I recently joined a group of my science-writing colleagues at MIT to discuss problems facing women in the community. The event was the first Women in Science Writing Solutions Summit, which was an intense but positive (in my view at least) weekend of discussion.
I have many Thoughts about the presentations, conversations, and workshops, but those will have to wait for a week when I’m not under a pile of deadlines. In the meantime, I recorded a short podcast (15 minutes) summarizing one of the plenary sessions, involving interviews with four of the other participants.
One frustration many of us expressed was the relative lack of male presence. I was far from the only man in attendance, but given the overwhelming importance of the topic, it was regrettable how few of us were there. I sincerely hope some of that can be chalked up to the timing — we met over Father’s Day weekend — but I’m sure at least some of it is a misguided perception that sexual harassment and gender representation are women’s issues, not ones that the entire community needs to address.
One more point I didn’t emphasize in the podcast, but hopefully will open a few eyes: the testimonies of the women I spoke with, who addressed the whole “but they’re flirting with me!” response we’ve all heard and may have given ourselves. One person’s perception of the interaction may be very different than the other’s; we need to default to professionalism, and make any other reactions secondary if they happen at all. To put it plainly: don’t assume that young woman is flirting with you if she expresses interest in your science or your writing. That’s not to say that flirting can’t or won’t happen, but if you’re a professional first and a flirt second, you’re far less likely to misconstrue someone else’s intentions (or be blinded by wishful thinking).