Trump is not the only bully in town! Who is the bully in your lab?

Trump is not the only bully in town.

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The vulgarity of Donald Trump has outraged many in the USA. Thousands of women are planning to march tomorrow, January 21, the day after Inauguration Day: many are protesting today against sexism and racism. Everyone, including scientists, are tweeting and blogging about the way ahead.

(I have a bad case of deja vu, feeling that Bush was replaced with Trump as a target of partisan rage- and that policy runs second to personality politics.)

The next few years will likely be punctuated with protest, and hopefully, this protest will result in better policies in human rights throughout the country, and the world. But when we think of what we want to do, there are target areas we can clean up in our own institutions.

The last several years have been interesting ones in the public outing of overt sexism in the laboratory. Astronomer Geoff Marcy probably accrued the most national publicity, both because of his fame and the widespread and longterm range of his treatment of women. What became obvious was that Marcy’s actions were well known, and effectively supported, by other scientists for many years. Such sexism, such bullying, would not have been possible without this silent collaboration of bystander scientists and administrators.

Few are the departments that don’t have at least one bully, someone who abuses his or her power over someone with less power. It may the dean, the chairperson, head of the lab, or a member of faculty or staff who is know to make racist or sexist jokes, to be dismissive of some at meetings, to lie, to use lab and department members for his or her own glory, without giving credit. This goes on because people are quiet: they say nothing publicly, they wait for someone else to say something.

Call it out. Call it out at the time.

If you are the lab head, and don’t correct the behavior of a lab member at the time of a nasty statement, you are sending a bad, bad message. If it was done in public, correct it in public. Don’t ever let ugly behavior fester because you don’t want to hurt the perpetrator’s feelings, or cause embarrassment. Step up for the person who may not yet have the courage- or power- to speak up.

If you are dealing with one of the many narcissists in research, prepare for a nasty response. It may help to have allies, and a plan, when dealing with someone who will never think the rules apply to him, and who might mount a campaign against you. In this case, it may help to approach someone else to find an effective way to deal with the person. Don’t be surprised if leadership tries to protect a successful researcher, no matter how nasty the behavior is: you might have to approach HR, or the press, to help deal the situation. It can take a while to dislodge a person with power, and you must know what price you are willing to pay. Note: don’t be the guy who pops up 10 years later and says, oh, dear, I had to protect myself.

Try to stand up for people who aren’t even “your” folks, even outside the lab. Stay safe, be firm.

Trump is not responsible for the racism and sexism and militarism of the USA. Before taking office, he is being blamed for many, many heartbreaking actions, while the present administration is being treated as heroes. An excellent article by Thomas Harrington  describes the current obliviousness to the war crimes and domestic crimes that have been part of politics the last few years. American culture is violent, and the political acceptance of war, mass incarcerations, lack of health care signifie a nation run by bullies, as described in Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.

 

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