Monday, May 13, 2013

Be an Advocate for Female Researchers

I was (very) pleasantly surprised and pleased when the Editor of a journal in Operations Research recently approached me to suggest names of female researchers who might be added to the editorial board as Associate Editors since the volume of submissions to the journal was growing dramatically.

The Editor wrote me since he knows that I care about (and try to act accordingly)  promoting the visibility of female researchers and this is clearly a substantive way in which visibility and reputation can both be increased.

This got me to thinking about being an Advocate vs. a Mentor, a topic that has been receiving a lot of attention in corporations and, also,  in scientific and academic circles, but which needs more.

According to this report, which cites several Harvard Business School publications, the hallmark of an Advocate (sometimes referred to as a Sponsor), is the inherent public nature in that advocates "stick their necks out" and, while a lot of mentoring can be done behind the scenes, advocates put their names next to your performance and make their support highly visible.

Hence, your advocate should promote your visibility, advocate for your next promotion, make connections for you with senior leaders, and connect you with career opportunities. Of course, an advocate, is still a mentor, and can offer career advice.

Dr. Joan M. Herbers, the President of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) in an interview on Advocating for Women in Science, offers this excellent advice:

One mentor is not enough; in addition to mentors, cultivate sponsors – senior people of influence who will promote your ideas and support your career through nominations to key symposia, society awards, and the like.  

I also believe that administrators could and should be Advocates but, sometimes, and this may be due to academic politics, may try to just "work behind the scenes" whereas sending out an announcement to faculty and upper level administrators commending someone on a great accomplishment would create not only good will but would also extend the communications outreach.

Some administrators acknowledge and advocate whereas others may have their own agendas.

However, when faculty (and students) achieve the entire enterprise gains.

Academics need to feel "connected" to their schools and universities and professional societies and without advocates they may just seek acknowledgment elsewhere.

So, how can you advocate to increase the visibility of female researchers? Some ways are listed below:

  • Have them be part of a Speakers Program -- I chaired the INFORMS Speakers Program and one of the best things that we did, I think, was not only to increase the geographic representation but also the diversity. 
  • If you are organizing a conference, have at least one female plenary speaker (just recently, I received a notice for a conference with about 8 male plenary speakers and not a single female -- no chance that I'll be going there nor will I send any of my doctoral students).
  • Nominate females for professional recognitions -- from students to senior colleagues.
  • Invite female researchers to speak at your campuses.
  • Share the news about the successes of the accomplishments of females in newsletters, media, press releases, etc.
  • Nominate females for professional society offices.
  • Appoint females to editorial boards. 
  • And, when someone achieves, send a congratulatory note (I try to do this for all my colleagues, male or female)!