Last week, I was angry that a few of my friends and colleagues wouldn’t be able to come to the annual conference in our field this year. They have new babies, see, and there is no provision for them at the conference. Every year, a mom or two brings her nursing infant along, but it’s always awkward and there is nowhere to nurse, aside from the busy lobby or packed conference rooms. No, not even a chair in the bathrooms.
I asked you what you do about this at your conferences — and 50 women responded in just a couple days, telling me all about the options, which seem to shake out like this:
Conference-provided daycare (typically through a company, at $10-$20 an hour);
Conference-provided nursing room set aside for nursing and pumping moms;
An empty room, where moms with little ones would tag-team care for each other’s children during the conference;
Drop-in care near the conference site;
Nanny or babysitter recommended by the hotel;
Furtive nursing in public areas (oh, wait, that might have just been me); or
No solution; these women stayed home.
The problem, as I see it, is that if, year after year, women stay home with babies, preschoolers, or older kids who can’t be left with friends or relatives, that they lose touch with their peers in the field. They miss out on opportunities to present their research, to talk with colleagues, to form collaborations over dinner. In short, they miss out on a lot.
It’s another route to isolation of young mothers, and, in this case, it can also lead to women leaving the field in search of a more collegial situation.
Every year at this conference, a few of us end up talking about this. We coo over the baby/babies present, supporting the parents’ decision to attend as a trio. We offer up our own hotel rooms as needed for daytime nursing and naps. We shake our heads at the nearsightedness of the conference organizers, and we ask for accomodations on our own. Being only one or two moms each year, though, we haven’t gotten very far.
All that is about to change.
On Tuesday morning, I hosted a simple breakfast meeting for the women at my conference. I emailed a few women about it in advance and encouraged them to invite their female colleagues who would be at the meeting. I posted a sign when I got to the meeting, and dropped a few flyers in the bathrooms, at the suggestion of a friend. I didn’t have any idea how many women would show up, but I figured that it was time to provide the opportunity. To highlight the issues of recruitment and retention of women in our field. To discuss things like child care and whether a breastfeeding mom must stay home during meetings like this. To talk about the graduate students, and whether they have the support they need. To introduce nomenclature to a new generation: the two-body problem, which is the difficulty that two scientists (two academics, two teachers, whatever) have in getting employed at the same institution or even the same city.
It was time to bring the conversations out of the hallways and into the light.
I didn’t have any idea how many women to expect. Twelve had responded to my emails to let me know that they’d be there — but, since it was held at 7:30 a.m. at the start of daylight savings time, when it was still dark outside for goodness’ sake, I expected that maybe eight would show up.
Ladies and gentlemen, 108 women came to breakfast. They had lively discussions over belgian waffles, rife with laughter and exclamations, and at the end we shared what each group (table) thought was the most pressing issue for women in our field.
It was amazing.
We have some actions to take now, some things to follow up on, but, together, we have something more than that.
We have an opportunity.