Saturday, January 14, 2006

This one incident sounds more like incompetent management

[I hesitate to post this, because this one incident sounds more like incompetent management rather than sexual harassment. However, were I not to agree to posting it, that could be construed as another bit of evidence in support of claims of systemic (as compared to isolated) patterns of permissive sexual harassment at LANL -- one thing I have not seen in evidence during my 20 years there. --Doug]

Hi, would you post this for me? I think I would rather it were anonymous until I get the necessary paperwork done. Thanks.

Is Sexual Discrimination Alive and Well at LANL?

When I came to this laboratory as a postdoc a year ago, I had no idea that sexual discrimination still existed. In the last year, I have experienced firsthand how prevalent it is. At first, I decided just to let it all go, since I knew my time here was limited. I figured I could just put up with it, get my work done, and get out at the end of two years. That changed yesterday. I discovered that my postdoc mentor, whom I had assumed was simply really bad at mentoring in general, was busily mentoring a male postdoc in my group who technically is someone else's postdoc. This male postdoc was encouraged to apply for faculty positions so that he had leverage during his conversion process here at LANL. My mentor is actively engaged in pushing forward the conversion of this postdoc, finding him the appropriate department in which to convert, and then finding him the necessary sponsor to do so. The only mentoring I have received thus far from this man is a vague statement about how I should try to go to a conference before I leave. Before anyone cries "sour grapes", let me explain that the male postdoc being mentored absolutely deserves to be converted-he is far and away one of the most outstanding scientists in his field. I don't object to his conversion-I object that it is being facilitated by my postdoc mentor, and not his own.

The above is just an example of the types of incidents that have occurred in the last year that have convinced me that the LANL "old boy's club" is alive and well. This disgusts me. It is bad enough that doing a postdoc at LANL is similar to career suicide if you aren't a physicist, but to watch my career land squarely in the toilet AND be mistreated because I'm female is too much. I intend to pursue legal action against the lab.

I know from conversations with other women at the lab that they have experienced similar situations. I know also that it takes a lot to stand up and say that it's wrong. I would like to ask women across LANL, in every field, to come to me with your stories, so that we can make this stop. Email me at, and perhaps we can make a difference together. The more women who speak up, the greater the likelihood that things will change. You may remain anonymous if you wish. It is not right for someone to discount you because you're a woman, no matter what. There are laws against that, and even LANL has to abide by them.

As a woman TSM at LANL, this story sounds more like a case of favoritism rather than sexual harassment.
Doug, the poster said "discrimination" not "harrassment." These are not the same thing.

That said, there really isn't enough data here to prove a systemic problem. I have certainly encountered a few males at LANL who are either dismissive or hostile toward female TSM's. But for every one like that, there are several others who have treated me with the same regard and collegiality that they treat my male peers.

I also have to wonder about the original poster's initiative. She doesn't say what type of job she is looking for, nor does she say that she ever approached her supervisor for help. She doesn't seem to have sought advice or support from any other staff members in her group. She doesn't seem to have sought out the support of the mentoring program. As she said, she's just biding her time here for two years. If she's really as passive as she comes across in this posting, I'd have a hard time mentoring her, too.
I was afraid to go into much detail, as I am in the midst of pursuing a solution to the problem through the normal chain of command here at the lab. No, I am not passive in the slightest, as anyone who knows me will attest. I have approached my supervisor for career advice on numerous occaisions, and every time he has told me that he can't help me. I have asked other members in my group for advice, all men, and still received no help. I have asked scientists outside my group for help, and have met with limited success, as most of them are bewildered as to why a postdoc with a mentor is asking them for help. They tend to tell me to ask my mentor for advice. Can you see how this is frustrating? I am certainly not sitting on my a** waiting for someone to hand me a job.

To address the comments above, I do not deny that there are many male TSMs at the lab who are perfectly decent to women scientists. However, there are many who are not. I object to any male scientist treating a female scientist as if she is inferior simply because she is a woman. The fact that poster number 2 is aware of "a few" males who are dismissive or hostile towards women is a case in point. I too am aware of a "few" TSMs that behave in the same way. If everyone at the lab knows "a few" TSMs who are misogynists, well, then that certainly indicates a widespread problem doesn't it?

The example I posted is but ONE example of the types of misogynist behavior I have witnessed during my time at the lab. It is important to understand that when I came to LANL, I was fresh out of grad school, and really excited about the project I was working on. I had every intention of remaining here as a staff member, even after several months. I was not, as you so eloquently put it, "biding my time".

For the record, poster number 2, I am aware that discrimination and harassment are covered by different statutes. I have had experiences that fall under both categories. This same mentor you are defending has been made aware of an incident involving harassment, and has not reported it to ANYONE.

I have waited a year before mentioning anything, because I wanted to give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt. However, at some point, I have to stand up and say that what is happening to me is wrong. That is what I'm doing. It's wrong that I have been groped by a male coworker and nothing was done about it. It's wrong that my postdoc mentor spends more time mentoring someone else's postdoc than he does mentoring me.
Not only are these things wrong, but there are contracts and laws to protect me from these situations, and I intend to use them. I want women scientists who come here after me to have a decent working environment, free of any discriminatory or harassing practices. That is why I posted the blog.

As long as women allow this behavior to occur, men will continue to do it. I encourage women at the lab who have had similar experiences to come forward , and help put a stop to discriminatory behavior.

Whatever label you choose to put on the situation I have found myself in here at the lab, be it "poor management", "sexual discrimination", or "sexual harassment", there are rules/laws in place that protect me from having to experience them anymore. I am simply exercising my right to say "no more". What is wrong with that?
Trinity, my advice is that you do not want a career at LANL.

Go into the real world and excel.

My children have gone out there and exceeded my own expectations concerning their professional achievements and independance. LANL would have stifled the life out of their creativity and productivity.
I agree that women, not just at the lab, but nationwide need to stand up and put a stop to gender discrimination. Unfortunately, at LANL, demanding one's rights generally result in harassment and firing.
Your description of what happened to you constitutes gender discrimination whether the mentor was intentionally discriminating or not. Unfortunately, I have known only a few cases of gender descrimination to succeed in 22 years at LANL. I have never known one to succeed by going through regular channels.
The courts or personal friends on your side in upper management are the only actions that I have seen work.
There is currently a class action suit against LANL for discrimination against women and Hispanics in pay and promotion, but I am not sure post-docs are eligible. Many female TSM's won't join the suit because they fear retaliation, another major problem at LANL.
Certainly, there is rampant sexual discrimination at LANL but accusing anyone of practicing it is a career killer. As a result, most women will not testify about it unless subpoenaed and they certainly won't come forward on their own. A pity.
The LANL internal processes do not allow for subpoenas. Managers all support each other which means all forms of discrimination and retaliation are invisible to them. The inability to see discrimination seems to be a condition of retaining a management job at LANL. I agree with emp. Go elsewhere and find a job in the real world where your skills will be valued. Then sue LANL. If you are young, this is the best approach. If you can't get away from LANL join the class action suit. I am not aware of any discrimination against members of the class action suit.
Getting anything done about your situation is nearly impossible at LANL.
In another incident, a woman TSM was forced to resign just before Christmas because she defended herself against sexual harrassment. In the incident a male LANL employee who had a history of "inappropriate touching" came up behind her and groped her under the guise of "tickling." He had been warned before about this unwelcomed sexually-charged contact, and the woman had complained about his behaviour to management to no avail.

When he startled her from behind, she backhanded him. She was in the process of being fired for LANL's policy of "zero tolerance for violence in the workplace" when she resigned.

The sleazy behaviour will not change with LANS.
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