Gaslighting and Implicit Bias – Academic Style

So – I just got an email from an administrator. After discussing the business at hand, he ends the email by requesting that I change the “tone” of my emails. Setting aside for a moment that “tone” is not easily discernible in written correspondence, here are my issues with a male administrator telling me, a female faculty, to change my “tone”:

1) This is the same administrator who once sat across from me in a meeting and BEFORE I EVER SPOKE told me that I shouldn’t get emotional. Classic step on the slippery slope of gaslighting. In that meeting, he assumed I would have a “tone” before I ever even spoke.  More than anything else, it seemed like an attempt to silence me. Or, put another way, if  you discredit me before I speak, you won’t have to pay attention to what I am saying.

2) The “tone” the administrator objected to was my reasonable, and often repeated, request for policies and procedures for administrative tasks. How does the unit assign job duties, complete paperwork, spend funds on students, hire new faculty, etc.? The problem isn’t my “tone” – the problem is a fundamental disagreement about the place of equity, inclusion, and transparency in the academic workplace. I would argue that an effective working environment must include practices that promote equity (here, for an example, is a discussion of equity theory in the workplace).

3) Accusing a woman of having a “tone” is all about implicit bias. In my case, I think my administrator is engaging in prescriptive bias – essentially penalizing me for engaging in the traditionally male behaviors of being successful, promoting my (and my lab’s) successes, negotiating for resources, and making reasonable requests of the unit. This prescriptive bias leads to me being seen as problematic and not a team player.

The effect of the bullying and implicit bias I have experienced in the workplace (not to mention sexism) is that I am no longer as engaged in the success of my units and institution as I used to be. I am very involved with my lab, of course. Those few units I am affiliated with that explicitly promote equity and inclusion get most of the remainder of my attention. The units that are secretive, or which allow discriminatory behavior to persist, or which spend little to no time dealing with implicit biases (everyone has them!) simply won’t benefit from my time and attention. If I knew how to change things for the better, I would. As it stands, the best I can do is focus on impacting those spaces that are safe and inclusive and work to educate my students on the best mechanisms for navigating the rest of the world.


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