What can *men* do to make academia safer for women?

What can *men* do to make academia safer for women?

chris leonard
chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 31 admin
edited March 11 in Self-care & Wellbeing

We're reeling the UK from the news of particularly unsettling and disturbing murder of a young woman walking home alone at night. It has lead to a lot of discussion on social media about toxic masculinity and how men can make women feel safer in various scenarios, such as:

  • Never walk behind a women on her own - cross the road to give her space.
  • If you see a lone woman walking towards you, cross the road so you don't have to pass closely.
  • Zero tolerance in all-male environments for off-colour comments about women.
  • Plus 100s of other pieces of advice which shouldn't be required, but are.

It lead me to think what things can we do to make academia safer for women? Some things that spring to my mind are: Not insisting on experiments that run until after dark and letting female scientists walk home afterwards, not having lone females working in a lab with male colleagues, what else? Can we consider advice to administrators and men to make sure being a woman is not an additional thing to think about in your research.


  • chris leonard
    chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 31 admin
    edited March 11
  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭
    edited March 12

    @chris leonard: Great discussion theme.

    Chipping in:

    (a) Sensitization training on what constitutes sexual and power harassment for both men and women. More training for those higher up in the power ladder.

    [Men being harassed by female heads may be under reported AND taken less seriously than women being harassed, which by itself is dealt with pretty horribly.]

    On the same note: Conflict resolution training.

    (b) Encourage open/frequent discussions where women academics from all rungs of the ladder explain what they go/have been through BECAUSE of their gender, MALE co-workers LISTEN and RESPOND, and both parties arrive at a common set of rules that works for everyone.

    (c) Cannot stress enough - a better - functional union for women scientists.

    (I would extend - better unions for all academics at various levels of power disparity).

    AND a functional HR with sensible policies (that go beyond ONLY protecting the institution).

    As my favorite John Oliver discusses here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHiAls8loz4&ab_channel=LastWeekTonight :D

    Responding to "Not having lone females working in a lab with male colleagues"

    Hmmm....for one that is a pretty typical scenario in many male-dominated labs. Unless the male:female ratios get better across the board. And might I hazard to say that this might lead to hiring of fewer women - especially citing productivity issues. Ditto for late-night experiments - the onus falls on the woman scientist to make up for "losing" time overnight vs. the male colleague who might run experiments late night and be deemed more "productive". Also, based on similar reasoning - hiring women might simplistically from admin point-of-view (and rather stupidly) be seen as a hassle skewing gender ratios even more. Academic hiring with its competitiveness is already a mess - more of a lottery and an inside job - with rampant discrimination and a patchwork of thoughtlessly implemented affirmative action harming both men and women scientists.

    My suggestion about late-night work would be to restrict in-the-office work hours - for the health and safety of all. Banning manned overnight experiments and actually enforcing the ban. Restrict access to labs/offices beyond 22:00 or some such reasonable late night hour. (Would also save electricity, water, lessen the burden of security patrols). These rules sort of exist in many institutions (part of workplace safety regulation). But are not taken seriously/properly enforced/followed.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭
    edited March 14

    @chris leonard Oh...and about the tweet - while, the tweeter (Dr. Carey) suggested the HOD to not schedule meetings through lunch because as a woman her safety is compromised on evening walks - I dont think the HOD should schedule lunch meetings in any case. Arent there labour laws for lunch breaks for human workers? Just wondering. This is why functional unions are necessary. Working in academia shouldnt be like working for Amazon! And the working conditions in Amazon need to be changed (whole different story). ;)

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 34 ✭✭✭

    Really happy to scroll through this grassroot level discussion and felt empowered to add a point.

    I think it is quite essential that we strengthen the Gender sensitivity and Gender mainstreaming at workplace (including academia) to bring more justice to the system. I'm not gender biased but we should identify and acknowledge the specific needs and wants of both genders and masculinity is sometimes a protective shield for women if it channelled so well. The most important thing is to appreciate the differences even in the potentials and pitfalls and utilizing them for both genders. Gender awareness have been just a radical discussion topic but it hasn't come to an ample discussion yet and Gender in academia is a totally different story.

    It's great to start a timely discussion ar least here on the practical aspects that we come across in our day to day lives.

