relatively short interview, you shouldn't take your jacket off. If you're wearing a long-sleeved, button-up blouse and you have an especially long interview day, it may be appropriate to take off your jacket.

Q: How do you handle questions about significant others?

A (Lin): Don't bring it up unless you're asked. I'd keep the ring on if you're married, but I know some people who took off their rings. If the department really wants you, they may want to begin planning to help you find your partner a job or accommodate other family issues. Be honest if you're asked.

(Grant): "Boyfriend" or "girlfriend" sounds juvenile. So use "partner" or "significant other." If someone does ask, it may be out of concern about bringing you into a certain situation. Be honest, but be very short.

(Wang): If there's something that works geographically for you and your partner if you were to move to the area, you can bring it up when asked.

Q: In the academic world, the same questions are illegal as in the corporate world. Formal committees may be prepped not to ask these kind of questions, but in informal situations you may be pressured to give up some information. Some of those questions don't have right answers; they only have wrong answers. How do you deflect those questions.

A (Lin): If they ask if you want to have kids, for example, say you haven't thought about it. Right now you're focused on your research. Or: "This is a great area, I understand, for families. But right now I'm interested in. . ."

A (Grant): If you're asked if you have children, say "Yes, and I have a phenomenal support system." That deflects concerns about you having to take days off work frequently because of your children.

A (Wang): Acknowledge question and then speak about what you know. An especially good technique for the Q & A after the job talk.

Q: If you want to know about maternity leave and whatnot, when do we talk about that? During negotiations?

A (Wang): Yes. And maybe you might bring it up when you're meeting with a female faculty member who seems sympathetic.

(OK, questions went on, but trillwing's fingers are tired. Signing off. . .)


Florence said...

Enjoy your Blog. I have gone through the process and at the other end of a career. I am promoting women with the help of the Society for Women's Health Research. We are testing our new site RAISE Project ( that will try to identify awards in science and the women who win them. Eventually help them get awards. Comments on the site are needed, suggestions help etc. Florence Haseltine, PhD, MD

grumpyABDadjunct said...

I've only had time to read what you blogged about Cynthia Lin but I'd like to call bullshit. As soon as I saw the phrase "(a)cademia is realizing that it's very hard to be a woman" I wanted to scream. Let's blame women for being women again, not academia (and the workforce at large for that matter) for being still largely male-dominated; even that vision of maleness is so outdated that it is stunting most workers, both men and women. If there are gender issues let's call them that, not problematize "being a woman" (whatever that means) and if there are issue that make the academic workplace difficult then let's work on those, not say that being a woman is a problem. Geez.