I was asked to participate on a panel at the university about diversity, and my task was to talk about “my experience in a male dominated discipline”. I kept thinking about this for the last couple of days, and I am always unsure on how to approach this topic. On the one hand, I have never felt I was at a disadvantage in my career due to my gender. On the other hand, I know of many women who do struggle in their workplace because of their gender. But I was asked to talk about *my* experience, so here we go.
Throughout my career I have met wonderful people (men and women) whom I get along with and who never made me feel for a second that I was “different”. So many names just pop up in my head and I feel incredibly fortunate for that. Most of the times our commonalities are much greater than our differences, and I like that none of these people seem to care that I am of a different gender, or that I look differently. I was very lucky to have been able to choose who I work with most of the time (academia perk?), and looking back I have surrounded myself with colleagues and friends that made working a pleasant experience. I do not remember many instances where I needed to “put up with someone” for too long. Perhaps a consequence of that is that I hadn’t really paid so much attention to the whole gender biased business until much later in life.
As I became more aware of gender differences, I started noticing certain things here and there, and listening to other people’s experiences. Today, my opinion is that the core of the problem is beyond gender, and probably much more related to personality. We live in a society that values the outspoken, the ambitious, the confident one. We are easily impressed and convinced by those that speak their messages loud and clear, even if they are not sure of what they are talking about. And we feel that cautious and nuanced messages are from insecure and unsure people. We are drawn to certainty, even when it is not certain at all. That leaves the introspective and careful people at a disadvantage. (Ironically, the more nuanced messages are usually the more well-thought ones). The fact that women are generally raised to be more agreeable, and less combative, is incidental, and makes the problem worse for us, typically but not exclusively. However, being a cautious person in an overly confident world is tough for any gender.
So I feel like my struggles have been caused more because I am cautious and I don’t like to rush into things, than for being a woman. The way I found around this is to move closer to people that appreciate this trait, and move away from those that feel this is a weakness. I know I am lucky to be able to make this choice, and I know many that are not.