A special place in hell

NOTE: This blog is the first of a series addressing issues further explored in GSA’s 2018 Annual Meeting Pardee Session Women Rising: Removing Barriers and Achieving Parity in the Geosciences.  We hope you’ll attend the Women Rising session, 1:30 – 5:30 p.m.Monday, November 5, Sagamore Ballroom 5, Indianapolis Convention Center, Indianapolis, followed by a networking social, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

by Kelly Kryc – Principal, Kryc Strategic Solutions, LLC

Picture of author Kelly Kryc with dogs
I’m an exceptional sleeper. I count it among my super powers. And since we’re among scientists, here’s the quantitative evidence: My Fitbit once registered my sleep efficiency as 100%. I stopped tracking after that since I wasn’t convinced that 100% sleep efficiency was something anyone should aspire to.

Flashback ten years. I wake up to find myself crouched behind a large, overstuffed chair in the corner of my living room. The only way I could have gotten there was by going over the chair. I have a vague recollection of running from my bedroom and leaping over the chair to get away from an irate woman trying to kill me. I’m lucky that I didn’t actually kill myself accidentally during this, or several subsequent sleeping misadventures. I told my sister about the incident, and she suggested I talk to a professional. While I thought that was a good idea, I knew exactly what the cause of my night terrors was: The woman in my dreams was my boss. Over the course of months, and then years, she systematically chipped away at my self-worth by overtly questioning my value to the organization, my intellect, and even my appearance. She then used this demoralization to deny me professional development opportunities, advancement within the organization, travel to meetings, and ultimately pay raises and bonuses.

This was the first time I had worked for a woman since my undergraduate advisor—an amazing female geoscientist at Middlebury College—changed my life by encouraging me to pursue a geoscience education and career. I remember being excited about the opportunity to be mentored by another woman, and the horrible realization on day one of my job when I felt that first twinge that maybe something wasn’t quite right. Within three months, I knew I had made a mistake in accepting the job offer, and yet I stayed for more than three years.

Within the context of the groundswell of revelations pertaining to gender discrimination and sexual harassment of women in STEM by men, I want to shed some light on the additional hardships women encounter in the workplace and their career advancement that are caused by other women—particularly because this is something that we, as women, can change.

Recently, I served as a witness in a Title IX case against a male professor for whom I was a field assistant while I was in graduate school. While that incident wasn’t the first time I had experienced gender discrimination as a scientist or as a professional, it also wasn’t the last. Going through the Title IX process afforded me an opportunity to reflect objectively on my career and the people who influenced it, both positively and negatively. Most were supportive. Many were not. Of those who were not supportive, the people who managed to invade my brain and caused me to run from my bedroom and leap over furniture in a dead sleep were women. This is a sobering realization and one that I think warrants deep soul searching as we collectively ponder why women in the geosciences remain underrepresented and why we haven’t experienced the same level of career advancement, honors, or accolades as our male colleagues: Is it possible that we women are contributing to our problem?

As a woman, there’s something specifically insidious about being the target of another woman’s ire. It feels like a betrayal and maybe that’s why, in my experience, it has affected me more. Even though it happened to me more than once in the work place, it always feels unexpected, it breaks my confidence, sets me back, and affects my ability to excel. This observation isn’t meant to diminish the very real effects that a man’s behavior can have on a woman, her career, and her well-being: It’s meant to raise awareness about the role that we ourselves are playing in impeding other women’s success and happiness.

To invoke the words of our venerable first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.

In a conversation with a colleague about how to write this (my first) blog, she shared with me several articles and blogs about women bullies in the workplace.[1][2][3][4]
After reading the articles, I’m no closer to understanding what causes some women to bully, intimidate, and demean their colleagues and other women to mentor, support, and lift up their colleagues. It’s not necessarily binary either. While I have conscientiously tried to be a better colleague and a better supervisor than the superiors I had who chipped away at my confidence through their behavior, I look back with regret on those instances where I failed to live up to my own` standards and was unable to find a better way to work with colleagues who frustrated or, in some cases, threatened me, my work, or my success.

Just this summer (August 2018), the New York Times reported that a female professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University had been found guilty of sexually harassing her male graduate student. While the professor has been suspended for the upcoming academic year, it appears that she hasn’t yet lost her job. The article describes the professor as a feminist. Her colleagues wrote letters of support to the University defending her with the same arguments used by men in similar circumstances… as if her intellect, accomplishments, and reputation should be given more consideration and weight than her behavior towards another human being. While I’m sure this isn’t an isolated case, it was deeply disappointing to be faced with the reality that, even with all the advances women made in achieving some parity in the #MeToo movement, we may also be part of the problem.

As women, we are asked to do more, accomplish more, defer more, dress differently, communicate differently, behave differently to not only fit in, but to excel in our chosen fields. Given this, I recognize the irony in suggesting that women add yet another way in which we need to be better. But, it is incumbent on each of us NOT to DAMAGE each other. We already have enough challenges. Why impede women’s progress by holding each other down?

I recently watched soccer phenom and gold medalist Abby Wambach’s Barnard college commencement speech (May 2018). If you haven’t already watched it, it’s a terrific and thought-provoking way to spend 25 minutes of your day. I think she encapsulated the issue better than I can so, I’ve excerpted a section of her remarks below.

“Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.

As you go out into the world: Amplify each other’s voices. Demand seats for women, people of color and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: Claim the success of one woman as a collective success for all women.

Joy. Success. Power. These are not pies where a bigger slice for her means a smaller slice for you. These are infinite. In any revolution, the way to make something true starts with believing it is. Let’s claim infinite joy, success, and power—together.”

I embrace infinite amount of pie and infinite success not just for me, but for everyone I know, and I conscientiously commit to raising up the voices of my colleagues, supporting their ambitions, and celebrating their successes.

If I ever learned that I had caused another person the kind of fear, pain, and self-doubt that several women superiors have caused me, I don’t think I could ever sleep again.

On that note, it took a couple of months, but after I left that job, I stopped having dreams about my boss trying to kill me, and more importantly, stopped re-enacting horror movies while in a dead sleep.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/the-queen-bee-in-the-corner-office/534213/

[2] https://www.newsweek.com/women-work-are-meaner-each-other-men-are-female-or-male-coworkers-824990

[3] http://www.womenshealth.northwestern.edu/blog/femininity-barrier-women-science

[4] https://www.vox.com/first-person/2017/5/4/15536932/women-stem-science-feminism

339543_2525947828448_1242458932_oDr. Kelly Kryc is the Principal of her consulting company, Kryc Strategic Solutions LLC. and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She is an energy and environment policy professional who has held positions with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. State Department, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Prior to working in the public sector, she spent a decade working for the non-profit sector advancing science priorities in the United States and abroad. Her doctoral and post-doctoral research focused on understanding extreme climate variability in Antarctica during the past 10,000 years. She holds a Ph.D. in Earth Science from Boston University, a Master of Science in Oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Geology and as an Independent Scholar of Marine Science from Middlebury College. She conducted post-doctoral research at Stanford University.

###

One response to “A special place in hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s