Today my social media feeds are exploding due to the idiotic comments made by Nobel laureate Tim Hunt about his problem with girls in the lab:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”
According to Hunt the solution to this “problem” is gender-segregated laboratories. Hunt has apologized and resigned his position for his initial comments, but stands by the assertion that segregation would be less disruptive to science. It is heartening to see the swift repudiation from the scientific community of such backward thinking. A lack of diversity of thought and opinion as advocated by Hunt’s comments goes against everything we are taught as scientists. However in my newsfeeds, I see more outrage at this incident expressed by women than men, which I think raises a broader and more important point. It is not enough to bring about changes in attitudes if only women speak out against gender bias. Unfortunately it is far too easy to dismiss such claims of bias if the affected party is the only one who is speaking out. If we truly want to change such backward thinking in our workplaces, then we need male advocates to speak up along side women to help put a stop to such harmful practices.
While today’s example from Professor Hunt is blatant, bias frequently takes on more subtle, yet just as harmful, forms. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Adam Grant of the Wharton School highlight these more subtle ways that women’s voices are silenced in the workplace. In their piece, Sandberg and Grant illustrate how women must walk a balance between speaking up and being seen as aggressive or not being heard at all. After sharing this article with my leadership team as something we should all keep in mind, one of my female leaders came to talk to me. After thanking me for sharing it, we talked about the ways we have seen this manifest itself in our own setting. The most subtle and most frequent occurrences usually occur in discussion settings. As mentioned in the Times article, when a woman contributes to a scientific discussion, many times her thoughts are cut off by a male counterpart who will either shut down the idea, or worse, take it and carry it on as his own. This is a deadly cycle in science where the exchange of ideas is a critical part of the scientific process. Not surprisingly, once we acknowledged this behavior, we became much more adept at noticing it as it occurred, and as a team, we are working to improve it. We are a work in progress, but are committed to making sure all are heard.
Too often, when gender diversity is talked about in a corporate setting, it is usually a woman who stands up to talk about the issue. It is my assertion that we also need more male leaders standing up beside them and advocating for a level playing field. When we witness instances where women’s comments are shot down or not allowed to be heard, we need men to stand up and call out that behavior as unacceptable. Dr. Hunt, consider yourself notified.
Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign. (The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Monsanto.)