When Adam Spencer asked if female scientists should consider taking an extended break of two or three years, the answer was a resounding “No.” “Science is really a fast-moving world,” [Suzanne] Cory said. “If you get out, even for three years, it becomes very difficult to get back in.
I have heard that position many times from both men and women, and I find it repugnant. It’s a “that’s the way it is” kind of attitude.
My grandmother was a music teacher before she was a mother. She’s told me if she could do it again, she would have become an accountant, but that’s not something girls did in those days. Girls could become teachers, nurses or secretaries. And then they could become mothers. Boys could become accountants or scientists or doctors or lawyers or whatever else they wanted. “That’s the way it is.”
Well that’s not the way it is now, and thank goodness. Thank goodness that somebody stepped up and said “This is what I want to do, and my gender doesn’t matter.” Thank goodness for the women who took the hard path – and the men who helped them – so that I could become a scientist. So that I could be treated as an equal.
Does my expertise have an expiration date? Does leaving the lab for more than a month make me forget how to be a scientist? Will my PhD turn into a pumpkin after midnight? No.
But “science is a fast-moving world” they insist. So what? We all had to learn how to get into that world once, so why can’t someone do it a second time? People also change fields and get into new topics they haven’t studied before. How is that any different from “getting into” the world of science after time away? No, the “fast-moving” argument strikes me as justification to leave things as they are and not bother to make it better.
It galls me to think that women are told that if they leaves, they will not be welcome back—that a career break soon becomes a career brake.
The panel in the article was discussing “possible solutions to fixing this leaky pipeline.” Their conclusion appears to be that women shouldn’t leave in the first place.1 But why on earth don’t we do something to support the women who want to come back?
1: Suzanne Cory:
“You are at a crucial age now. Don’t drop off.”
The panelists also said that women need more confidence. Tell me just how much confidence I’ll have after I’ve been told time and again that it’s damn hard to be a woman in science and you can’t leave because then you’ll have let down Womanhood and leaked out of the pipeline, and if you do go you won’t be welcome back because Reasons. And how far will that confidence get me when my words are ignored until spoken by a man? How confident do I need to be to get men to stop patting me on my head? How much confidence will I need to muster to get a seat at the table and be able to keep it?
I have sworn off Women in Science luncheons because I’m sick being told that the solution for the leaky pipeline is “Believe in yourself,” like if I just close my eyes and click my heels together, that will just fix everything.