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female scientists

David Adler dadler at u.washington.edu
Sun Aug 1 18:05:15 EST 1993

In article <23c4scINN8ml at MINERVA.CIS.YALE.EDU> smith-una at yale.edu (Una  
Smith) writes:
> I wrote, about an undergraduate woman complaining that not enough women
> were speakers at a professional meeting:
> >The organizer answered that he'd done his best, and he had also tried 
> In my opinion, affirmative action is *not* a good thing in general,
> and it is certainly *not* a good thing for its recipients, who may or
> may not *need* the help, to be branded with a big letter "A".

This thread has reminded me of a meeting I attended a couple of years ago  
- one of those small, "important ones". I quickly noticed that of the  
about 30 invited speakers only three were women. It turned out that I was  
selected to be a meeting "evaluator" and devoted much of my feedback to  
this imbalance - this is a field, mammalian genetics, that does not lack  
for world-class scientists that happen to be female. Since one of the  
sessions was devoted to sex determination I used a comic approach: I  
prepared a table on the back of the form with columns indicating the  
numbers of speakers and their expected karyotype findings - particularly  
as to sex chromosomes (XX, XY). I also spoke to the meeting's scientific  
organizer, XY, and reported my observations. This person was very  
receptive to this report and admitted to not having noticed the sex ratio  
of his list!

So the way I would like to see "affirmative action" applied is simple: to   
be concious of the possibility of errors in selection due to one's social  
conditioning - prejudice, stereotyping, ignorance and just plain not  
paying atttention. If you are organizing such a meeting examine your list.  
If there is an extreme sex ratio imbalance something is wrong with your  
selection. It is not the idea of selecting women because you need a  
certain number of XX's BUT rather that you are likely leaving out some  
prominent people in the field for a reason other than the quality of their  
science.  (It is the examining and adjusting that is the affirmative and  
action part.) If you are attending a meeting where this is a problem it is  
important to give such feedback to the organizers. 

Aside: So far, in my career in genetics probably the majority of my  
memorable teachers, mentors, heroes are XX's.

And another aside, for Una: Keep the volume up - you've done invaluable  
work on bionet and I for one appreciate your efforts. And agree that more  
women need to be provoked into participating - after all there is no  
organizer here making those sex-biased mistakes.

David A. Adler                  Pathology SM-30
University of Washington        Seattle, WA 98195
(206) 543-0716 (phone)		(206) 543-3644 (fax)
"Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense"

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