Here are the answers to the questions submitted to Hermitage's panel on Wimminz in Academia Q&A, now with 100% Fewer Babies. This time around she has two different professorial panels and a postdoc panel, go check them all out.
1. Are there any suggestions about how to look professorial as a young (and young looking and smallish) TT faculty?
2. For those of us who like things like pink, skirts, baking, sewing, knitting, heels, makeup, and other things girlie, how important is it to not do / wear / talk about these things lest we be seen as fluffy girls who can't do Science?
I am going to combine these two into one, since they are indeed two facets of a question "I look and act too much like a young woman, how do I make sure it does't hurt me professionally?"
"Looking like a professor" means being a white dude with glasses and crazy hair, so that's really hard to pull off for any woman without gender reassignment surgery. So don't worry about looking like a stereotypical professor. Just look like you and kick ass. I know a number of women, especially from Italy, France, and Spain, who are petite, very feminine, and dress really well. They are also phenomenal scientists and I don't think anyone is taking their looks as a signature of a feeble mind. I am sure you can talk about baking or knitting if you want to, although I don't think I have heard any of them discuss any particular hobbies in a professional setting.
Once your science (papers, citations, funding, awards) starts speaking for itself, it is absolutely irrelevant how you look. I know an American-born female professor who's probably no taller than 5' 1" and looks about 12 years old (although she's probably in her late 30's or early 40's), dresses very goofily and wears no makeup: however, her list of papers, grants, and awards is so impressive, she certainly does't have to prove anything to anyone through the way she looks.
Now, what to do until you establish a track record? Fake it till you make it. Wear whatever you want and don't worry what anyone else thinks. Or at least tell yourself that you don't care and tell anyone who asks or comments about your appearance that you don't care and that he/she shouldn't either. Young women overwhelmingly suffer from insecurities -- that's why faking it is key. Pretend you are confident so doors would open for you; once you have a track record, confidence will naturally come so you won't have to fake so much.
As for women professors: I would say wear whatever makes you comfortable. Being uncomfortable shows and you don't want that. One thing I recommend is to make sure your clothes fit well. That's especially important for women who don't have an ideal physique (most of us no longer do as we age, even if we once did). Also, whatever your clothing style, once you are a professor you can afford higher-end clothes, so go shopping. Get the more expensive of whatever items you like to wear (this also helps with making sure they fit well). Well-fitting good quality clothes, irrespective of style, will make you feel and look like you are comfortable with yourself and in control.
3. What can we do when other women deny there are problems being a woman in science?
When I read this question, I asked myself when was the last time anyone in real life (except my husband and perhaps a close personal friend or relative) actually took my concern to heart when I complained that I suspected someone had slighted me professionally because I'm a woman. The answer is -- I cannot remember. It's been a really long time since I complained to anyone from my professional circle in this fashion, not because slights don't happen, but because I have found that colleagues (male and female) really don't want to engage in this type of "what if".
The problem with discrimination against women is that any one incident happening to any one woman can have an alternative explanation. That's enough you make you really doubt your qualities and your sanity. Your paper or grant got trashed while the reviewer reveled in writing "she" and "her"? Well, maybe the paper/grant was just really crappy. You are requested to do way more service than your male counterparts? Well, I am sure that's because they really appreciate your contribution to the department since you are so good at it. You got passed up for a fellowship/scholarship/promotion? Well, maybe that other (white, male) candidate was really better qualified.
Since any one incident can have an alternative explanation, if you suspect gender bias and go to a colleague (male or female) for support, don't be surprised if they don't jump to agree with you or comfort you. Many of them will think (even if they are not saying it) that you are not good enough, that you are simply not passing muster. Don't be surprised by such thinking -- academic science is extremely competitive and people have huge egos. Showing doubt and insecurity, in my experience, usually does not fall on receptive ears. Pats on the back are very hard to come by, better get used to living without them.
However, bias against women is well-documented and real because many, many women have the exact same ambiguous unpleasant experiences happening to them. That is why it doesn't matter what any one naysayer says in response to any one or a host of your anecdotes. It is a fact that over the course of your career you will most likely get some (or quite a bit of?) friction under your professional wheels because you are a woman. Life is definitely too short to try to convert naysayers. If you suspect that someone is biased against you professionally, don't waste time going around looking for validation; assume they are indeed biased and try to minimize their influence on your career (I am talking about unconscious bias and the virtually imperceptible inequalities it creates; egregious violations of your rights to a safe work environment or sexual harassment should always be reported). Focus on surrounding yourself with supportive people of both genders and keep looking and going ahead. (See more survival tips here.)
4. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?
I am in a very macho field so my network consists almost exclusively of men. Now, I will eat and drink anything and don't mind going to a sports bar or any other bar or restaurant. I don't follow sports and barely follow politics, so I don't partake in these types of conversations, but usually even in an all-men professional group there will be talks of other conferences, people we all know, developments in the field, travel, university or company politics, families, so there are plenty of topics where I can take part socially. Most men in my field are moderate drinkers and family men and really aren't all that wild or all that scintillating as dinner conversationalists. I also stir the conversation towards talking shop when I need to, and it is usually well received. I guess I am old enough that networking is easier as we are all getting old and boring -- dinner, one drink, then back to the room to sleep or work.
When I was a grad student, my male grad student brethren were a bit more wild in terms of drinking and ogling women, but I can hold my liquor and have a fairly high threshold for comments about the racks of random women passing by, so it wasn't a big deal. Even then, most conversations were about sports, current politics, movies, travel, our advisors. I guess we were pretty boring then too.
I would say just go out with people you meet at conferences, don't think about it too much. You can nurse your Coke or a vodka-tonic all night, most people don't care. Take part in the conversation when you can, otherwise listen or chill and people-watch. If you are comfortable, people will be comfortable around you. I routinely go out to dinner with groups of men and no other women; long ago I was very uncomfortable, now I don't even notice. I remember a recent grant program review (it's like a workshop), where I ended up I renting a minivan at the airport because the rental car company was out of compacts and midsize sedans; it turned out well, as I could drive a whole bunch of us (me and 7 middle-aged men) out of town to a steak house for dinner at the end of the day, so we didn't have to take multiple cars. And none of them even complained that a woman was driving! ;-)