All Male Invited Speakers? It’s Complicated!

Some time ago I wrote about the complexities that may underlie all male short-lists for high-powered jobs. The scientific world is also full of justified angst about the disproportionate number of men who appear on conference platforms, particularly as invited speakers. A recent paper  has analysed the situation at one particular conference, the European Society for Evolutionary Biology Congress. It showed that what was really out of line was not the number of women invited to give presentations, but the number that accepted.  Around 50% of the women invited declined to come – much higher than a comparable response from the men. The authors of this paper (Schroeder, Dugdale et al) consider the possible reasons why this rate is so high. What is interesting about the paper is that it highlights that, as with all-male shortlists, what at first sight looks like ‘bad behaviour’ by the powers- that-be, variously conference organisers and head-hunters, is actually significantly affected by the women themselves for all kinds of legitimate and complicated reasons.  I’ve posted my further thoughts on this important but less than straightforward issue, along with why it matters in terms of role models, over at the Royal Society’s Inside Science blog. Read more there……

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98 Responses to All Male Invited Speakers? It’s Complicated!

  1. Conference organizer says:

    FWIW that was my experience when I organized a conference. I invited about eight women and all declined including two who failed to respond all together. Among males, all replied promptly and the responses were four yeses out of five invites. The speakers accepting included a Nobel prize winner so it is not like it was an unknown conference that distinguished speakers couldn’t be bothered to attend.

  2. AnnaW says:

    Having support to bring your children to the conference will not necessarily help. I have two young kids, and bringing them to a conference seems to me to be bad on all counts – they are happier and more settled at home, in familiar surroundings (home and daycare), and I can get more done at a conference without them present. However wanting them to be comfortable at home comes at a price – it means that my husband needs extra support at home to do daycare pickup, for example. If we cannot persuade a grandparent to stay with us to help (his job does not allow him to leave on time to make pickup) then this means no travel, and having to say no to invitations.

    More worrying to me is the cost of saying no to invitations in terms of getting grants. Bodies like the ERC seem to place great weight on invited talks, so if you want grants then you have to accept such talks (since it is not done to list ‘non accepted’ invitations on your CV). I would like to try for an ERC Consolidator Grant in the next couple of years, which means that I have to accept invitations to travel, even when, in all honesty, I would rather be at home with my young family. In fact I am currently sitting at an airport on my way home from a meeting, despite the fact that I am officially on maternity leave, because it seems that you cannot afford to fall off the radar in terms of talks if you want to have any hope of getting funding. I realise that invitations are an easy metric to use to gauge international impact, but I wish that there was a better way to assess scientific quality.

    • hear, hear, this is exactly correct!

    • Lori Fenton says:

      I agree as well. My kids (aged 3 and 1) would not do well to be uprooted from their routine, put into an airplane for hours (we’ve done one such trip that way and it was a slog), and then forced to stay with caretakers they didn’t know. If there were funding to bring along my husband then he could watch them during the day, but that’s quite taxing on him and it would keep him from getting work done. It wouldn’t be a network-heavy conference, I can tell you, since all of my meals would be with the family (partly to keep the kids from freaking out and partly to keep my husband’s nerves from fraying too much – and I would sympathize with him).

      Maybe the best solution is the internet. Giving an invited talk online or from a phone is possible. We had an invited speaker give such a talk at a workshop last year and it went pretty well — someone changed slides for him, and it allowed for questions afterward as well.

    • Joke Bakker says:

      Why is his job more important than your opportunity to accept an invitation to a conference talk to further forward your career? Can’t he take care of his kids without any help for a couple of days?

  3. GMP says:

    Additional aspect: when you are a semi-prominent woman, there’s tokenism when being invited to give talks too, so the few well-known women get invited disproportionately often. Sort of like with service.

    I am a female mid-career scientist with three kids. I have recently had to cancel several talks, some last minute due to various scheduling disasters and some I could not accept because I simply cannot stand to travel so much. Providing childcare when traveling is not the answer; kids are really not easily portable when they are older than 2 and/or there’s more than 1 of them. Even if they were not missing school, who’s going to pay for all those airline tickets?

    I can and do leave the kids with my husband when I travel, but even so it’s a major undertaking before I leave to make sure they have what they need and quite an ordeal for my husband when he is by himself. Travel is a hassle even when you have no one to take care of, with multiple dependents and even if you are leaving them behind it really often it is just not worth it, especially when you are somewhat senior (i.e. established) so you are not in dire need of invited talk bullets on the CV.

  4. JCH says:

    I have also declined a fairly large number of invitations over the last few years due to a combination of maternity leave and having a young family. I agree with AnnaW’s comment that while childcare at the conference venue would in some cases make a big difference, it can also feel very disruptive to drag a child across the world to be looked after by strangers, and flights are very expensive. I don’t have access to nearby grandparents to help and my partner has his own busy job, though goes to great lengths to help me to do the most important travel. Having recently missed out on getting to the second stage of the ERC process I wonder if the lack of recent invited talks was relevant (I did in fact list declined talks, having deliberated a lot about whether or not this was a good idea) – though I’m perfectly willing to believe other factors were more important, of course.

  5. Catherine says:

    I like the point about role models. I’m an engineer, and for a long time there were at least some more senior women in the field that I felt I could look up to. Now, I’m a few years further along in my career and I’ve suddenly noticed that the number of senior women above me has plummeted, and it’s definitely having an impact on my thoughts about the future.

    Also, interestingly, both me and a male colleague have been advised recently that in order to get better known, we should be inviting ourselves to places to meet people and give talks. He has been able to do this, but I have small kids and haven’t yet been able to. I wonder how much impact offering to give talks and getting known in early/mid-career has on later being invited to give more prestigious talks? It sounds a small thing, but I’m learning that all these small things add up to create significant barriers!

    • Ann says:

      How do you invite yourselves? I am a relatively early-career (female) scientist (still) willing to travel wherever to get my name and work out there and meet people. So any insight into what you can do yourself to obtain invited talks would be appreciated.

      • GMP says:

        What I did was made sure I invited people to come give a talk at my university. Many will offer to invite you back for a talk, especially folks at a similar career stage as you, who are also grateful to you for the talk invitation. I invited several junior people I had met at conferences or panels, and most have returned the favor. Some people, especially big shots, won’t invite you back, but that’s OK, you need these people to meet you one way or another.

        Recently, I was invited to give a talk at University 1 and organized 2 more talks at nearby universities for the days before and after the first one by contacting some people that I knew via email along the lines of “Dr. Jones, I will be coming to give a talk at Uni 1 on date 1, and I wonder if I could come meet you and perhaps give a talk at your place around that time.”

        In general, tying a visit to something else you have going on in the area (collaboration, panel, conference) works very well. Don’t be too shy. It’s not pleasant to invite yourself to things, but people do it all the time and I don’t think men are as embarrassed as women doing it (on average). Men seem to believe they are worthy of invitations and simply help you realize that too by inviting themselves! 🙂 Women tend to wait to be picked from the rubble; it can be a long wait, mostly because everyone is looking out for themselves and even well-meaning people are too focused on their own careers to think about promoting anyone else’s.

        Just think of it as not a big deal, offer people to visit them matter-of-factly. It really does work most of the time, and it has a nice side-effect that, when you talk to people about how awesome your work is, you end up convincing yourself of that too! 🙂

      • Alex says:

        Like GMP said, you just have to pile talks on top of each other. If you either have an invite or are going to a conference anyway, call up people in the area and ask them if you can swing by their institution. The people who chair department seminar committees are generally happy to get out-of-town speakers whose travel expenses are already covered. If I know that somebody is in the area and already has a plane ticket, and all I need to cover is a hotel room, that’s a win for my seminar budget.

        I did one of those tours a few years ago: Spent a week with a collaborator, and while I was in that part of the country I called up everyone I knew at every institution in the area and talked my way into seminar talks. Some of them had big audiences, some had small audiences, but the bottom line is that a few months later I got some invites that did very positive things for my career. I don’t know who in those audiences passed my name along, but somebody did.

