Gender neutrality and pronouns


Transgender symbol Image Credit: ParaDox (Creative Commons)

As a writer, I have been thinking about preferred gender pronouns (PGPs) and the best way to reference an individual within an article without using a name every time. PGPs are third-person singular pronouns like he/she, which assume the subject’s gender. Should I always pick gender-neutral pronouns? Or maybe I should ask an interviewee what pronoun they prefer as part of the standard interview process?

Several recent experiences have opened my eyes to this issue. When I watched the video of Lana Wachowski (world-renowned movie director) speaking at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign awards, I was intensely saddened by the emotional (and often physical) trauma that transgender people face every day. Wachowski described the pain of growing up transgender and the need to seclude from the world but became visible to serve as a role model for the transgender community.

Last spring, I attended a local high school Gay-Straight Alliance community event, and we had the option of putting our PGP on the name tag. It was both enlightening and fun to see the students’ choices and think about my own personal preference. I realized that I am pronoun adverse, which also makes sense from the perspective of supporting women and diversity in the sciences. We are fighting for policies that limit gender bias (e.g., blind peer reviews), so removing gender-specific pronouns is a logical step in that direction to provide equal opportunities for every man, woman and transgender person.

I would love to know what others think about this issue. Do you have a standard PGP or another way to avoid gender references in speech and writing?


Beyond the Bench: Taking Your Career to the Next Level

Oct14-CoverStory_640x360You can read my latest career insights article “Beyond the Bench: Taking Your Career to the Next Level” in the October 2014 issue of Lab Manager Magazine. The article features practical advice from three ambitious science professionals on how to keep your career moving forward and upward. A special thanks to Dr. Bridget Fisher of Seattle Biomed, Rose Mary Casados of Cola Resources, Inc. and Dr. Jim Rancourt of Polymer Solutions for taking the time to share their knowledge with scientists who may be ready to advance their careers to the next level. An excerpt from the article is featured below:

“Managing a lab requires dedication and self-sacrifice to keep operations running smoothly and to support the work of everyone around you. Too often these valuable qualities are the very things that hold lab professionals back from focusing on their own career development.

As daunting as it may seem, you deserve to take time to reflect on whether your career is headed in the right direction and then map out the best way to get where you want to go.

In this article, you will meet three highly talented and ambitious scientists who have advanced beyond the bench to satisfying careers in research, business development, and entrepreneurship. Each professional provides practical advice on ways to gain the skills and education necessary to make an upward career transition, all while still working at the bench to support yourself financially.

Although they are on divergent career tracks, these individuals share a common drive to pave their own roads to success.”

[Read the full article in the October 2014 issue of Lab Manager Magazine.]

Halloween is deadline to submit CV to Doctoral Directory is accepting CVs from PhDs who belong to underrepresented groups within the STEM disciplines. The CVs will be compiled in their annual Doctoral Directory, which is shared with institutional subscribers who look to the list to promote diversity in their workforce. Follow the link below to access a short survey where you can also upload your CV. The deadline to submit is October 31st to be included in the 2013 directory. Also, you can sign up for their newsletter and check out the other great career resources on their website! Reader Survey

My 1.54 Cents on the Equal Pay Debate

pennyHere’s my two cents on the issue of equal pay in the US workforce—actually, that would be my 1.54 cents based on my gender and the fact that women still earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. In June 2013, the Association for Women in Science ran a series of blog posts in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, emphasizing that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) earn on average 14% less than men in the same disciplines. Although pay for women has improved since enactment of the Equal Pay Act, it is far from equal pay for equal work. However, this issue expands beyond gender disparity to any minority populations in a workforce who are unequally compensated. For example, gender disparity also affects men who work in fields dominated by women where the wages have been set at a lower standard (e.g., administrative services).

Recent legislation efforts focused on solving unequal pay issues include the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to prove that their pay scales are set by factors independent of gender and permit private sector employees to share salary information. Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act argue that businesses will see an increase in lawsuits resulting from the new legislation because the law would allow for compensatory pay in cases of gender discrimination. This assumption seems to be based on far-fetched scare tactics to convince American voters that equal pay legislation will cost the taxpayer and business owner more money. In my view, employers who take a proactive approach to ensure that their hiring and pay practices are free of biases are actually protected because the possibility of a pay discrimination case would be unfounded in court.

How can you help support these equal pay efforts?

1. Send a note to your representatives asking them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act and similar legislation. A quick email option is available using the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

2. Read more on how you can help support equal pay efforts from the National Committee on Pay Equity. Plus, take the time to discuss equal pay issues with friends, family and colleagues, as issue awareness leads to change.

3. Stand up for your rights–if you may be a victim of pay discrimination based on sex, race or other characteristics then contact your human resources department and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Council to file a complaint. Remember, pay discrimination extends to compensation other than just the amount of your paycheck, including job assignments and fringe benefits.

4. If you are a hiring manager, consistently evaluate your company’s policies on setting pay scales for new employees and promotions. Suggestions for fair pay practices can be found online at the Department of Labor and the National Committee on Pay Equity.

**Discussion Point: What other ways can employers help ensure equal pay practices?**

“How to Make Women’s Networks Succeed” (Reblog from AWIS)

Do women’s networks actually help women succeed in a company or do they just function to let HR check the diversity box? The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) LinkedIn group discussed a Harvard Business Review opinion article on this topic written by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, founder of the largest professional women’s network in Europe. Read the AWIS blog post “How to Make Women’s Networks Succeed” to see what women in STEM think about the use of women’s networks to promote gender equality at work and support the advancement of women into leadership positions.