Thursday, December 13, 2012

changing the game with flextime

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon two opinions regarding gender equity and the workplace.

President Obama, in a joint interview with Michelle Obama, told LHJ that he suspected that more women don't run for office because they are either uncomfortable with the idea, or lack the option to, be away from their children that long. (I argue that these are not mutually exclusive.  An unsupportive spouse, or the rigid and overtime-exempt work schedule of an otherwise empathetic spouse, could easily be a source of that discomfort). Being the child of a single mom, 'taught [him] that there wasn't anything women couldn't do--but also that the game was a little rigged.  Its tougher for women.'

The following day, a linkedin article popped into my mailbox:  "In Big Idea 2013: Flexibility without Shame", Sallie Krawcheck discussed the problem as it pertained to women in general, and to moms. She never stated that the solution would be, or should be, limited to only moms.  It's too bad that she didn't explicity say that policies should be open, however, because getting buy-in from others that could benefit at work (and on the homefront) is important to encourage businesses (and spouses) to offer (or ask for) such polices and build employee loyalty by encouraging work-life-community balance for every employee.

If only mommies can shift their schedules to drop off packages at the post office or to get kiddos or grandpa to a doctor's appointment, then there is no impetutus for the other parent (or sibling) to help lessen those burdens (and build those relationships).  Many workers (dads, and the childless, too) might like to restructure their workweek, to shorten their commutes by timing them during less busy periods or to bundle conference calls and number crunching so they can be done at home and simply reduce the number of trips to the office.  Both methods can save precious time, reduce wear and tear on aging vehicles and roadways, and reduce CO2 emissions--all laudable goals in their own rights.   If those vehicles happen to be employer owned, or subject to billable mileage, its even more business friendly.  If that intelligent use of business time also allows someone to toss in a load of laundry or start dinner for their families, well, then, the playing field gets leveled a little, and whole families can enjoy that.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Negotiating Dual Careers

83% of women scientists and 54% of men scientists are partnered with other scientists link.  Those figures didn't look at other academic or professional partners, so a huge number of current and potential faculty are up against the "two-body problem."   

SU Wise invited SU and ESF doctoral students (women AND men), and other students and faculty who are now, or may be in relationship where both will have professional careers, to join their panelists for a conversation about:
-Can we both be equally successful?
-Who moves for whose career?
-Living apart?
- How/when do you ask about institutional dual career hiring practices?
-What do you negotiate for once position is offered? What are effective strategies?

The two most novel parts of this discussion:  that so many men attended!  And that SU now has a Dual Career counselor (via SU ADVANCE) that meets confidentially with every interviewee, at the time of their on campus interview,  to discuss what options might be available for a partner.  By bypassing the search committee in this discussion, they have a chance to look at other openings that might be a good match for the partner, so that when an offer is made, this office can provide better advice.  This service came to be after the realization that they were losing great candidates because they were unable to even make suggestions before the candidate found a workable solution somewhere else. 

All three couples agreed that SU's developing model would have been better than the situations they encountered.  They wondered:  where in the process do we mention the partner?  For one, early disclosure seemed the right way to go, for another, they noted that they'd received 4 workable offers, but only one from an institution where they had disclosed (there happened to be advertised positions in each of their fields, so they had each been fully vetted along with all the other applicants).  The panelists also discussed the value of applying lots of places, so that when an offer was received, they could say "my partner is also on the market, and received offers at x,y,z."  This was especially important if the department partner hoped to join hadn't been searching, so had no means to compare partner to other candidates.  Knowing that partner fared well when other institutions had made that comparison helped their cases.  There was also the impression that private institutions were "more nimble" in their ability to arrange a dual hire.