  6. Great article, and connects well with your post on ERC AdG… And one I I have scaled down my travel a lot since having children; the impact has been loss of visibility…Loss of visibility is often attributed to a reduction of activity and a vicious circle ensues…

    Having applied 3 times to an engineering/communications panel (PE7) and having been on the panel myself – I have seen numerous comments (to my proposal) such as: ‘she used to be greatly visible at conferences but less so recently – seemingly her level of activity and impact has reduced’ [clearly not much presence over the period of two maternity leaves in 3 years] or on other women’s (using the ERC flexibility of an additional 18 months per child for track record): ‘it only takes 9 months to have a baby’…I doubt if the favourable PE statistics benefits from poor number of AdG recipients in engineering – I doubt if PE7 has awarded more than 1 or two awards (or even if >0?) in the last 7 years…invited papers are a major factor!

  7. Conference organizer says:

    I can and do leave the kids with my husband when I travel, but even so it’s a major undertaking before I leave to make sure they have what they need and quite an ordeal for my husband when he is by himself.

    Grrrl, are you saying that you are sacrificing your career because hubby cannot fend by himself with the kids? What is he, five?

    My spouse and I travel a lot, so often one or the other is left with the kids at home. Sure it makes things difficult, but each cope during the absence of the other.

    • GMP says:

      No, my husband is not five. Don’t be a douche.
      We have three kids ages 2 to 13, with vastly different schedules.
      My husband can cope just fine, but the point (at least for us) is not to barely cope. We want to do much better than that.

  8. Polina Interesting specific comments I will feed back into the ERC as we discuss these issues.

    GMP, AnnaW and JCH You’re right, I wasn’t being specific enough. My comments about childcare really referred to rather young children. For older children it probably isn’t so appropriate. But there are (usually) 2 parents and some give and take about covering whilst the mother is away ought to be feasible. It would be interesting to hear from men who’ve declined invitations. I’m sure I know of some, although it is possible that childcare isn’t the reason they publicly admit to. Nevertheless, I think conference organiser has a point……..Society does need to change so that expectations on childcare predominantly being the mother’s responsibility soften; individual couples have to find their own balance. There isn’t much conference organisers can do on this front.

    • AnnaW says:

      You say that some give and take should be possible, but this is not always the case. Many people have jobs that are simply *not* flexible enough to accommodate shifts when a partner is on travel. My husband’s work is an hour and a half away from where we live (the only way we could resolve our two body problem), and he teaches until late, which means that he can’t simply up and leave the office when he likes to do daycare pickup if I need to travel during the teaching semester. He’s a fully involved father who shares parenting responsibilities equally with me, but that flexibility is simply not there in his job for much of the year. This means that we are reliant on third parties to cover when I am away, and finding a trusted carer is not an easy matter.

  9. Andrew Jackson says:

    Just to give my personal perspective…. This year I decided not to attend any conferences / talks / workshops both for applied and invited talks. The only substantial trip I am making is a (stupidly short) trip to China for work and to review some grants at a European national agency later in the year. The sole reason is child-care and having a young baby in the house with 2 other children under 5 means its just far too much to ask my wife, who is currently on maternity leave, to take them on 24 hours a day for any length of time. My trip to China is only for 3 nights which is crazy, but is the only way in good conscience that I can make it at all, and the funding agency trip is short, not too far and pays (which is also welcome these days).

    I dont think its a big deal for me personally this year, or my career. I am sure the invites will come again, but I wonder when it will ever suit again to disappear for any much more than a week for work in a year (although i do admittedly disappear to Kenya for a taught fieldcourse for our undergrads too). Maybe i should knock the fieldcourse on the head and attend a conference instead?

  10. Th says:

    One of the big barriers I think is the imbalance in how childcare/family responsibilities are perceived by employers. Both I and my husband travel a lot for work, but he is never asked by peers or managers what the impact will be on his family. He is assumed to be available for evening meetings, travel abroad etc. If he suggests that this could be incompatible with our family life, eyebrows are raised. When he works short days to cover for me when I’m away, eyebrows have been raised. So it’s not about my partner or my employer, it’s about *his* employers and the attitude of his peers. He’s not in academia, though, and I would be curious to know how male academics feel their choices are perceived.

    • Angela Speck says:

      I am married to an academic and we have the same experience. The expectation is that I must be slacking off to deal with the kids – whereas he doesn’t have any responsibilities for the kids so he can carry on as if they don;t exist. This is on a campus where both departments know both of us well enough that they shouldn’t be making those assumptions.

      I am curious about whether there is a discipline bias in these issues. Are the attitudes different in humanites vs science?

      • Geologist says:

        Early in my career, one of my male colleagues came into my office late one night to tell me that if women wanted to have children then they shouldn’t go into academia. He then proceeded to spout off on this topic for a full 15 min. I sat there with my mouth open not knowing where this came from, why he was talking to me as I didn’t have children at the time, or what to say to him until I realized that he wouldn’t listen to me anyway so I said nothing and helped him leave my office as soon as possible.

        This is not an isolated experience as I’ve had many men say things, even mentors in graduate school, tell me that a woman cannot be successful in this career if she also wants to have a family.

        Early in my career, I also had other faculty (from outside my department) tell me repeatedly that I need to stop doing science and get married and have children!! (…. ‘it was time’…)

        Family issues are also not welcome in any discussion within my department and it is just something I’ve learned to not talk about. So I would say that in the sciences, in my experience, there is significant bias.

  11. Bob says:

    It is indeed complicated: I share some of the conference-organising experiences of “conference organiser” and have seen similar effects in other aspects of professional life also. However, you ask for comments from men in your recent tweet so here goes …
    Earlier in my career I was more prone to listen to and take at face value the advice that I needed to present papers at conferences – and to jump through all sorts of other hoops – for the sake of my career (aka the prestige of the department/university?). And yes, they can be a fun thing to do, and to talk about afterwards. Then came some much-needed re-balancing as, slow learner that I am, it dawned on me that I much preferred to spend time with my wife, children and friends than I did travelling to the other side of the world to listen to the few good talks in a week’s conference programme. Moreover, I already have to travel in order to do much of my experimental work as I use large facilities. Add to that the weariness of catching up on my return (I work in a relatively small department with a large student:lecturer ratio, so all time away is tricky), and the fact that I have come to loathe the ‘airport experience’, and it’s perhaps not too surprising that my conference participation has become pretty minimal, invited or not.

  12. I love conference travel, and perhaps this is because I’m at an earlier career stage and my wife and I don’t yet have children. Few things in science can compare with the thrill of standing up in front of a big audience as an invited speaker, especially when it’s in a country or place you haven’t seen before. The opportunity to travel is one of great benefits of a scientific career.

    The gender issue is complicated, and I don’t feel qualified to say anything intelligent about it. But I’ll share one bit of information that maybe taps into a related issue. A few weeks ago we published an article in the Guardian calling for academic journals to bring in study pre-registration ( The article was signed by many of our colleagues, but the men we invited were 2.3 times more likely to sign than the women. This gender difference was statistically significant (p=.004 via chi-square test).

    As a female colleague remarked when I mentioned this statistic, “Critical men are seen as powerful and impressive. Critical women don’t enjoy such favorable appraisals”. I wonder if this could be an additional factor that discourages women from accepting invitations to present at conferences.

  13. Conference organizer says:

    my conference participation has become pretty minimal, invited or not.

    Careful with the advice here, Bob. Very young (academically speaking) faculty members need to get their name out there. I would advice them to make every effort to attend conferences relevant to their field.

    Once you’ve become well established, so long as you do not totally disappear off the radar you can cut back substantially without any ill effects.

    • Bob says:

      Point taken – arguably I should have made explicit the fact that these were personal reflective comments, not intended as ‘advice’ per se, and made clearer the fact that it was just the sort of timeline you outline that I myself also followed. The key point is perhaps that we all need ‘balance’, and that the fulcrum will depend on the person and will probably change with time and circumstances.

    • I disagree about disappearing without any ill effects…Any disappearance for more than 12 months is damaging, however, eminent one is…There is just too much competition!

      • Conference organizer says:

        Hey, I said cut back not disappear. At least one conference a year is a minimum. Otherwise you are “off the radar screen”.

        • @davidmpyle says:

          ‘Off the radar screen’ Really?

          I have young children, and already have other commitments that require occasional travel (fieldwork, experimental work, project management) so frankly, going to conferences comes a long way down my priority list. There are plenty of ways to remain on the ‘radar screen’ without having to feel the need to go to conference after conference. Yes, the networking aspects of conferences can be important and beneficial, but these days there are many additional ways of networking and remaining connected that don’t require you to burn up thousands of air miles, and spend extended periods of time away.

