“A mother should be with her kids at home”

I was doing my postdoc abroad, and became pregnant for the second time.I met a former postdoc of that lab, and she said “ah, I heard you’re going to leave science?”. I was surprised because I never told anyone that was my plan, so I asked where she got that idea.

It turned out my lab head had told her that “because now that I would have 2 kids, I would not be able to stay in science”. For him, having kids and not staying at home for them as a mother, was unthinkable. “Why else do you have kids of your own? To have them raised by somebody else?” he once asked me. He also had 2 kids, and had his wife (also PhD!) stay at home for them.

It’s more than 10 years later, I have 3 kids now, and I’m still in science…

Story signed by : scientist & mom

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the years 2000-2004, around an academic institution in [Not in Belgium]

“A woman of color must be a member of the cleaning staff”

Moving out of my office to integrate a new one after having been freshly appointed as a professor, I was asked by a new PhD student who had just arrived at my former department whether I could take care of the boxes standing outside in the corridor.

I gave her a bewildred look and realized only shortly after that she had mistaken me for the cleaning staff. I told her that I ‘worked here’ (as if the cleaning personnel did not) and she apologized for her mistake.

While we ended up having a good laugh about the incident, it does show how racially marked and structured our university is that it is almost impossible to imagine a woman of color in any other position than that of a member of the cleaning staff.

This story happened to me as a Dr. Prof. in the year 2012, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Academic or Slut?”

In the first month of my post as a newly appointed lecturer, the Director of Research invited me to lunch to discuss new projects, then, half way through, he lent over, touched my leg and asked me if I was a slut.

Story signed by : Frances

This story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. in the year 2013, around an academic institution [Not in Belgium]

“We want to keep you at our faculty as a professor – but only if you’re male”

I am now working in a foreign country at a prestigious university, but I used to be an FWO postdoc at a Flemish institution, in a large faculty that is almost completely male (+90%). This institution does not grant FWO prolongations, but it does have a BOFZAP tenure track system. While a postdoc, faculty members told me several times that I “should not count on getting a prolongation of the FWO” and even that I “should be looking elsewhere”, as I did not fit the faculty. However, male postdoc colleagues got the message that “We will do anything in our power to keep you.” – This included, I witnessed several times, positions written out specifically with their profile in mind. No female postdoc at this faculty ever made it as a professor, and to my knowledge no profiles have ever been written out to help secure a permanent position for a female candidate (indeed, this explains their quasi-absence).

A few years ago, I applied for a BOFZAP tenure track position at the same institution, despite getting no encouragement and getting the explicit message that another postdoc (male) was the favored internal candidate. This was generally known – several faculty members said they would do anything to support him. However, some faculty members wanted to advocate for other male postdocs, who were all considered brilliant (“Such a brilliant guy, he really deserves a position”). Nobody wanted to stick out their neck for me. When I talked about my career options, they just said vaguely not to worry because “They need more women everywhere”.

Bottom line: I have to carve out my own way, because I am a woman and enjoy the tremendous benefits of affirmative action (!), but several of the male postdocs are helped to positions because the faculty value their work and their teaching.

By the way, I have several papers in high-ranking (A1) journals, including in the top 10 journals of my discipline, as well as a monograph in press with a top university publisher. I am regularly invited as a plenary speaker and to contribute to edited collections with university presses. The students in my current university tell me how they love my teaching.

During the 2 job interviews at this Flemish faculty, I got lots of questions outside of my area of specialization, whereas (so I learned from my colleagues later) the male postdocs got mainly questions about their research. I was also asked about my religious beliefs, which was not relevant for the job. And although hard to quantity, I have had many job interviews, but never did I encounter such hostility and dismissiveness (faculty members saying “Oh, come on, you don’t seriously think that” during the job talks.

I am sharing this story so that faculty members, who are often well-meaning, understand that a lot of privilege (“We really want to keep this guy, he’s so brilliant”) is still accorded on the basis of being of the male gender, which makes informal friendships and contacts easier. To illustrate: many of the male postdocs regularly got invited to barbecues and other private meetings with male faculty members, but I was always an outsider. It is especially bitter, because I have been told time and again that I will make it because of affirmative action (note that the university at that time only had an equal opportunity policy in place in name, not in practice). I would want to see the day that female postdocs get valued fairly for their accomplishments.

Story signed by : NN

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011, around an academic institution in Flanders

“Who washes the coffee cups after meetings?”

