I had a great experience yesterday going to a conference for a budding society for women in my field. I've never been to a woman-centric conference before so this was great. It was probably 60 women (and 4 men) and we had great speakers, like one woman who was part of a major gender equity study at MIT that really turned things around for the faculty there. The dean and president were both very supportive and the ringleader of the women who started this actually went to the White House to discuss fair pay with President Clinton.
Lots of discussion about balancing family and work; women were talking about knowing pregnant women being kicked out of graduate programs and others who suddenly stopped getting proposals for projects that required field work after they had kids. One woman was told by a committee member, when she was pregnant with her first kid during her Masters program, "What a shame; you had so much potential." There was also the sad moment when we were shown a graph of this data (I can't find the actual graph) and all the women laughed because we were so not surprised.
Some great discussions about being a woman, or the only woman, at sea. I've talked on here about my sense of overcompensating in field work to prove I belong and many women at this conference agreed they've felt the same. I also talked about having your period at sea, but that's nothing next to the hardcore ladies who went to sea while nursing and had to breastpump on a ship for weeks on end. One had to store her bottles in the ice cream freezer and said it was actually more uncomfortable for the crew than for her. Others had no freezer available and were so sad to dump all that milk over the side.
One light in the darkness: according to a sociologist present, women scientists from the US working abroad find in the academic settings that the cachet of being an American scientist (assumed to be the cream of the crop if they're being sent abroad) outweighs the disadvantages of being a female scientist. Some are even treated better and with more respect overseas than at home.
At the end of the conference (and the main reason I wanted to write this), we had a discussion about where we'd like to see this society go in future meetings and one of the men present, a former department chair somewhere, of course suggested that we invite men to speak because blah blah blah all the stuff he and other department chairs have done to increase the number of women in their programs. Dude, that's great and all but... *facepalm*. Do you not understand the novelty of WOMEN speaking to WOMEN? Maybe we can have some well known dean who did a lot for women at his school come in and speak and I agree it would be nice for more men to attend the conference to understand the women in their field, but your first suggestion for a women's conference shouldn't be "MOAR MEN".