          • Conference organizer says:

            I have young children, and already have other commitments that require occasional travel (fieldwork, experimental work, project management) so frankly, going to conferences comes a long way down my priority list.

            None of which is relevant. You may have good reasons not to attend, but that wasn’t the question. The question is “does your brownie point list suffer if you do not attend at least one conference a year” and the answer is, for the most part, YES.

            There are plenty of ways to remain on the ‘radar screen’ without having to feel the need to go to conference after conference.

            No there aren’t. Of course good’ol Al Einstein can make a name for himself while working alone at the patent office. So strictly speaking there are other ways, particularly if you are a genius. But I stand by my advice to normal research folk that they should really try to attend at least one conference a year.

            So here’s the rational thing to do: try to attend one meeting a year, and if you really truly can’t (**) then try really hard to compensate for this. This is suboptimal since you will spend more time and effort compensating than going to the meeting in the first place, but if your situation is unavoidable, then that’s the best you can do.

            (**) Seriously you cannot afford to be away from your kids once a year? E.g. a dear colleague used to fly her mom from abroad for her “one conference a year” quota. To me it sounds like you sent conferences too far down the priority list and when indirectly pointed out to you that you might have made a mistake you are getting all defensive instead of re-evaluating your decision.

  14. cromercrox says:

    This doesn’t just apply to conferences and panels, as I can attest from personal experience. Many years ago I commissioned questionnaire-style pieces for Nature from working scientists, asking them a lot of serious questions (about mentoring; about influences) and silly questions (what would be the one thing they’d rescue from their burning laboratory; what they currently had in their fridge). The main thing was to get them to open up and tell interesting stories.

    Now, from the beginning, I was scrupulous in inviting an equal number of female as of male scientists. Not for any reason of gender balance, so much as getting a variety of interesting pieces in different voices (I also tried to invite younger, unknown researchers as well as better-known ones, and people in a wide range of disciplines.)

    Imagine my surprise when I was accused of being sexist. At first I found the accusation (which came from a man) unfair. Naturally I looked into the matter and found that there was indeed an imbalance in published pieces, with more from men than women.

    It turned out that although my invitees had a gender balance, female participants were less inclined to respond to invitations, or to deliver copy once they’d agreed to write, than male ones. In the end, I had to commission a third as many female candidates again to ensure parity by the time of publication.

    Now, this can’t have anything to do with travel problems or childcare. There might be other reasons. Participants had to submit a good picture of themselves which an artist would use to create a mild caricature, and it could be that female participants were less inclined to go through this process than other participants. It might also be the case that female candidates were more reluctant to share details of their personal lives in public than their male colleagues. Or they just found the whole thing cheesy.

    Second, although the task sounds easy, it was surprisingly time-consuming (I tried answering the questionnaire myself). Although time taken to fill in questionnaires has in and of itself no direct gender issues, it could be that female scientists have less free time than their male counterparts. I suspect that because there are fewer female scientists than male scientists, and institutions are doing their very best to be gender-neutral in all activities, women find themselves disproportionately in demand to serve on committees and so on.

  15. Anon says:

    I expect that, ironically, this is one invitation which very few men will accept!
    Men don’t turn down invitations to speak, full stop.
    We like the sound of our own voices, are confident in our own abilities and aware of our subject matter.
    Someone asking you to speak at something is simply proof of what you already know.

  16. My experiences match many of these comments. In just the last week, I’ve just had three invitations to speak at conferences occurring in December this year (I’m not usually anywhere near that popular!!!!). I accepted the first two I received (one is in Melbourne, so I don’t need to be away from home), but the third is a higher profile conference. I’d love to accept that invitation too, but I think I am about to decline – I just don’t want to be away from my family for so long in such a short period of time.

    My wife is also an academic. When she travels to conferences, I cope with the extra school pickups and drop-offs etc, but I’m lucky that I have a relatively flexible job. Some jobs are not so flexible (e.g., my sister’s husband needs to request annual leave 14 months in advance) – that would make conference travel much harder for the spouse.

    Family is also very important. About a month ago, my mum filled the ~12 hour gap between my wife departing for a work trip and me returning.

  17. Pingback: On Kids and Conferences – Uncertain Principles

  18. Conference organizer says:

    Imagine my surprise when I was accused of being sexist.

    Which is a good time to annotate that such accusations should not be made without first finding a way to talk to the person in question; particularly in the cases where said person does not have a history of such actions.

  19. Geologist says:

    I am a very successful senior female scientist and although I agreed to almost anything when I was younger, I no longer do so. Part of the reason is that throughout my career I am continually asked to be the ‘token woman’. Sometimes it is so blatant, that eventually you start to question everything and you doubt that people are actually asking you because of your skills/reputation, but only to ‘fill a slot’ or do grunt work that isn’t valued by anyone, including yourself.

    I’ve also experienced so much bullying that this makes me wonder about requests, certainly if they are from within my institution. Although I do my best to withdraw from all abusers and abusive behaviors, it is really difficult to be entirely successful when the administration supports and often is the source, of such behavior. (No I cannot leave, and in fact I saw the same thing during an interview at another institution)

    So what happens is that I find that although I am by all measures the most successful faculty member in my department, I do not in any way feel valued. And then I start to question why I am working so hard, and this leads to me only choosing tasks that I feel are important to me. These include anything to do with students, the people employed in my lab, my friends. Basically in order to protect myself, I have to withdraw and circle the wagons.

    So for me, what happens when I receive invitations is that I have to think long and hard if all the extra work – already listed in comments above (family, airport stress, illness, work delays, etc) – really is worth it. I realize that senior successful women are really rare in my field, and we are needed as role models, but I feel so bruised and bullied from my career that I have a hard time telling young women that this is worth it. I realize that maybe they won’t experience what I did, but I think there is slim chance of that since every woman I know in my field has had similar experiences.

    Also, when I do agree to go, and I do speak, there is always one or more individuals who have to treat women like crap. They have to say snide sexist remarks, and this is just exhausting. Why put up with this when I can stay home and do the work that I value and surround myself (to the best of my abilities) with caring people? Yes, it is great to have others to talk to and get excited about the research but the negative crap is always there and although most of the time I can let it roll off of me and not let it get me down, I think after so many years of this I just am completely exhausted and broken.

  20. MineralPhys says:

    What an interesting post, and also illuminating comments. The comment by Geologist broke my heart more than a little bit, but I share her experiences and concerns. As for my own experiences–I said no to many travel requests (and ignored a few too, I am sad to admit) because I was building a lab and a family, and simply did not want to leave either. Also, like Bob I spent travel time running experiments at large scale facilities (synchrotrons). I simply did not want to travel more. Now I am mid-career, and both lab and kid are in their adolescence, and I am ready to travel and play hard in the sandbox, but generally receive few invites. Am I too off-the-radar? Can I ramp it up at this stage of my career? Stay tuned…

  21. Emma Woodfield says:

    I would say on the whole that extra funding to take carer for child to conferences wouldn’t really help me (or my husband). Having a conference creche can be really good but I wouldn’t want to abandon my daughter (4yrs) in one for a whole week.

    However, my husband and I (both working in very simlar fields) did quite successfully both attend a big conference together (EGU in Vienna) with our daughter this year (inspired by similar experiences of colleagues). The sessions we needed to go to were mostly not running at the same time so we swapped and changed a lot and we did also use the conference provided creche for one morning which was brilliant (and only 10 Euros for a whole morning). Our daughter loved all the trips on the underground trains to and from the conference centre and although she was a bit tired by the evening poster sessions she really enjoyed meeting our work friends too. For the evening networking/socialising we took turns.

    Although we did have to pay for her flight (her accommodation was free, we managed to find a small apartment attached to a hotel so we could self-cater and have a bit more running around room, price split between two of us was significantly less than the maximum room rate allowed by our institution), we didn’t have to pay for a week in holiday club (it was Easter holidays) and we had a small family adventure without having to use up precious holiday days. Every so often she asks me “when can we go back to Vienna?”!

    This would most definitely not work for the smaller workshop type conferences where you have to be present all day every day. For this we just try not to clash or if it’s a nice location the other half of the family come along for a holiday (rare).

  22. Scientific Archaeologist says:

    Many of these comments resonate with me too. I found reading Geologist’s posting very sad, but it echoed my experiences too.

