I do have one regret. Although, on the whole, I am satisfied with how I’ve lived my life, there is one significant thing that I would have done differently if only I had been more brave.
I would have spoken up, each and every time, that I was harrassed for being a woman in science.
I would have said something, not just to the person involved, but to my supervisor, when a colleague at my first job decided to play fashion critic, look me up and down appreciatively, and comment on my appearance each and every morning over (his) coffee.
I would have gone to the department chair when a professor and advisor asked me repeatedly during graduate school, “So when are you going to get married and quit?” (Answer: I got married 5 minutes after I left your group. I quit only after reaching the top of my game and deciding that I wanted more out of life.)
I would have told my undergraduate mentor when I was given a lesser grade than a male classmate who I had outscored consistently. We were study partners and were both dedicated to our undergraduate research. For him, this was seen as a plus. For me, a detriment. For when I approached the professor about the discrepancy, sure that he had simply made a mistake, he defended his decision to mark me a B and him an A-, because “I didn’t feel that you were concentrating on the class.” He went on to clarify that it was because I was also doing research, although I had never let it affect my work and had only missed one class all semester. (B*tard. I still feel the anger I felt that day, and the power that you lorded over me. I had not fully realized until that day that it was actually possible that I could work hard, outperform my peers, and still not measure up in the eyes of some who I respected. Simply because of my gender.)
I would have talked to the dean when my freshman advisor taunted me about taking the national Putnam exam in mathematics, saying “Why are you even bothering? You know girls can’t do math.” (I did bother, even without the special review sessions that he held, and I got the highest score.)
In each instance, I did well, graduating with honors, going on to graduate school, doing good research, earning my Ph.D., becoming employed at my dream job, and succeeding. Now I run my own business, in conjunction with my job as full-time mom, and I think I do pretty well at both. But I was reminded of this this week at a professional meeting, when I met a woman who came after me in one of the groups. She had encountered the same behavior, fought it privately, left the group, and also ended up succeeding (at another company). I am proud of her for succeeding.
But I am shamed that I did not take stronger action against the person in question when he tried to diminish me with his words and his actions.