All three of these couples had made the decision not to live apart if it was at all possible, so dual residences and what to do if there are already children in the mix may be addressed at future panels.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

May Goldie build, happily ever after

I just found the gift that I wish I could send back in time to my tween self.  Although legos are inherently gender neutral spatial development toys (prior to the special sets with space and dinosaur warriors that my son now covets), in the 70s,  they remained solidly in the "boy" aisle of the toy store.  Maybe boys used them to embrace their inner weapon designer?  Anyway, although she is nearly a generation younger, the creative force behind GoldieBlox suffered the same absence of spatial acuity toys. She never considered engineering as a field for herself until a high school calculus teacher suggested it to her--I'm glad she had that teacher, rather than Mr. "girls don't do math" at my school!   She has now applied her engineering and product design background to observe how girls play, and develop a 'toy' that combines the reading that girls love with a spatial design toolbox that allows them to explore and build solutions along with the heroine.   Reminds me of those choose-your-own-adventure books that I adored, but with a really great twist.

Debbie Sterling built only one set.  She showcased it in a promotional video to gain support on Kickstarter.  Support has been so strong that she had the startup capital she needed in only two weeks.  Goldiblox are now in their "production run" and are taking pre-orders with an anticipated delivery date of this spring.

Lily O'Donnell of policymic suggests that this toy might help close the gender pay gap, by bringing more women into such a male dominated and high paying field.  Maybe--for the women that head into this field, who also have supportive husbands and partners on their homefronts.  I'm really excited by the prospect that this toy can help many girls see engineering as way they can solve the problems that are important to them, and to make things better for other girls around the world.  What could a fleet of feminine embracing engineers bring to the table?  Maybe instead of bigger and stronger weapons, and bigger and stronger humvees, they'll find a way to stretch resources whose shortages led to political tension in the first place.

Is this the right place to ponder that maybe if Lego had included pastel bricks with their primary cousins in the first place (rather than making separate and inferior pink and lavender sets so many years after the fact), that the parents of girls might have been receptive to them all along?  Was the risk really too great that boys wouldn't have been able to see past the pastels?  Maybe, now that preschool boys are secure enough in their masculinity to assemble pink bunny machine guns (I witnessed this firsthand in my child's daycare), that worry is moot.


Friday, November 9, 2012

economies of life

David Frum, CNN recently pondered the idea that you don't reduce the number of women seeking abortions by banning them, but rather making them accessible BUT improving economic conditions for unexpected moms so that they can consider that maybe they can provide a good life for their little surprises.   His discussion begins with the financial toll of carrying to term (and to college graduation) children conceived in rape.   He describes the correlation between better care and economic conditions in other nations with their low abortion rates.  Its a well argued position, and at the time I initially viewed the piece, the respondents were surprisingly well mannered in their contributions as well.

He could have continued:  Better economic conditions could also lead to better pre- and post -natal care for both planned and serendipitous children.  Such care should be associated with reduced need for sick days, so isn't a system that encourages either or both more business friendly?    Family planning and childcare are societal concerns, not just women's issues.  And policies that support work-life balance should support all workers, not just parents, and certainly not just Moms.  Requiring salaried workers to burn both ends of their candles in perpetuity can't really be good for the bottom line.  Everyone should be able to help Dad get to the doctor, pick up groceries for a recuperating neighbor, weed the community garden, contribute time to the local firehouse or ambulance crew, or just enjoy a few minutes of rare sunny Syracuse weather.  Better mental health supports better physical health--again fewer sick days.  And perhaps higher worker satisfaction and energy levels--so when you do have a legitimate emergency, they do have some reserves to draw upon.  Higher employee satisfaction leads to less turnover, lower training costs, no lost productivity while you try to fill a position and bring up to speed.  


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cowgirls vs the G-men

I don't follow football.  At all.  Nope, not even a teensy, little bit.  But even I can easily tell that this Facebook poster (ca Oct 2012) 
counting down the hrs till the game 4 the Cowgirls and the G-Men
prefers that the NY Giants win over the Dallas Cowboys in their fourth match-up this season.  I figured it out even prior to reading:
My response
Really? must you insult girls this way?
was not intended (as might be interpreted, with a hearty guffaw) to say that Dallas really is awful, a bunch of pansies or sissies  (Remember, I don't follow football, so cannot assess anything about their teamwork or prospects.)  I was questioning why being a girl (or a sissy, which many children may endearingly call older siblings, before they can fully articulate her name or the word 'sister') is an insult.  Research has shown that girls do well, even better than their male classmates, in math and science--until they realize that girls aren't 'supposed to be good at math and science.'  Girls have taken the opportunities granted by Title IX to show they can be smart, funny, strong, creative, athletic. Separately, boys can be sweet, nurturing, kind, articulate.  And every child can whine or cry -- regardless of gender (or sexual orientation).

