Enduring unwelcome awkward flirting at CERN and elsewhere

Jennifer Oulette in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_02 Jul. 28 12.32 Last week, Linda Henneberg, a young science communication intern at CERN in Switzerland — best known these days as the home of the Large Hadron Collider — wrote a blog post about her experiences at the laboratory as both a woman and a non-PhD physicist. Haltingly, timidly, even a bit apologetically, she confessed, “I’ve never felt more constantly objectified, hit on, and creeped on than while at CERN.”

She was careful to say that she has not encountered blatant sexism of the most egregious sort, although she has endured unwelcome awkward flirting: a wink and a hand on the knee, lame attempts at playing “footsie” with her under the table during meetings, and of course, tacky double entendres. Even then, she cut the guys a lot of slack; it’s just social awkwardness, she rationalized, not a malicious attempt to make her feel uncomfortable — and yet, she does feel uncomfortable. (There may also be cultural factors at play, given the international diversity at CERN.)

What she found equally bothersome is that because she’s a woman in education, not physics research, she simply isn’t taken seriously by her male colleagues at CERN, who apparently treat her with amiable condescension. Henneberg holds an undergraduate degree is in physics and a graduate degree in science communication, yet “[P]eople here, men especially, treat me like some sort of novelty item. Like because I am not a physicist, I have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN, but it’s cute that I try.”

More here.