  • Asli Telli
    Asli Telli Member Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    Thanks for making the effort to discuss and shed light on this collectively. I think the safety should not be confined to academia, but work/professional environment in general. I had to think over understanding “the open door policy” of American universities, but after consideration of harrassment issues on the rise in the last decades, it made sense. In that regard, the specific context is really significant; i.e. in some localities, a woman walking alone in the dark could be risky; whereas in others this is no problem at all. There is no point in creating extra safety measures thay would make both sides feel overwhelmed, but observe and collect public opinion on what the specific needs are. As an overarching principle, that applies to most settings, I support the principle for male academics in senior roles opting for female/diverse academics in new placements. The placement gap (man to woman ration) in academia is terribly huge! That could be a good starter into more balanced and decent work environment for all.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Asli Telli , yep...the gender balance and inviting more voices on real issues. and an attitude to address and solve issues.

    At the risk of painting with a broad brush....my observation is that there's usually a lack of perspective at management level until something terrible happens. Because positions that make decisions are echo chambers. Of usually older white (more privileged class...depending on the country) men. Who have (sometimes allow) little information beyond their own world. All other information is from the media and is taken to be an exaggeration or drowned under sensationalism and overinformation...until one's own house is on fire.

    (Not to blame this class or invididuals entirely. I think this is a core problem...not enough information diversity at decision making level)

    I think just having more diverse voices on the table is going to be a good start.

  • Dahlia T
    Dahlia T Member Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    @chris leonard, this is an interesting discussion, which got me thinking about my own experience.

    In a previous language research lab, I worked with a male PI and a female co-PI. During my masters, my supervisor was male. In both instances, I felt very comfortable working with my male counterparts. I never felt uneasy working with them a bit late or even in 1:1 meetings with them in their offices. I even remember my PI walking me to the back gate so I could get my taxi. It was a gesture of support but also lol because he just wanted to continue our discussion on some topic lol.

    On the other hand, there were two male colleagues in the department who left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and it was my male PI who noticed how uncomfortable I was around them. In fact, he would try to make sure I was never alone in the same room with either of them.

    Interestingly, I also found that there was a lot of toxicity with the female co-PI I mentioned previously. In general, she was a 'nice' person but I could not help noticing that she constantly berated other females and always left them feeling on edge. I remember her commenting on a female colleagues 'top'. This particular colleague had an ample bosom and no matter what she wore, you could not avoid noticing that bosom. It was just her body. Yet this female co-PI would make snide comments about this female's dress and her nails (which were always nicely done I will tell you). And this was not one off.

    There is much fear and unfortunately danger comes in many forms and often times, it does not have a specific gender. I am sure some of our male counterparts also have some stories to tell but they are more likely to remain silent on the matter, for quite a few reasons. I hope they too will be able to speak up and speak out about their experiences so we can be aware. I daresay, as academics, male or female, we should think about the positions we hold at the table and think about how to make the space more welcoming for our peers.

    I am purposefully driven to water the soil to grow the seed that is already planted. 

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Dahlia T

    Yep. Guess the female PI is not really 'nice'. And has some issues. Not sure why she behaves this way.

    Male or female...all power comes with responsibility. All freedom and rights come with duties...is usually my take.

  • Dahlia T
    Dahlia T Member Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram dare we try to understand the tangled, twisted hearts of some!? I cannot fathom why some persons think they need to hurt someone else to prove that they are stronger (?), better (?) ...I view such people as weak. Yes, most times such persons are the ones in 'power' or in a 'place of authority' but I truly find them to be weak. Only a weak person thinks they should cut someone else down in order to show their might.

    If only we would realise that if we truly helped each other more and do so from a genuine place, if we truly were vested in celebrating, uplifting, and motivating each other, if we truly served as mentors to those put in our care, if we truly recognised both our and other people's worth and value, rather than sabotaging, rather than using our perceived power/sense of importance to cripple each other's growth and to tear down, our places of employment, our neighbourhoods, our families, and the world at large would be such beautiful places!

    Together we stand strong and achieve so much more, divided we are a murky mess!

    I am purposefully driven to water the soil to grow the seed that is already planted. 

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Dahlia T Yes - it is weakness. But I am inclined to think that some experience(s) leave people tangled and twisted.

    [Holds true for yours truly as well, 😉 I dont put people down to show my might just for the sake of it. But I have other unpalatable traits stemming from experiences that I do try to overcome. Nevertheless unpalatable traits they are - like in many humans....]

    Perhaps, I am naïve to give people the benefit of doubt. (The probability is quite high that I am indeed naïve. 😂)

    Yes - together we can achieve better - by supporting/collaborating/helping/celebrating each other.

    However, if the environment lends a "Zero sum game" or "kill or be killed" narrative, people tend to get offensive/defensive to grab/keep a ("their") share of the pie.