In my college field experience (ca 1990) the biggest insults were:  take the skirt off.  got your panties in a bunch? Accusations of PMS.  These were all uttered by hulking behemoths at other men, by the way, not to the handful of women that generally slogged on with 'our big girl panties' beneath our jeans and flannel.   I ascertained, therefore, that then, just as now, that the emasculating slights implied that being a girl is demeaning, less than, inferior.   Some might say: you are taking this out of context. Its not offensive to call a girl a girl, just to do so to a manly man.  You are taking it too personally.  Pardon me--you said that its not ok to be a girl.  Man up, buddy--how can that possibly not be personal? 


Friday, October 12, 2012

De-escalating conflict

Catherine Gerard, Director of the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC), Maxwell School of Syracuse University, offered a mini-workshop on Managing Conflict and Communication to the faculty and staff involved in SU WiSE/AVANCE.  We cannot control the other person, so she gives advice to help you remain civil (so you don't become the difficult person!) and ensure the other person feels heard, so that a dialogue is possible.  Much of this is accomplished through "Reflective Listening", Query, Assertion, and Anchoring.  These techniques do rely on you being the bigger person, so if you are not willing to assume that role, a different workshop is in order.

Many in the session were concerned with the wording of  "I feel [unappreciated, put upon, even farther behind schedule, etc]....when...."  relaying concern that while it is more approachable language, it also puts you in too vulnerable a position by admitting something so human (feminine?) as emotions (which have no place in science or the workplace, after all).  Plus, it kinda feels like pandering.  Doesn't "I am..." get to that same point?  She and a clinician participant disagreed--note how "kinda feels" qualifies the pandering comment as an interpretation or an assumption, not as fact, so its less accusing or threatening.  They also noted that 1) it takes practice to use this phrasing comfortably and 2) if we truly know it would distract from the point with that particular conflict monger, adapt the wording accordingly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hiring biases, seminar plug

It was suggested a few years back that a way to encourage diversity among the faculty and staff ranks was to provide campus-wide 'diversity training', starting with those that serve on search committees.  'Of course the students need it, but its not necessary for the employees.'  'The problem's been solved.' 'Pshaw-Surely an institution of higher learning is free of those pesky biases that affect lessor institutions!'   'We hire the best (based on what?)'

A recent double-blind study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences   and summarized in Science indicates that those suggesting this training really were on to something.  Despite identical, save the gender of the applicant, resumes, the women applying for lab manager position were viewed as less competent and worth less mentoring and lower starting salaries if they were offered positions.  (Addendum 2014:  Similarly,women and people of color with impeccably written letters of introduction and interest were systematically less likely to get responses from the prospective major professors than were white men, and less likely to get positive responses from those that did reply.

The implications of less mentoring is access to fewer resources. Lower starting salaries translate to lower lifetime earnings (every subsequent raise is based on that initial salary), long before accounting for any gaps due to childrearing or eldercare, which still tend to be born primarily by women.   They are also more likely to be impacted by the second shift and face obstacles as a trailing a spouse


If you would like to receive and share similar links and announcements of upcoming local events and online opportunities, subscribe to the esfwomen listserv (email with a blank subject line and a message of subscribe esfwomen firstname lastname).  We are also starting to post these resources (links only to avoid copyright infringement), as well as speaker and program summaries in this blog.


