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Working with women

February 25th, 2004 · No Comments

After reading Halley Suitt’s post Girl Thing , I started thinking about my own work experience as a woman. I had two employers and two distinct careers after college, and all my supervisors, male or female, have encouraged and promoted me. I feel what I experienced, in my limited time in the work force, was different from what Halley Suitt described:

I’ve seen older women who have operated under this premise throughout my working life. They seem to betray their gender on an ongoing basis and are often very tightly aligned with the male power players in their area of expertise. It’s a frustrating reality. They do not share their access to privilege. They are queens at court who only hire ugly, inept ladies-in-waiting, if at all. And those ladies will wait and wait and wait, never to be promoted and are dead meat if they’re ever found messing around with the king.

During my college summers I worked at a medical school and my boss was a man. But for my other employment experiences, I worked for women. I supported myself at the university while working for a female researcher in the medical school. I had three internships with high school science teachers – all women. After graduation, I did research in a laboratory where the PI (Private Investigator) was a woman. Later I volunteered and worked at a social services nonprofit, run by a female Executive Director.

The experience that came to mind after reading Halley’s post on working with women was my job search during my final semester of college. Ted – then a grad student – and I were getting married so I was staying in town and needed to find work with my new biochem degree. I had done well in school. I enjoyed science. I was curious about graduate school. So I decided to try a research assistant position.

I interviewed for one job that was at a hospital close to our home. The work sounded interesting. Two investigators interviewed me together. They were both men, older professors. They seemed skeptical of my skills, continually asking me in the interview if I thought I could do the job, especially the animal handling.

Now after years of working in a laboratory and working with animals, I can understand their concern. Manipulating mice isn’t what everyone wants to do for employment. Animal handling can be unpleasant for some.

I had not worked with animals. I didn’t have any experience in that arena. But I had worked in labs. Two summers of research at the medical school had helped establish a new test used for patient diagnosis. My degree had required many long afternoons in laboratories. It wasn’t as if I had never done an experiment.

Perhaps it was who I was at the time: young and unsure of myself. Perhaps it was the effect of 2 on 1. Maybe it was that they were older men and I was a younger woman. Whatever it was, it was powerful. I left the interview doubting myself. Skeptical of my skills. The questions and concerns they had voiced were transferred to me. I didn’t know if I could do it. I had walked into the interview certain of my abilities, ready to take the job, and left feeling confused.

So when I interviewed for another research assistant position, I lacked confidence. I couldn’t commit, say anything affirmative, when asked if I could do the animal handling work. I think I may have mumbled something and stared at the floor.

But instead this investigator, a woman, one of the few female professors in the department, looked at me and said: “You can do it”. She saw my resume. She saw what I had done, and she was willing to try me, take the risk, lack of animal handling and all. She had more confidence in me than I did at the time. She continued to have confidence in me throughout my employment, praising and promoting me. She gave me the job. I am grateful.

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