 

This is the story of me, and all my women colleagues. In every meeting, of whatever kind, the male professors never wash the dishes, the coffee cups, they take their computers and bags and leave, often not even thinking what happens to the post-meeting mess. Sometimes they make sure one person is responsible for the key and locking the door, but that’s it.

Always a woman, generally the younger one, or the one with less titles, assumed to have more time, and less complaining power, takes up automatically and ‘voluntarily’ the job. This is not only about men, but also about senior and women professors. It seems that the power fever can get easily viral…

Story signed by : Always random?

This story happened to me as a PhD student in the year(s) [unknown or cannot tell], around an academic institution in Flanders

“Do you have any other talent young lady, other than being so pregnant ?”

I participated in an election meeting for assistants with the two candidates Prof. X and Y, running for the dean position. I asked a question to X on his plan towards increasing women professors in the Law Faculty. I asked him why do we have so few role models and women around.

I was fully pregnant at the time. His answer was: ‘Well, yes, we have a few talented women’, he mentioned the names of one woman in Criminology, and a few in the Law Faculty, and he said ‘yes, they are very few’, clearly for him this was a matter of talent.

Then he asked me ‘what do you think young lady’, looking at my belly. I was fully pregnant and interpreted that, as been told openly, ‘that’s why we don’t have women professors, because you keep being pregnant all of you’.

He never gave me an answer to his plan as a dean to counteract the scarcity of women professors. I thought that was very sexist, being called young lady, and not being given any answer on his plan, but having asked the question back to me. I was not candidating myself to become dean. And what is more important it shows how unaware he is of the problem, thinking this is a matter of talent.

Story signed by : not so young, not a lady, and not pregnant anymore.

The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year 2012, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Professor Mistaken For Secretary”

As a ‘young’ female professor in my late thirties I went to the central research office to personally hand in a research project application file on the day of the deadline (a walk around the corner from my office). The (female) secretary behind the counter looked at the file and said to me: “Is Prof. X abroad because we need his original signature?”. Looking bewildered, “I am Prof. X”, I answered. The secretary was embarrassed of course and I tried to laugh it away a little as did some of her colleagues in the office who had witnessed the incident.

Maybe the secretary was also used to secretaries getting asked to deliver files rather than professors turning up themselves, I do not know…

Bemused rather than deeply insulted, this nevertheless is not an isolated incident. For example, when answering my work phone I always answer “Prof. X” in order not to be taken for a secretary. As I get and look older – and more self-confident perhaps – these incidents occur less and less, but I believe it is deeply gendered and male professors in the same ‘young looking’ age category on the average do not get the same treatment, both from women and men. The dominant image of the professor seems to remain male – white – and of a certain age, even today…

Story signed by : Pili Pala

The story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. in the years 2005-2009, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“How Are Your Children?”

At the new year’s reception of the faculty, I am telling two female colleagues about repeated personal attacks in public and through the grapevine by a male colleague. All of a sudden one of them asks, out of the blue: “And how are your children?”. Upon which I say: “Fine”.

What to think? Let’s not talk about aggressive behavior by men, too disturbing. Or worse, that behavior is ‘normal’, you’re stressed out because you have care responsibilities…

Story signed by : Bittersweet

This story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. in the year 2013, around an academic institution in Flanders

“The Invisibility Cloak in Meetings”

I went to a meeting. A question was asked to which I knew the answer and so I answered: “yes that is the case, they will start with that soon”, waiting for people to ask me for specifics.The chairman (male) of the meeting ignored my comment and said that he supposed the answer was yes, as that was to be expected as they promised to start soon.

My answer was ignored completely. I sighed, exchanged looks with the only other woman in the room, and than repeated my answer. The only reason people didn’t ignore me the second time was because she asked me a follow up question. I wish this was the first time that this happened. It wasn’t, not the second neither.

Story signed by: V.

This story happened to me as a PhD student in the year 2014, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Females Invisible To Faculty”

The incident began when a very senior member of my faculty interrupted a conversation I was having with several senior members of the administration and he completely ignored me and didn’t shake my hand and then explained he was late because he was doing ‘real work’ (clearly implying that I was doing something else). Then a few minutes later, in conversation with the vice-rector for diversity, another professor (one who publicly groped a female friend of mine my first year in belgium at the x-mas party) made the comment that for a faculty with so few female professors, we were well represented at this particular presentation on gender at the university. I thought yes that’s true there are three of us here. What he said was “we should be proud that two of us are here'”, clearly forgetting I was in the faculty. I have never felt more invisible and less at home in the faculty.

Story signed by: Frustrated By Being Excluded

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2014, around an academic institution in Flanders