I'm not much of a women's libber- I do think we need to work towards better balance in the work force (or in any non-traditional-women's activity) but I've been pretty lucky with supportive parents and mentors both male and female. Since moving to England I've been more conscious of the biases - some of the comments I've heard are so extreme they're funny...but that's a story for another day!
Yesterday I gave a talk in a series about redressing the balance in Biosciences. The series is open to all and addresses a lot of issues that both men and women face but with a focus in particular towards helping women see that it is possible to be a woman and an academic - so most (if not all!) of the speakers are women.
The forum yesterday consisted of 4 female academics and the diverse pathways we have taken into academia and, perhaps not surprisingly, there were a lot of common themes - including linked to being brave - take opportunities even if you're not sure you can do it perfectly - stand up for what you need or want - don't be afraid to say 'No' if you are too busy or it isn't in line with your goals -
Rather timely, I was flicking through my twitter feed and saw this TED talk which is directly on this need to teach women to be brave not perfect so I thought I would share the link here.
It's very true - I've always been afraid to make mistakes - it wasn't until my first post-doc I learnt bravery. That first post-doc was one of the most difficult times of my life with a supervisor who feels that the only way to succeed in science is to be a bastard (apologies for the language - his words, not mine). Two years of being crushed and insulted and having the confidence kicked out of me. But everyone has a cracking point and everyone reacts differently - I snapped back and told them stick it - I had reached a point where if that's what it meant to be a scientist then I was absolutely ready to quit science. I realised that this was an ethical/moral/personal line I was never, ever going to cross. This meant that at 32 I found bravery. The bravery to really stand up for what I think is right, or fair under the circumstances, to say 'No' if I don't want to do something, to not worry whether I might fail.
2 years on a downward spiral until I hit the bedrock just to learn that.
In the past I was pro-active and I did get involved in lots of things - but I did worry about failing - I did get things 'right' before I shared them - I never wanted to admit if something had failed - and it IS a handicap. We shouldn't be afraid of failure.
That bad experience taught me that no matter how many mistakes I make, at least I wont be as bad as some of the people I've worked for! Sad that I need that bad comparison to be brave but I'm gaining confidence with every new thing I do (whether I fail and learn from it, or succeed and celebrate). And I'm not afraid to fail or share those failures anymore (you can read a summary list of my failures on my blog from the 30th April here). -Ok there are still certain people I wont tell failures to because those people impact my confidence - I'm not perfect - but I'm learning bravery! :)