    Mostly I find that childcare needs mean that I pick and choose which meetings I attend and whilst before I had my child I was free to attend loads of meetings, now I am much more careful. I attend many less meetings and don’t tend to get invited to talk very often, perhaps as a consequence, or maybe because I am ‘just’ mid career. In my experience the few women who get invited tend to be really at the top of their game – they are usually far better than the rest of the male crew and stand out, but mid career women rarely get much of a look in, in contrast to male equivalents. I’ve found myself tempering my expectations, but I do get extremely cross when I see the lack of gender balance at conference line ups. For myself, I make more careful choices about what time I can invest in research and whether staying in the lab or writing is better use of my scarce time for research. I did, however, notice to my horror a few months ago when I attended an international scientific meeting that I was in the dwindling cohort of ‘older women’ at the meeting. I’m in my mid 40’s and it depressed me greatly to see so few women in my age group and older. Very few of them said very much either, in contrast to the men. What has happened? Has all the fight been sucked out of them? In contrast, I saw a large cohort of young female PhD students and wandered what their future holds, when there are patently few successful women compared with men? I felt hugely depressed by the whole experience.

  23. Douglas Kell says:

    Not only declining, mainly just not replying. I recently set up a proposal for an RS ‘Hooke’ Conf with good gender balance invites. Almost no women replied without a ‘reminder’ while all my male invitees accepted straight away. One female has still not replied (but at least I have 15 of 16 slots covered…). You make good points.
    Very best,

    • Lori Fenton says:

      They may not be answering because they are deliberating in their heads. When I don’t answer a question like this, it’s because I’m trying balance it in my mind. Can I afford it, if it’s a conference I wasn’t planning on going to? Do I have time to prepare the talk? Have I been away from home too much this year and how will my family handle yet another week away? Are there any proposal due dates or other deadlines that this will interfere with? On the other hand, I’d really like the exposure and I’m flattered to have been asked, so I probably “ought” to go, if I can figure out how. So when I don’t answer right away it’s because I’m trying to figure out what to do. And then of course new things get piled on my desk, so it gets pushed down. So I’m not ignoring anybody, I promise.

  24. Thanks to everyone for these rich and thoughtful comments. It is telling that childcare issues have featured so largely, with none of the other hypotheses getting much comment, though ‘difference in egos’ have been mentioned over on Twitter. But I’m still not clear whether men actually mention family issues as their reason if and when they do decline invitations – or indeed women whether do too. That women just don’t reply at all, as Douglas mentions, may mean simple embarassment/not knowing what is an acceptable answer to make. It is clear that for some families the issues are much less easily resolved than for others, but I note no men have explained how impossible it is for them because their partners work 1 1/2 hours away or need to give 14 months notice for leave. This is a problem that is not going to be resolved anytime soon, sadly. Issues over mid-career women are interesting and perhaps deserve more thought/analysis.

    Keep the comments coming!

  25. Anon says:

    Male conference organiser here. For our conference we committed ourselves to more than 33% female speakers, with good representation in both plenaries and smaller slots. This turned out to be a very hard task and at one point we had a run of 14 “nos” in a row from female invited speakers, many of whom would class our conference as the major one in their field. Hardly any male speakers turned down our invites.

    My personal thoughts on reasons why:
    1. Pre-booked vacation or family commitments
    2. Fatigue of being invited to give talks throughout the year (in our field female researchers are 10% or less, but most meetings aim to have 25%+ female speakers)
    3. Most well-known female speakers in our field are USA-based and a trip over the Atlantic was a costly proposal – both in terms of money and time.

    I think this last point is something that the EU-area really needs to think about. I believe that the USA is better at promoting and nurturing top female academics and so that is where they end up. This has a knock-on effect to Europe-based meetings.

  26. Femke says:

    I suggest an other (childcare related) reason: men often have less ambitious/career oriented wives who don’t mind staying at home with their children for a few days without support from their partner. Women in higher ranked positions often have just as ambitious/career oriented husbands for whom it is more difficult to work less and fully take care of their children for a few days to allow their wives to travel. I don’t have any numbers supporting this hypothesis, but I see this happening around me (in The Netherlands).

  27. fubarator says:

    Mom of young kids–I’ve scaled back travel. Yet I do accept conference invitations and give talks.

    I can still present my work at your conference but I need more time to plan. If an invitation comes for something two or three weeks ahead, even from a trusted friend, I must usually decline.

    The vicious cycle is true. Lower visibility for a time leads to thin funding. No travel funds plus additional teaching responsibilities for which I must find and pay substitutes when I travel. If I can’t pay, I will decline. (Leading to yet lower visibility, etc.) Should I bring up this depressing cycle, decline for no apparent reason, or simply not reply? Personally I ask for money but maybe other people are too embarrassed. If even partial travel support is available, consider mentioning it in the first contact.

    If an email invitation comes out of nowhere and is generic, I have the following nightmare vision: Travel to the ends of the earth on my own money, be perceived as a nobody quota-filler, receive no audience questions or even worse, rude comments, then travel home to catch up to a load of teaching, stuck lab students, and tired family members. Also: catch some damn virus on the plane. No reply!

  28. Token man says:

    That men can’t look after kids is matronizing. I never think twice (apart from now) about doing my fair share of child rearing (despite being in full-time employment). If my wife doesn’t want to attend a conference it’s usually because she is plain fed up with work taking over her life. Who are these grunts who still see tokenism when interacting with a woman? Doesn’t ring true with me.

    • Geologist says:

      To Token Man: I’m very pleased to hear that you do your share care taking for your family. However, I’m sorry that being a ‘token woman’ doesn’t ring true to you.

      Please explain to me how else am I supposed to take it when my Dean says to me in a public situation where I am the only woman present (an all too common situation) that he needs to ‘have a woman’ on these committees?

      He said this to me because a young female faculty was leaving our university (she had been bullied out and quit academia altogether). So he felt that I should take over all of her committee assignments. When you look at her tasks, they were all the outreach, and teaching committees which are not thought to be ‘important’ at a research university. In fact, until I complained about this imbalance, they had no women on any of the important committees having to deal with research, grants, and decisions that hold more weight when going up for promotion (at least they hold more weight at my university).

      He also said this to me after we had been told we could do a minority hire, preferably at the senior level and I asked for a senior woman. He denied the request because he said that women were not minorities – although we are most definitely a very small minority in the STEM fields. In fact in my scientific sub-field female full professors make up approximately 6% of the faculty.

      He turns me down for considering hiring more women and then in the same breath requests that I more than double my service on committees because he feels that a woman should be present.

      I told him to hire more women and I walked away from the conversation.

      • Geologist says:

        It is also discouraging when you get invited to give a talk and then the male person who invited you makes the comment that they just wanted more women.

        Well, it is great that they are aware of the need for more women, and great that they want their students to perhaps see a woman role model, but it does make me wonder if they really want to hear my work or if I’m just supposed to stand there and look good and make everyone feel better that they got their quota in.

        It is these types of situations that make you start to say no thank you to invites. If you are not sure they really want you and your science, then why put out all this extra effort? I might as well stay home and write another paper or spend time with my family.

  29. SoloParent says:

    How interesting that no scientist-solo parents have commented. In the US, the divorce rate is about 50%, so surely there are solo dads and moms who are juggling the science career/conference/committee/review panels thing. I’m a mid-career scientist and solo parent by choice who cut my science conference travel significantly when my daughter was born. It’s affected my attendance on Review Panels as well, however teleconferencing is being offered more as an option. Since my daughter has been born (she’s 4.5 years now), I’ve attended one week-long conference every year, two of them were international meetings. I cannot accept more because the costs alone (never mind the disruption to all of the other aspects of my life) are prohibitive; my out-of-pocket expenses to manage my daughter’s care while I’m in a meeting is $1000-$3000. There are childcare grants through the American Astronomical Society, but they cover only a fraction of the real costs. One cannot claim on income tax return the out-of-pocket expenses for ‘business travel’ either. For one of my meetings it was so important that I attend, that I took out a bank loan to cover my out-of-pocket expenses. As for logistics, I started my daughter when she very young traveling with me, so by this time, she is a good traveler and I know the two key parts: 1) find a cheap apartment near the conference venue where I can cook, 2) and find a babysitter in the town where the conference is located. The solution to the latter always requires something creative. My 2010 Goettingen, Germany conference used the university facilities, who had relationships with the local nanny association to manage childcare for their meetings, so I found a great nanny that way. My 2011 Nantes, France meeting had nothing like that with babysitters offered by the local organizing committee costing $30-$40/hr, so it was cheaper to fly my friend from Denver to watch my daughter during that week. I had one disaster with finding a sitter who was supposed to be reputable (she had enthusiastic references) on the childcare ads on Craigslist/San Francisco, so I’ve tightened up my questions considerably after that. In summary, it’s not impossible. I breast-fed my daughter for her first two years, managing her bottles and pumps and freezer bags and diapers (thank goodness the baby accessories are finished) through America’s TSA and on 12 hour flights to make my science conferences, but I can’t do it more than once per year and the financial hit is significant.

