I like to keep most things on this website grounded in the research and data on gender issues in male dominated environments and less on the anecdotal side. Certainly the stories we could all tell are important – and most of us have more than a few doozies! But equally important is the dialogue that we can create in our communities by knowing the data, which is the main goal of my efforts here.

I’m going to make an exception to this rule with this post because I’m really excited about an upcoming workshop we’re having on perceptions of talk by women (more on that below).

I am direct. I didn’t understand this for a long time because I grew up in Texas, and people there are, well, direct. So I fit in.

Having a natural tendency to be direct has its advantages. It is important in the classroom to be clear and unambiguous in teaching, assignments and expectations. A straightforward prose in a grant application leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader, which is usually good. And directness on grant review meetings and in writing grant reviews provides the applicant with clear feedback so they are not wondering what the reviewer means when reading their comments. Program officers from national agencies have commended me for this skill. I can’t tell you how much this means to me, especially after a wrenching panel meeting.

Social norms are a little different on the east coast, where I’ve been for the past couple of decades. My impression is that people here are generally less direct in their communication and do not always value frank talk. I am older, too, and hopefully wiser and also now understand that being direct conflicts with my gender stereotype. People look to women to be kind and nice and nurturing. I think I am all those things, too, but my sugar-coating skills are a constant work in progress.

In a pedagogical setting, the perception of an assertive, direct woman can lead to disappointment in a student because said professor is not meeting the “nurturing” stereotypical expectations. This affects teaching evaluations. While comments on a male professor may include how brilliant he is, a different B-word definitely shows up on teaching evaluations for women professors. I am not making this up, and this bias makes it harder for WomenInSTEM to do their jobs.

So, are you perceived as aggressive, passive, or assertive? And does this perception match your desired image?

Illysa Izenberg is going to address this topic in a workshop on Thursday April 26, 2018 at 5 PM in the Mudd UTL. In this workshop, you’ll learn the difference between assertive and aggressive and practice declarative speech that fits your individual style without overcompensating or changing who you are.

In keeping with tradition, Pizza will be served. To make sure I order enough, please send me a quick email if you think you may come so I can get a head count. Karen dot Fleming at JHU dot edu.