If you would like to discuss the body of literature one hour a week next semester (Tues, 3:30-4:30)--please consider joining or suggesting your students enroll in the 1 credit seminar 'FOR 496/797 ENVRN CAREER STRATEGIES/WOMEN #43773. The current iteration offered by Diane Kuehn, has the bones of the original seminar (WiSE Professions) developed by Robin Hoffman, Therese Donovan and Ruth Yanai in 1999, but continues to grow with the input of other faculty (Janine DeBaise, Sharon Moran) and with the written and verbal evaluations provided by each class.    The class and listserv are not just for women, but are 'safe spaces' for women to discuss issues and career development strategies.  For more information:

Heather Engelman
Coordinator, Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series & Take our Kids to Work Day
Research Analyst, Forest Ecology Laboratory, Forest and Natural Resources Management
B9 Marshall Hall (Mailing:  105 Marshall Hall)
1 Forestry Dr.
Syracuse, NY 13210

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The princess in me

Disney's idea of a princess usually disappoints, as they so often require the prince to save or complete them.  Yes, yes, I know that their films are entertainment, but when the only characters that are female also happen to be simpering and weak and shallow and naive and so, well, very cartoonish.... and there are few better alternatives (thank you, Sesame Street!), I can't help but wish they'd use their market share to battle, rather than perpetuate, stereotypes.  But this is an affirmation of value and strength--of real girls, of every color and ability.  Their clips far outnumber and outshine those of storybook characters interspersed among them.  Now, if they can just bring this to their characters (and have more girl characters all around.)


Friday, October 5, 2012

A community of women, and some sweets for the cause

The Women of the University Community is celebrating 85 years on the University Hill!  Read its 'herstory' at and plan to attend next week's annual meet and greet "Fall Gathering," Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 5-7 p.m. at the home of longtime member Judy Cavanagh, 1350 Westmoreland Ave. Please RSVP to Tina Casella at 315-622-4138 or FB

Also note that in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and "Baking for Breast Cancer", a number of CNY restaurants are featuring a special dessert, the proceeds of which will benefit Positively Pink Packages, a local nonprofit organization that provides free care packages and vital resources to newly-diagnosed breast-cancer patients. 

Friday, September 28, 2012


I can't believe it took a year and a half for this to make it around to my facebook newsfeed.

For more info

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Title IX Olympics?

Title IX, which promotes gender equity in sports and other programs, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.  Is it a coincidence that in the same year, every national Olympic committee sent women to the Olympic Games.  And women have done well, with US, Chinese and Russian women winning more gold and more medals than their powerhouse male teammates.    Will this be the legacy of the 2012 games?  Or the twitterverse commentary blasting All-Around gold medal gymnast's Gabby Douglas's hair (praytell, how do the haters manage their sweaty locks?) and admonishing British Clean and jerk weightlifting recordholder Zoe Smith for looking like a "bloke."

Zoe's responds that  "We actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble."  Complete text

I'd bet a whole lot of smart women--scientists, engineers, and environmental professionals among them--feel the same way, although they might have ended that sentence with "minded." 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Local history: In Syracuse, it was one small change for infants, one large step toward equality

When I clicked on this story, I assumed it would be about today's Great Cloth Diaper Change, an  attempt to break the world record for simultaneous cloth diaper changes.  However, it addressed access to changing table; the first suit addressing the lack of facilities for fathers (and the assumption that only moms did this particular familial duty) was in 1985, about our very own Syracuse Hancock Airport.  Read on.
Published in the Post-Standard, April 21, 2012
 By Karen DeCrow, Contributing writer
Syracuse was ahead of the game!
In Miami, Fla., 165 diaper changing stations are being built in men’s rooms and common areas of city properties. A story by Charles Rabin in The Miami Herald reported city commissioners voted in February to spend $45,000 to install baby diaper-changing stations in men’s rooms across the city, “after an hour of heated argument between the measure’s sponsor and the disgruntled police union president.”
The model: a Syracuse lawsuit filed in federal court, establishing that changing diapers is no longer women’s work (Northern District of New York).
My client, the Fathers’ Rights Association of New York State, brought the Syracuse Department of Aviation to U.S. District Court in July 1985. In September 1986, thanks to a decision by the late Judge Howard Munson, there was a celebration of the opening of a gender-free fathers’ and mothers’  nursery, with a ribbon cutting and the changing of two infants by their fathers; one the son of the assistant corporation counsel, the other the son of the president of the fathers’ rights group.
Our lawsuit addressed: sex discrimination against men who were denied equal facilities; sex discrimination against women, who were assumed to have the total responsibility for children while traveling; and the rights of children to be cared for by both parents.