  30. On the subject of the importance of travel for career progression, I wrote this post some time ago. I still believe it’s true as far as it goes, but it wasn’t considering the type of ERC grants that have been mentioned here and times have almost certainly got harder/more competitive.

    • Conference organizer says:

      You said it quite well there:

      Some travel is vital, much may be as much about ego-stroking…”

      Choose wisely and do not decline the invitation to the Nobel prize dinner (figuratively speaking, i.e. honors so great that your career would receive a marked boost from it). Get a loan if you have to for those cases like SoloParent did.

    • GMP says:

      If you don’t mind me dropping a link, here are my thoughts on how young kids restricted my travel on the tenure track.

  31. Sarah Hughes says:

    As a scientist and mother of two i just want to note that solving the childcare issue is not so simple. Babies and toddlers can travel but school age children can’t in term-time. If I travel, even if its just for the day, I need someone to cover the tricky periods before and after school. There are not many people around who can work such odd and irregular hours so even if money is available finding a carer is a problem. Most people assume you can ask a relative to do this but like many scientists I know, I have moved away from extended family in search of a career.

  32. IgnoredSpeaker says:

    I’ve actually volunteered to speak at one of the top conferences in my specialty and have been either ignored or turned down for what are very flimsy reasons. When I DO give the rare invited talk or sit on a panel (and that’s like pulling teeth to be considered for panels, even), I am commended by attendees for the work I talk about doing, etc., but there is always a knuckle-dragger in the group who has to make some snide comment about women not being good at our shared vocation. This, despite the presence of many of us who have distinguished ourselves at our work. So, I’d give one vote for non-attendance due to knuckle-dragging misogyny. Why make time from a busy job to confront these guys?

    In talking with other women in my specialty, they all noticed the same thing. The men who control the meetings we attend just do NOT seem to see women having much to contribute, and every one of us has had the experience of being denigrated for our gender by a male colleague.

    A pity. We have a lot to contribute in terms of shared knowledge and collaboration.

  33. Debbie says:

    This comment stream is fabulous! Perhaps we should also be looking at some of the earlier conditioning that has contributed to they way that we (men and women make decisions).

  34. Finbarr Livesey says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful blog and for moderating the comments so well. As a father of two girls under five and with myself and my partner both working as academics, I can say that we’ve had a lot of conversations about this. I have turned down opportunities to speak and travel, and being honest in many ways made a decision to not be on the road as much as possible while the girls are so young. At the same time, helping my partner get to conferences has been a priority, as maternity leaves do take you out of the circuit for so long, and I’m at least over the line into a permanent position but she is attempting to cross that line at the moment. So the balance of travel goes towards her at the moment, but I know that it is having an impact and that I’ll need to raise my visibility again very soon.

    I strongly disagree with posts which claim that men do not turn down invitations – we do, but perhaps we don’t admit it enough? Perhaps the men who are trying to ensure some sort of balance between family and professional life need to get into the conversation more?



  35. Anon says:

    Really interesting blog and comments. The issue of international travel/meeting invitations has come up in my discussions with ‘management’ about promotion – the one perceived weakness on my CV in terms of international profile. I find this very frustrating. It seems a bit chicken and egg – you have to be out there raising your profile so that people think of you when inviting speakers.Unless you rely on colleagues on committees putting you forward, which is how most of my invites come along.

    I am fortunate that both myself and my husband are equally involved in parenting our children, and he has the flexibility in his job to be able to cope without me for a few days. It shouldn’t be considered patronising to suggest that this is hard work – doing the ‘up and out the house’ before work and ‘pick up, feed, bath and bed’ after work is hard work on your own day after day (as I am sure any parent will agree), and it cuts the working day short. My husband was exhausted after my last 4 day conference, as I am sure I would have been if I had done 4 days solo. In fact most parents are exhausted at the end of a normal working week, even if both are contributing!!

    Having childcare at meetings would not solve problems for me. Under 2 or 3, I wouldn’t have considered leaving them with strangers (no matter how well qualified), it would have been stressful for all of us and by the time they had settled (i.e. built an attachment with the carer) the conference would have been finished. I would have considered bring nanny/grandparent along if costs were covered, though not everyone has someone who would be able to support them like this. Over 3, and preschool/school attendance becomes an issue. I would rather leave them with husband/grandparents, but not everyone has this support at home to be able to do so.

    Regarding invitations, most of the invitations I get are as ‘2nd choice’ to a male colleague who works in the same area, but at professorial level. I generally accept, but feel a strange mix of gratitude for his passing these things on to me and frustration at being 2nd choice all the time. I guess if there a more men at senior level, then they are more likely to get the invitations, when organisers are trying to find high profile speakers.

    Having sat on conference organising committees and attended many meetings, there is also a tendency to select safe options…. so you see the same people appearing again and again. They have a high profile, are known to speak well, and so are picked again. If women are off-radar for a couple of years during pregnancy/maternity leave/early parenting, then do people stop thinking to invite them? The issues are then self-perpetuating.

    I think we also need to remember that some women don’t actually WANT to spend extended periods away from their young children!! Why Mums should find this more difficult to do than Dads is clearly complex – and is certainly true of my professional and social circle. The Dads find it hard, but see it as a necessary part of their jobs. The Mums find it hard, and forfeit the opportunities.

    I don’t see an easy answer to this. But will be so cross if it is the one thing used to stop me being promoted!!

  36. AH says:

    I’m late to this thread, but just to add that doing much less travel is the biggest change to my science that I’ve noticed since having children. Even if there were childcare at conferences, it just isn’t feasible to take a 6 year old out of school, or leave a 3 year old with a stranger. For the few conferences I have done, my mother travels 300 miles to my house to look after the children in a familiar setting. If there were funding for childcare, grants covering at-home evening babysitters might be much more use that grants for bringing the child to the conference.

  37. I think that sometimes accepting invitations when one knows one may be second choice is still worth doing if the conference itself is worth attending. It gives exposure and perhaps the next invitation will be as first choice. I am told some people literally ASK to be invited by approaching conference organisers they know; not something I would ever have thought of doing but, at least in some fields, it seems to be common.

    It sounds to me as if those men who do turn down invitations perhaps don’t spell out why, when it’s domestic reasons. This I think is a great shame because the more they do this the more it will become explicity apparent to everyone that childcare affects all parents, not just the woman. I’d be interested to hear how many conferences do run invited lectures by Skype or similar, because that clearly would resolve some of the tension of maintaining visibility whilst not taking parents away from family. As regards what looks good on your CV, I think it certainly should be acceptable (and is in my university when it comes to promotions) to list invitations received and not just actual talks given. It is the invitation that is the prestige step. That doesn’t solve the visibility problem, but it will help to soften the effect of time away from travel.

    • For the invitation that I declined (mentioned in my comment), I was 100% clear with the conference organiser that I declined because it was a matter of balancing work and family. If I decline something, I will truthfully tell the person why. I see no reason to hide the issue.

      On another note, I took my son to a conference once. The conference organiser went out if his way to thank me for coming to the conference and bringing my son. He recognised the difficulty of balancing work and family, and thanked me for making the effort to still get to the conference (my wife was there too, and we had someone to help with childcare; it makes if difficult to engage in the conference to the same extent, but it was still valuable).

      Two colleagues of mine (they are partners) take their three children to Ecological Society of Australia conferences, and their kids have even asked questions of speakers!

      • Geologist says:

        I attended an international conference in Australia a couple years ago. One woman was an invited speaker (I believe she was the only female invited). She had her young son with her and started the talk by telling us her child care plans fell through, and apologized for having him there. At the beginning of her talk he was quiet but then he started to cry and while she kept talking she was able to pick him up and hold him and it ended up being a great talk and I personally didn’t feel that the child was at all distracting.

