Fermilab Today Monday, March 8, 2010

What do women (at Fermilab) really want?

A small fraction of the women who work on Intensity Frontier projects at Fermilab.

International Women's Day was first proposed 100 years ago by Clara Zetkin, during the Second International Conference of Working Women. She proposed that every country hold a celebration for women to press for their demands, which included better working conditions and the right to vote. So in honor of Clara, I've been thinking about the demands of women who work at Fermilab.

To paraphrase an age-old question, what do women at Fermilab really want? My gut response is that we want the same thing as men: a vibrant, diverse program that expands the bounds of our understanding of the universe. We want to do that research in a place where our skills are utilized and appreciated, a place where our ideas are respected and even put into practice.

How did we get to a place where women's demands are so similar to those of men? Women do not make up even a quarter of the employees and visitors working at this laboratory. But we're at this point because there is a supportive group of women (and men) working here. Some of those people, who have been part of this informal support network for decades, are the same people who volunteered to serve as mentors in the laboratory's new, formal mentoring program.

For me, that informal support was what made working here after each of my children was born such an obvious thing to do. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets asked monthly by someone in the outside world, "Are you really working full-time?" This question always makes me feel that working full-time outside the house once you have kids is the anomaly, not the norm. But when I first started bringing my kids to Fermilab's daycare, I found decades of experience in the teachers who were (and still are!) there. I also found support from parents who were going through the exact same thing.

That web of support is like the air you breathe: You rely on it so constantly and with such success that it's easy to forget it's what keeps you alive. So let's celebrate Women's Day this year by being grateful for that support. Then, let's get back to trying to understand the universe.

- Debbie Harris

Fermi National Accelerator - Office of Science / U.S. Department of Energy | Managed by Fermi Research Alliance, LLC.
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