Karen DeCrow, an attorney and author from Jamesville, NY, is in the National Women's Hall of Fame and writes an occasional column in The Post-Standard.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dr. Lillian Na’ai Alessa Speaks on Water, Technology, and Sustainability

As part of the course requirements for FOR797, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Emily Handelman, Dana Burke, and Elysa Smigielski.
Dr. Alessa brought humans to the forefront in her discussion on water and technology on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, where she not only brought powerful ideas on sustainability but also enthusiasm and dry wit that kept the audience engaged and enlightened.
            Dr. Alessa works within the framework of Social Ecological Systems, a concept noting that humans exist within a biophysical environment. Humans, she said, are the drivers of land use change and have kept sustainability in an ivory tower, but also possess the power to work with and adapt to the changing environment. Her talk centered around the concept of adaptation and its use in addressing the problem of climate change.  In particular, she framed her discussion around the use of place based knowledge, the use of humans as environmental sensors, and the use of technology as a tool, rather than the means to an end.   Technology, she said, cannot be engineered to apply everywhere.  Thus, by relying on our human sensors – our expert observers and note-takers of places in which they live – researchers and scientists can better use this place based knowledge in developing solutions and policies.  
Alessa’s talk concluded with a discussion of some of the tools she and her team have developed in order to document and analyze placed based knowledge. In particular, she explained a software program called Architecture for Integrated and Dynamic Data Analysis (AIDA) that collects social data information in order to map social values across the landscape. She noted that AIDA is in essence a social networking tool for information.
Dr. Lilian Na’ia Alessa is the Director of the Resilience and Adaptive Management Group at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Dr. Alessa received her B.S. in general biology and her Ph.D. in cell biology from the University of British Columbia. She has also served on the board of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. This talk was a joint presentation of  SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series and the Cross-Disciplinary Seminar in Hydrology and Biogeochemical Processes.   The seminar was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, the Graduate Student Association, and the ESF Women’s Caucus.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Garland and Alestalo: Transforming Workplace Culture

As part of the requirements for FOR496/797, students share responsibility of reporting the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series. This was prepared by Brianna Reed
                Dr. Marie Garland, Executive Director for the NSF-ADVANCE initiative and Ms. Sharon W. Alestalo, Program Manager for SU ADVANCE and WISE, presented their experience on Advance: Transforming Workplace Culture at ESF on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 as part of SUNY-ESF’s Women in the Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series.
                Dr. Garland discussed recent headlines from news articles that focused on the need for more women to enter careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.  There are many theories as to why women have not gained gender equality in the STEM fields such as institutional barriers and common stereotypes.  She used graphs to show the fact that women consistently choose not to develop careers in engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, although these amounts have been gradually increasing.
                Sharon Alestalo discussed the NSF-ADVANCE program that went into effect one year ago at Syracuse University.  This a program funded to ensure women have a greater presence in STEM fields in the university.  She presented the current statistics of the lack of women faculty in departments such as physics and mathematics and showed that our values are low in comparison to national figures.  Alestalo discussed the four main parts of the plan: Recruitment, Connect, Extend and Transform.  Within these tactics, women will be connected with mentors, have access to workshops and the males in each department will also be engaged in the discussions and programs.
                Alestalo and Garland defined the success of the NSF-ADVANCE program to be flexible and dependent on each department.  An external evaluator has been asked to oversee the progress of the program.  Both Alestalo and Garland are excited to be a part of the program and have high expectations that it will result in a large achievement for the university culture. 
Dr. Garland received her education at the University of New Hampshire and Ohio State University.  She has previously been a professor at Ithaca College and was the Director of Faculty and Staff Diversity at Cornell University.  Sharon Alestalo received her education at Chapman College and University of Albany.  She has been the Executive Director at Girls Incorporated of CNY, Director of Student Enrollment at OCC, Program manager of the federal Health and Human Services Project at SU.