        However at the intermission after her talk I was shocked at all the people (95% men, but some women too!) who became very vocal on how unprofessional that was to have her child there and that this is why women shouldn’t even be in the field, etc. etc. Two of us women did our best to argue against them but it was impossible. They would not listen and it was so upsetting to me to think that this amazing woman probably just lost her deserved recognition and would likely not be invited back again (at least until the powers that be retire and a new group comes in).

        Note that this international meeting had no child care facilities, and when I asked that they provide them for the next meeting, the president immediately disagreed and said it was too expensive and not important. No wonder this particular group has ~ 3% women!

        • SoloParent says:

          I think it’s worth to shine the light on this incident. That speaker got roasted instead of being congratulated for successively managing a difficult situation. Would she be interested to give her name and say what conference this was? To the organizers of that conference: “This is the year 2013 , not 1953.”

          • Geologist says:

            Unfortunately, I cannot remember her name and I didn’t keep any materials to find it. She was not someone I knew and we didn’t work in the same field. It was 2008 and it was an organizational meeting for the International Union of Soil Science.

            This group has very few women involved in higher level roles, and none in the uppermost structures. It is changing, slowly. The last few years have seen more women elected at the commission level and more women are attending meetings.

            But, remember, at this event that I described above, some women were joining in with the men in degrading the poor speaker who had to deal with her son during her talk (what I saw was behind her back, not to her face). And I’m sure that some of the men felt as I did, that what she did was terrific and totally acceptable – or at least I hope this was the case. Our intermission was brief, and it wasn’t like I got to speak with everyone there. I remember that the men who made disparaging comments and that I disagreed with just turned and walked away instead of continuing the discussion. It was only the women that continued the discussion.

  38. AnnaW says:

    Athene, do you think the ERC could be persuaded to make a formal statement on the acceptability or otherwise of listing declined invitations on grant applications – both for candidates and in the guidelines for assessment panels? I’ve heard a real diversity of opinion on whether this is a good idea, or whether it looks really bad to panel members. My CV would in principle look much better if I could list invitations declined due to family commitments, but only if the panels are also told to regard it in a positive light….

  39. Pingback: Link Roundup: Bad headlines, social media for academics, women in science, and the 8th Conference of the Science Journalists | Science, I Choose You!

  40. zinemin says:

    Could it also partially be because it is less enjoyable for women to be at conferences? It is not fun to be in a room with 80% men who engage in the typical male games of trying to dominate each other. As a woman, you are always not taken a bit less seriously in academia, but it gets a lot worse if you are addressing not individual men but an entire group dynamics of men. I am also really tired of the socializing aspect of conferences, which often resemble bachelor’s parties in atmosphere, alcohol level and topics of conversation. I see how men enjoy themselves very much at these conferences, but the majority of women don’t. That being said, I would never decline an invitation for a talk at a conference… but I might if I could afford to.

  41. Isabel says:

    ” If we cannot persuade a grandparent to stay with us to help (his job does not allow him to leave on time to make pickup) then this means no travel, and having to say no to invitations.”

    I feel like I am in some strange universe where people have never heard of calling an agency and hiring an experienced, vetted nanny or babysitter. It’s expensive, but surely affordable to a professor on an occasional basis. Especially affordable to a two-career couple when so much is at stake from a career perspective.

    I have filled this role many times, working independently or through an agency. We know what we are doing. People who don’t want to leave their kids with non-family members have other issues, and now women are being dragged down with this excuse. Give someone else a job, pay fairly so the person doesn’t resent you (and don’t make the same person do your housework), and give your kids the experience of another adult in their lives.

    If you go with a good agency, or your day care’s employees, or the grad student pool, or undergrads in your uni’s early childhood education dept. or whatever, you are by definition getting someone with something special to offer your kids. Having to be there to pick up the kids from school does not qualify as an excuse, you are making women look paranoid and controlling- and yes, irrational.

    • AnnaW says:

      You may say paranoid, controlling and irrational, but I would say caring about the welfare of my children. We have on occasion managed to find someone that we trusted locally to do pickup, but it is not always easy. We live in a country and a city where agencies such as the ones you describe are not widely available, and there is a language barrier between most available carers and my children, which means that they cannot easily describe what is wrong – something that will of course improve as they and we get older and more integrated. And really, I’m dragging women down? As one of the few tenured Associate Professors in the physical sciences in my country of residence, and one of the very few with children? As GMP put it so nicely in response to a comment above, don’t be a douche.

      • Isabel says:

        Okay then, call me names. What a surprise. I gave you many suggestions for finding someone, and no one said it would be easy. If you haven’t been able to find someone consistent maybe you are not paying enough, or offering enough hours.

        So it won’t hurt your career, or if it does it’s your own damn business. I guess that’s that; we will have to just live with fewer female speakers because of the welfare of the children, who apparently in a majority of cases cannot be reliably left with non-family members, at least according to you (and everyone else here it seems).

        • GMP says:

          we will have to just live with fewer female speakers because of the welfare of the children

          After more than a decade of playing the academic game and parenting small children, I think for a lot of women (definitely for me) the question becomes, “Why the ^&#$@^ am I missing the time with my kids (again!) to go to another stupid meeting where I will (again!) be in the 1% of women and will be bored/ignored/disrespected?” Academia is exhausting, particularly so for women in male-dominated fields. Raising kids is exhausting. Traveling adds an additional layer of exhaustion, and, in my increasingly jaded outlook, most travel is total BS — does not inspire me, just makes me really bored seeing everyone’s same crap over and over again, and very irritated.

          My kids are always happy to see me and they are very cute.
          Why exactly would I keep missing out on the time with them so old male farts could look down on me when they are not boring me to tears? These days, I get infinitely more energized by talking with my smart graduate students than by “exposure” at conferences.

          • Isabel says:

            GMP, I do not know how to answer that question- I was only responding to the frequent assertion on this and other threads that the problem is not having relatives to help out or a having a stressed SO or one who can’t handle all the pick-ups because of scheduling conflicts. All these problems can be easily solved by hiring a professional. And being generous and respectful about it; when I was working for agencies I never accepted the complicated jobs requiring drop offs and pickups with unpaid periods in between and low number of total hours. It’s just not worth it. Nor would I take jobs from people who wanted me to do “light housekeeping” while the kids napped. You will not get the top people this way. Instead, let them read or do what ever they want during those times (they are still working guarding your children) or hire a student and allow them to do their homework during downtimes- they will appreciate it. Arrange to have a pizza delivered, and rent a special movie or arrange for the sitter to take them out to a movie.

            It is also a bit over the top to imply, as some have, that a two-career couple, even poorly compensated academics, cannot afford to pay a good rate to someone for a couple of overnights (or long days) 2 or 3 times a year. Another complaint is “my child needs to bond” with someone first – this is not true, and it’s never going to happen with mom hovering around anyway. They will survive, I guarantee it.

            But back to the original question- how do we improve womens’ standing in academia, especially regarding the issue at hand, the lack of female speakers at conferences? First I am told that it is a childcare and stressed household issue but are you saying that even if you had an awesome person like me to alleviate those concerns it would still not be worth it because you would rather hang out with your kids? Is it a vicious circle then? Or are we back to the more central question of “why is this a womens issue.” I assume men would rather be with their families also?

          • Geologist says:


            You appear to be misunderstanding the larger problem when you state that you assume men would rather be with their families also. Although I’m sure this is true in some cases, it is not for the same reasons as many women.

            As GMP and i have said, Working in male dominated fields can be so oppressive that one finally cannot stand it any more, and so chooses to avoid it. Most men do not experience this, so their reasons for choosing to be with their families will be different.

            In order to get more women into these fields, and have them continue to be active and contributing throughout their career, we need to change the entire system so that from the very beginning, the culture is inclusive and supporting. Families and child raising have to be valued in this system because it is such a large part of being human.

            I concur with GMP, when you have to spend nearly all of your waking hours with people who degrade you, ignore you, or ridicule you no matter how successful you have been, at some point you realize that this fight is not worth it, and then you choose to focus your talents, skills, and effort into those who may appreciate you. In GMP’s case and many others, this is your family.

            If going to conferences were as fun for me as I see that they are for many men, then some of the other hurdles would not be so difficult. Additionally, if women had real power and if the culture valued this, then the support systems would be in place for child care at conferences because it would be a given that such things are needed. Just as every conference I attend has information and often some sort of organized housing for attendees, Such would be the case for child care.

