Women? What about it?

The third post in July Special Issue: Women Clinician Academics comes from Chantal Camden. In writing this, Chantal had not seen the two previous posts, was about to go on leave

in 30min time, and quite strongly felt she didn’t have much to say on the issue. I suspect her arm is still sore from the twisting I had to do to get her to write this! 😉 Thanks for contributing Chantal – your post brings again a different perspective!

Women? What about it?

By Chantal Camden

Talking about “Women clinician academics”? I guess it supposes I should talk about how being a woman has influenced my experience of being a clinician academic. But has it really? Maybe. Maybe not. Have I got any kind of a gendered experience? Well, I don’t know. I guess I would need to better understand what a gender experience is (I know, this is totally the kind of academic response!). I don’t remember any sexist comments from colleagues.

Is there any power difference between men and women in the academia? Hum… not sure. Asking myself this question made me realized though that, in fact, most of my ‘superiors’ (e.g. the dean, vice-dean, etc) are men.  But does it change my experience at the University or am I treated differently? I don’t think so. Have I gotten the same opportunities than my male colleagues? I think so. I only remember one female colleague saying she was treated differently because she was a woman (a woman paramedic!). 

One thing that comes to mind are maternity leaves. Some people seem to think that they are, or should be seen as, just more time for writing grants and papers. And that leads me to differences in expectations with regards to work-life balance.

Expectations are high in academia (which is probably, somehow, to be expected, but…). In my experience these expectations are not only in terms of productivity, but in terms of time spent at work and work availability. It creates an environment where people are somehow always a little bit under pressure.

This could link to what has been called by some organizational theorists as ‘masculine culture’. This kind of culture is, if I remember correctly (don’t quote me on that!) created by interactions that are more direct. People play a little rougher. There is a bit more power games. It’s called ‘masculine culture’, but based on my experience this is certainly not just a guy thing!

I’ve heard men suggesting we try to accommodate people who have young families so they don’t have to work on weekends (but does it really matter the person making the suggestion was a man??). At face value, it was a positive suggestion, to accommodate both women and men having young families… but why was it just suggested for people with young families? What about women and men with other types of caring and helping responsibilities? (Okay, here I hear you say “most carers are women”).

And anyway, why it is limited to people with caring and helping responsibilities? Should it really matter for my work availability what I do with my weekends and time-off? What if I want to paint, grow tomatoes, train for marathons – aren’t they all legitimate aspirations? Maybe they are. Maybe not for some in academia.

Some colleagues don’t understand why other colleagues complain about the workload as they work every weekend (and these are not only men). But isn’t it legitimate to have other things in our life than work? I’ve head a (woman) speaker say that she is somehow tired to hear the young generation talk about work-life balance, and we might need to balance our life expectations. I think that is totally true. But I am not ready yet to stop fighting for some work-life balance.

I am passionate about my work and can totally give up some free time for doing a couple extra hours (but these extra hours need to be spent on something meaningful to me). But I am also passionate about many other things. And I don’t think I am passionate just because I am a woman 😉

So in conclusion, what about “Women clinician academics”?  I don’t know what I could say that would be that specific about women. I think it’s about individuals. And individuals shape the culture. The research and academic culture is certainly a world in itself; challenging sometimes, but full of Great People.

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