Recently, we (that is Page and Christina) successfully launched the Parisian installation of R-Ladies Global. It’s a meetup group and at the same time a non-profit coding club for all R proficiency levels, whether you’re a new or aspiring R user, or an experienced R programmer interested in mentoring, networking, and maybe picking up some new skills. We are a community designed to encourage, support and ultimately drive the development of our own R skills through a range of events, including meetups where members tackle hands-on tutorials and exercises to learn specific functionalities, informal gatherings, talks about latest trends, and debates. Our goal is to promote access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers and tools for women (trans and cis) and gender-variant people. Men are welcome, too, by the way. We just need a member to bring them to the next meetup. In other words, we try to be a harassment-free zone. Sadly, that’s easier to do when men are screened beforehand.
I started thinking about writing this blog entry when I first read about the speakyourstory initiative in this insightful Nature column a few months ago. This initiative raises awareness of microagression in the form of subtle sexism in the world of research. Subtle sexism is often less obvious both to its initiators and recipients than overt sexism, but can nevertheless be quite harmful – or I should say could be harmful, since we know amazingly little about its real effects. Microagressive comments are, of course, not restricted to sexism, but to an abundance of topics people can be – often unintentionally – biased about (read more here or here).
That women in science and in the professional world in general are subject to gender biases with real consequences (lower pay, less career opportunities) goes without saying. In this context, I find it important to be aware of how easy it is to be biased myself. Not in order to justify, but to better understand. I have recently made two experiences with my own and fellow female researchers’ biases, in situations where I somewhat slipped into a man’s skin.
Once upon a time, I was a wee master student in Cognitive Neuroscience. I took all my courses very seriously; and one course discussed a different paper every other week and required us to write what they called, without little other instruction, a “critical note”.