            Unfortunately this is not the case in many fields today, and those running the show see no reason to change it, and those of us suffering are too isolated and demoralized to band together to change things. Even when we try we are shot down again and again until we no longer have the will or strength to fight. Thus the vicious circle continues.

            The solution is to change the culture. Doing so would increase the number of women who choose these fields, and would increase participation throughout their career.

          • Conference organizer says:

            Sorry GMP but you are now shifting the argument into a different topic (mistreatment in conferences) after being caught in the inane statement of not being able to find good help, which is Isabel properly points out, it’s a lame excuse.

            If you don’t want to go to conferences because you are not treated properly that’s fine, but stop making a laundry list of excuses such as “hubby can’t cope”, “we want to parent perfect” and “nannies are made of unobtainium”.

            Isabel is being a good mentor by calling out people using this lame excuse and saying “common people you can do better”.

          • GMP says:

            Oh, so a woman is allowed to have only a singular reason for not wanting to go to conferences, otherwise what she says is to be dismissed altogether? How shocking…

            It can’t possibly be that all these hold at the same time: (1) it’s hard to find good help whom you trust; whoever thinks it’s easy to leave your kid with someone you don’t know obviously doesn’t have kids, and no it does not make you an overbearing lunatic; (2) it’s stressful on the spouse who stays alone, especially if there are multiple kids, and (3) instead of getting intellectually stimulated and energized, once you get to the conference you don’t have fun but get put down, ignored, and bored.

            All three together (or is that too complicated to fathom?) eventually amount to conference travel being a poor use of the energy and time of many women. Nobody should be surprised that no, many women who have achieved career stability will in fact not bend over backwards to come and give an invited talk at a conference just because a conference organizer decided to see the light and heroically invited a few women.

          • Conference organizer says:

            whoever thinks it’s easy to leave your kid with someone you don’t know obviously doesn’t have kids, and no it does not make you an overbearing lunatic;

            Around here is called “camp”. Moreover people do it all the time and it all goes A-ok. You have managed to convince yourself that this is something that cannot be done in spite of evidence from reality to the contrary.

            it’s stressful on the spouse who stays alone, especially if there are multiple kids,

            Oh wow. A good reason to sacrifice your career then.

      • Conference organizer says:

        So you are saying that the only way to care properly for your children is to never leave them in the care of a qualified nanny? Doesn’t that sound a wee bit paranoid to you?

        • AnnaW says:

          I’m definitely not saying that – I leave my kids with qualified professionals at daycare every day! But we’ve had problems finding evening cover that meets the same standards locally, for reasons that I’ve already mentioned above.

    • AnnaW says:

      I responded to that last post hastily, because the tone riled me, but there is another serious point in here that it’s worth mentioning. You say that travel is important “when so much is at stake from a career perspective”. I guess the key thing for me is *what* is at stake. I waited until after I had tenure to have kids, and it is only at that point that I started to turn down invitations, so my continued existence as an academic researcher is not at stake. What is at stake is my long-term mobility further up the chain: to make Full Professor in my current location you seem to need an ERC Advanced or equivalent. To have a shot at that I likely need a Consolidator, which in turn seems to require lots of travel when my kids are very little. By saying no now, I suspect that I am closing off that option, which is a shame – but it’s my choice and I am aware of the consequences. If I had had children whilst still on the tenure track I probably would have made different choices, since at that point my entire job would have been at stake. It seems that several of the other posters are also in the position of turning down invitations after tenure. I wonder whether they also find it harder to justify non-ideal family choices once their entire job is not on the line?

      • Conference organizer says:

        You are misunderstanding the qualifier. Isabel is not saying that in every trip “so much is at stake” but that in those trips “when so much is at stake” you should hire a nanny. I’m sure you can figure out what is at stake in being the opening speaker in the main conference in the field and the signal it sends to granting agencies, prospective grad students and promotion committees.

  42. Token man says:

    Maybe child care is not the critical issue keeping women from conferences as there are many solutions (partner, friends, family, nannies, conference facilities), and maybe childless women also decline invitations at a similar frequency. The plaint coming through the loudest is either being fed up of being the token woman or blatent misogyny, which is sad to hear and something that I was unaware of (my wife hasn’t complained of this at cancer conferences). Do other women concur?

  43. Isabel says:

    “(1) it’s hard to find good help whom you trust; whoever thinks it’s easy to leave your kid with someone you don’t know obviously doesn’t have kids, and no it does not make you an overbearing lunatic; (2) it’s stressful on the spouse who stays alone, especially if there are multiple kids, and (3) instead of getting intellectually stimulated and energized, once you get to the conference you don’t have fun but get put down, ignored, and bored. ”

    The demonization of nannies and other employed non-family childcare providers by the MSM is itself a feminist issue as is the converse worship of mothers as always knowing best and always being the best caregiver at all times for a child. This is too much pressure to put on any one person (the mother) and it is oppressive for the mostly female childcare workers to always be under a cloud of suspicion they clearly do not deserve.

    As rational scientists we have to face the fact that there is no evidence that children are less safe with an experienced outside caregiver or that they will be emotionally damaged by the experience. And in some cases a caring outsider will understand your kid better than you. For example, a person with long experience with many kids may have some solutions at hand that you never thought of. An easy-going, sensitive caregiver may bring out aspects of a sensitive, creative child that are overlooked by her extroverted, domineering parents, etc. Someone fresh on the scene may be more patient with the kids or have more energy.

    GMP, you are right, I don’t have children though I did help raise younger siblings. But I have worked with many dozens of families over the years and I am an observant person. I’ve been the first ever babysitter numerous times. I ran my own day care for toddlers (my favorite age to work with) and worked as a nursery school teacher. My opinions count here. Most of my fellow nannies and nursery teachers are fun, caring people who love their little charges. Do you think it was a coincidence that the teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary were killed in the act of shielding the children in their care? That they are unusual cases, heroes? No, this is normal behavior for anyone who cares for young children, and you ARE being paranoid and disrespectful by implying otherwise. Yes, it is irrational and yes, this makes us all look bad. Sure there are bad people out there who might harm your kid, but they often are those same, revered family members. Or someone else’s family members (eg your kids friends parents) or the school principal, scout leaders, and worst of all (statistically), step fathers. Statistics show nannies are no more likely to be abusive than the natural mother.

    I agree with the others that this is an excuse, and not the real problem. So let’s look at the real problem rather than scapegoating another group of working women.

  44. Conference organizer says:

    You can read all about GMP’s views on kids on her blog (April 2013). Some people called her on her irrational fears, but it quickly devolved into a Kumbaya circle and a collective putdown of caregivers.

    GMP is set on her ways, and clearly nothing rational said here will reach her. I’ve gone this far in here in the hope that other people who are listening and might be nervous about child-care arrangements (as we all parents are at times) will let their rational better selves drive this decision and listen to both pros and cons of undertaking the trip (do I get exposure on this trip? is it really worth the hassle? is it a major leap in my career? etc.)

    Lastly, as an occasional conference organizer I will readily make accommodations for family concerns (coincidentally I just did two weeks ago, shifting an invited speaker at her request so she could spend the weekend with her family). On the other hand expecting the world to change the way it invites speakers to address your child-rearing paranoia is perhaps more than one should realistically hope for.

  45. GMP says:

    as an occasional conference organizer I will readily make accommodations for family concerns (coincidentally I just did two weeks ago, shifting an invited speaker at her request so she could spend the weekend with her family)

    Ahahaha! Why didn’t you say so? A dudely dude just wants us to tell him how awesome and virtuous and enlightened he is! Yes, yes, you are! Congratulations! Thank you in the name of all women invited speakers out there! You understand — apparently even better than we do! — what it is that ails us and how to fix it! It’s all our paranoia, irrationality, and foremost unwillingness to take your sage advice! Oh, how uncommon your attitude is among men we encounter daily… So uncommon, there is even a word for it…
    Here’s your cookie.

  46. Conference organizer says:

    Ahahaha! Why didn’t you say so?

    I fully expected a childish reaction like that from you.

    I also find it quite interesting that (1) you assume I’m a male (I guess you do not think women are capable of organizing conferences) and (2) you decide that this would the basis of me AND Isabel (which sounds like a woman to me) calling you on your irrational fears.

    Then instead of engaging my (and Isabel’s) arguments you choose to engage my presumed gender. That is the textbook definition of sexism, in case you haven’t noticed.