    Nevertheless - intriguing behavior by the female co-PI in these times of expansive open dialogue on body positivity, gender parity, etc.

  • Dahlia T
    Dahlia T Member Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram, I have come to appreciate that is not the gender, it is not the race/ethnicity ... it is the person. Often times, there are persons in positions of authority who seemingly have it all together ...yet their very behaviour tells a different story. Many persons do not have it all 'together' like we think ...just take the time to 'actually' look and to observe ... to see beyond what is actually being protrayed. That mask of 'confidence' that may very well be hiding things they would not like to be truly seen. Sometimes you may be in a seemingly 'lower position' yet you have found an inner peace with your days that many who seem to 'have it all together' have not quite found and they operate from with a fear that traps them ... one we may not understand or never 'see' because what we see is 'the mask of confidence they wear, the things they have amassed or their achievements'.

    I am purposefully driven to water the soil to grow the seed that is already planted. 

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Dahlia T yes, it comes down to the person. But a person is never in vacuum. Circumstances make- change -shape -reshape people. Those who "choose" to take the higher road or "peace"...usually have had their share of conditioning/experiences in one form or other that enable these "choices".

    Confidence is overrated, imo.

    observation: Some are delusionally confident. Others wear a mask.

    The delusional confidence usually stems from some form of entitlement. The mask wearers....it may be a defence mechanism.

    I don't know about this specific case. 

    But I belong to the latter category. 

    In my case, I am fully aware that I put on a show of "having it together" and wear the mask of confidence because otherwise...I would be (have been) mowed down (more than I already have been). Experience.

    In terms of self worth - my worth lies in my "achievements" as the world calls it, in what I do, in how others see me, and in my intentions behind my actions (this last thing...only I can know). I'd like to think that these factors determine the self worth of most (reasonable) people. Intrinsic worth may be a nice concept. But it doesn't exist in the real world. In our world....some humans (beings) are treated as more worthy than others. Life is not fair. Wish it was, though. 🤣 Guess, intrinsic worth of beings may be something we can pursue as human race...to make the world a better place. 

    So....partly my "achievements" play a role in my worth. Once again....my experience is that I have no value in the world (I inhabit(ed)) otherwise. (Having no value is absolutely not pretty, especially if one is fully aware of being treated as one with no value. Been there. Done that. Not recommended. 😅)

    largely I care for humans non-judgementally (conditions apply, however 🤣. No free passes for anyone -> life lessons). But I don't hope for the same from others. My mask of confidence (and the protective wall around me) help me navigate the world out there. My "achievements" /confidence mask give my views and opinions weight (usually deserved) that I try to use for the benefit of others. And they cushion me through the billion falls and failures en route...life.

    Over time, I have created (by effort and with a bit of luck) a small space where I can put down the mask - because it gets tiring to keep putting on a show. A space where I know I have value (at least to be alive, have basic respect as a human, food, water, sleep, that sort of stuff)...that goes beyond "achievements" or how people view me. But creating that space has been extremely hard at least for me. Not sure if this is what you term as "inner peace".

    So....in this context....I'm still wondering about the behaviour of this person. 🙄😅

  • Nicole Wheeler
    Nicole Wheeler Member Posts: 0

    I think a big difference for me would have been if when I'd said or shown I was uncomfortable with another male, particularly one in a position of power, my supervisor didn't leave us alone together all the time. Some people just make you really uncomfortable, and if you have good instincts, this can be really reliable information, but in the past I've had to wait until the person did something really inappropriate before my supervisor would draw the line and get them to leave me alone.

    In one case I ended up quitting a really good job because a big funder of our lab had shown an interest in me and made me going out to dinner and drinks alone with him every time he was in town a requirement of the funding. My boss felt this was just because he worked in industry and wanted to show that I was valued (?) and made it clear we needed the funding, but I subsequently found out this guy hadn't done any of this dinner stuff with any male collaborators, before or after, and other women had reported also feeling really uncomfortable around him. He often sat too close to me and was too physical for my liking. He'd insisted on knowing where I lived so he could pick me up as well, so I'm glad I left the job and got off his radar but wish my boss had respected my intuition.

    There's a real reluctance to think men you know will do something inappropriate without hard evidence, especially if they're friends or you need them for something, but it puts women in a position of having to wait for something bad happen to be helped, rather than responding to the early warning signs or trusting womens' gut feel about a situation.

Sign In or Register to comment.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!