I have been following the response to Sir Tim Hunt’s incredibly sexist comments on women in science and thinking about how it relates to a working mother in medicine. If you haven’t heard of Tim Hunt, he is a Nobel prize winner who made headlines earlier this month for saying “…three things happen when [girls] are in the lab…You fall in love with then, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry” at a lunch for women journalists and scientists in Seoul.
Not surprisingly, the response has been overwhelming. Some of my favorite tweets:
and my all-time favorite…
But all joking aside, sexism still exists in science and medicine. And as a working mom I’m very sensitive to issues of sexism, ambition, and differences between men and women.
This may be because I am constantly pulled in two directions (career versus family) and wonder if my ambition is ever questioned. On the one hand, I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I am very much pulled in these two directions and must balance work and life. But on the other hand, I do want to draw attention to this struggle to help support other women and help others understand decisions working moms need to make.
The fact is that I make very conscious decisions that incorporate both my work ambitions and my motherly ambitions. No, these decisions do not involve being distractingly sexy or crying in the lab but they do involve taking a slower and, sometimes, more convoluted paths.
I have rejected significantly higher leadership positions because they would squash my flexible schedule, I consciously avoid travel, and I am not willing to move my entire family for my career. To some of my male colleagues, these decisions may seem crazy, but, for me, these decisions are very calculated.
I’m very conscious of burnout and hope to keep a level of balance that helps me work full time, find satisfaction in what I do, and keep me on an ongoing trajectory so that when I am no longer in the weeds of motherhood, I will still have interesting and meaningful career opportunities.
That being said, there are times when keeping the reins on my career is hard. I wonder whether I am being left in the dust when I see male colleagues make different choices and move up the ranks faster than me. And as a working mom, I never want to compromise other women by having my ambition questioned.
But even with these doubts, I am incredibly proud of the difficult career decisions that I and every working mother have to make. I know I will only have a short time with my kids at home and I want to cherish that time. I’m sure there will be time in the future to turbo charge my career if I want.
In terms of Tim Hunt, I’m not sure if #distractinglysexy and #crybaby necessarily come up as issues for my career but ambition, choices, and timing certainly do. I think if we keep open dialogues and try to respect for each person’s decisions then I think we can push the conversation. What do you think?