    You also did not hesitate to stoop down to calling anyone who didn’t share your irrational fears childless, which has its very unique whiff of sexism.

    I’m signing out of this discussion. You’ve said more than I ever could against your own position with your last few messages.

  47. Isabel says:

    Sorry GMP, I agree with conference organizer- you have lost any standing here to pull out the feminism card. I don’t think you are being honest with yourself even. Don’t blame me and my co-workers for your stressful situation. I am not going to stand for it anymore. You see us as a dangerous lot and spread the fear, even though it is misogynistic in origin and intent. Yes, I appreciate CO’s support, as the “feminist” response to my point of view here has been underwhelming to say the least. But I also hope, along with CO, others reading will be encouraged to form partnerships with childcare providers to everyone’s benefit- theirs, their families, and women scientists of the future. 🙂

  48. GMP says:

    Isabel, think what you will, i have no intention of engaging with you. All my kids have gone to daycare from an early age. I don’t demonize child care providers, but you are free to think whatever you like.

    Conference Organizer, the condescension that oozes from every single one of your many comments to the women who shared their complaints here makes it really, really hard to believe that you are not just another mansplaining dude. Other than that, you already got the cookie.

  49. GMP says:

    Athene, my apologies for the recent developments in this thread.

  50. Isabel says:

    “Isabel, think what you will, i have no intention of engaging with you. All my kids have gone to daycare from an early age. I don’t demonize child care providers, but you are free to think whatever you like.”

    You have said repeatedly that it’s hard to find trustworthy help, you don’t want to leave your kids with a stranger, etc. But you leave them at daycare with no problem? What is the difference?

    Be a douche and ignore my comments. Why should a feminist engage a childcare provider offended by all this fear-mongering?

    The fact remains that your distrust is not based on reality. Maybe you don’t want any other women to have a one-to-one relationship with your kid. Maybe this is threatening to you. maybe you don’t want another female in your household…I suggest therapy to get to the bottom of your aggression toward nannies and babysitters such that you blame the stress of your life on their supposed lack of trustworthiness, a problem that exists only in your imagination. And we are all supposed to just bow down to this offensive view, because Motherhood is supreme and shall never be questioned.

    • Conference organizer says:

      GMP has shown the most sexism in this thread. It started with her assertion that her husband cannot possibly take care of the kids. Then she tries to identify her paranoia with the rest of the people (both men and women here) who gave various different reasons why not to go to conferences and makes them all into women, because of course only females could have child rearing issues. For example, one of my replies was to davempyle, which is a man confronting the same issues, but in GMP sexist world only women rear children. Finally she utters the assumption that whoever doesn’t close rank with her must be a male mansplaining things, which as a reply addresses my genitals not my arguments in a way that would make the typical misogynist professor proud.

      Lastly after dragging this discussion through the mud rather than engaging the arguments she issues an “apology” to Athena, looking for her pat in the back and cookie from the blog owner.

  51. Isabel says:

    And what are you apologizing for? We have moved past scapegoating and we are getting to the root of the problem.

  52. Observer says:

    I wanted to say that I’m horrified at the tone of the comments directed at GMP, who seems to me to have made reasonable points throughout. I say that as someone with multiple relationships with trusted and much-loved childcare providers, from nursery nurses to grad students (we don’t have family nearby to help out). It’s like Downton Abbey around my house. But, for me, it would be a step too far to ask any one of those people to stay overnight (and that would be true even if one of my kids didn’t have severe asthma requiring occasional midnight trips to the emergency doctor…). And even with all the extra help, it is still pretty demanding, logistically speaking, to be the parent left behind during conferences – which is what I took GMP to be saying initially.

    • Isabel says:

      Yes, us nannies should watch our tone.

      “depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants”

      had to look it up- yes, that’s an appropriate and respectful analogy. You see childcare workers as servants?

      “it would be a step too far to ask any one of those people to stay overnight”

      Another strange, unexplained remark. A step too far?? Why??

      “(and that would be true even if one of my kids didn’t have severe asthma requiring occasional midnight trips to the emergency doctor…”

      This is a very appropriate reason to have someone stay over in case the parent who stays behind needs to take this child to the ER. Are you saying that it’s even more “a step too far” because of this child? That doesn’t make sense, but maybe I am misunderstanding.

      GMP hasn’t explained why she does not trust child care providers, yet she uses this as an excuse while she also admits it is not the real reason- she hates going to the conferences. So why keep casting aspersions on this particular class of workers? Especially when children are more at risk with a stressed out father. As far as I know she has no child care at all at home. Why not someone to help out her spouse at least? If he is home also it can’t be a matter of trust. She will never explain it, it’s something only a mother understands…when pressed we are back to how unpleasant the conferences are.

      I have tried to offer suggestions, and I would be happy to provide more for easing parents worries but it’s hard to work with people who stubbornly repeat all these vague fears and who appear to resist real solutions.

  53. Isabel says:

    A few suggestions from above I will elaborate on that should alleviate most or all concerns about hiring a nanny/babysitter in your home:

    Get the best person available. They will be the most expensive of course. But it’s your kids! Better to have the top person come in for two days of the four day trip than a less experienced or more desperate candidate for four days.

    Don’t worry so much about us keeping your kids safe and remembering your kids allergies etc. Again, this is what we do. After a few days, or few visits it will become second nature and you will be able to relax. Don’t micro manage. It’s really not necessary. Your kids will survive and grow from a slightly different management style. DO NOT undermine the nanny and interfere in front of the children. She will resent you for it. If it’s something major that needs interfering, like the nanny is yelling at the kids or something weird, fire her on the spot, don’t ever keep someone with actual issues around and try to work it out. But when you have a good person, who is generally on the same page as you, back off and let her do her job.

    Don’t I repeat DON’T complain that your nanny is just sitting around when the kids are sleeping and expect her to pick up the slack in your housekeeping during those times. Why would you insult someone who is doing such an important job? All clean up related to the kids and meals served to the kids falls to the babysitter/nanny of course. For longer days running and emptying the dish washer and doing a load or two of kids clothes per day, but that’s it.

    We are not talking about a servant here- we are talking about the person who, for however a limited time, is *replacing you*! Doing the most important job in the world, caring for your kids. If you approach things respectfully and generously, you will have no problems, the stress of your busy lives should ease, and your children’s lives will be enriched in the process.

  54. GMP gives an extended commentary on her position regarding invitations and travel – including the issue that was raised about nannies – over on her own blog at Academic Jungle: Saying No to Invited talks

  55. socsci_prof says:

    Stumbled across this thread a bit late, but I thought I’d offer some data from my own institution, an elite private R1 in the US, that are relevant to the original question. The data are from a faculty work life survey of tenure-track or tenured faculty. 65% response rate (62% of men, 74% of women — a nearly universal gender difference in survey response, incidentally), final n=962.

    – 86% of men were married/partnered, compared to 73% of women. This doesn’t adjust for the fact that the female respondents are, on average, younger than the male respondents.
    – 74% of men were parents, compared to 53% of women (again, not conditioning on life stage)

    Among married/partnered faculty:
    – 25% of women lived separately from their spouse/partner or commuted more than 50 miles to be with their s/p, compared to 10% of men
    – 34% of men had a s/p who does not work for pay, compared to 10% of women
    – 34% of women had s/p on the tenure-track, compared to 12% of men.

    The upshot, then, is that women are more likely to be single and childless (this is common across the professoriate, not just at elite R1s), but when they are partnered, they are much more likely to be in a dual-professorial or a commuting household. Other data sources show that women faculty who aren’t married to other professors are much more likely than men to be married to other professionals — doctors, lawyers, etc. Women faculty — single or otherwise — are also much more likely than men to have elder care responsibilities, a growing issue as the Boomers age.

    My point is not that family demography is everything. It’s very possible that women are more likely to turn down invites because they receive more of them by well-meaning organizers, they are (on average) at less well-resourced institutions and have more financial constraints, they are more likely to have had negative experiences at these events, or they are more likely to suffer from the imposter syndrome. But differences in the family situation of the male vs. female professoriate are surely at least part of the answer.

    (In some college towns, it’s virtually impossible to find a qualified, occasional overnight caregiver. Econ 101 notwithstanding, labor markets don’t work like djinns’ lamps, and just because there’s demand for a service doesn’t mean there is a provider of it.)

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