On Invitations

January 29, 2014

I just got an invitation today which suffered a common failure mode, and I thought I’d warn colleagues against it. That is, when inviting female speakers to things, there is a well-meaning type of comment that has the potential to unintentionally cause blinding anger in the recipient. I’ve been the recipient of a number of these in my time, and this morning’s email reminded me to alert colleagues to this issue.

Specifically, in the third paragraph of the invitation, please do not state that she is being invited primarily because your conference doesn’t have any women speakers and secondarily because of her expertise. That’s what happened in the email I received today and am printing (redacted) below.

Additionally, this particular emailer couldn’t resist the urge to litter the email with winky faces…. While this was obviously meant to convey friendliness and approachability, I would recommend against it for obvious reasons of professional decorum. (Surely two men beginning a professional relationship don’t wink at each other via email?).

Anyway, I know it’s tricky out there, so I just wanted to share this particular woman’s perspective. Don’t worry, I’ll probably agree to give the talk that well-meaning-guy wants me to give, because I know he means well. But I’d have been much quicker to say yes if my gender had been secondary to my skillset or, even better, left unmentioned.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: well meaning guy
Date: Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 2:52 AM
Subject: Invitation for a lecture
To: Katy Huff <email>


Dear Katy,

I am the organizer of <some conference>. Here are the details: <long 
paragraph of details>.

I don't want to bore you too much in this email, so if you are
interested in the contents have a look at the web site of last year's <long 
paragraph of links and more details>

I am bothered by the fact that even if we are explicitly favoring
female applicants, we still don't get as many female students as we
should. I am sure one of the reasons is that we don't have any woman
in the faculty. As I am of the opinion that we should strive for
a more balanced gender ratio not only in our little school but
in science in general, I am trying to fix this. And this is why I am
writing to you. Your experience with Software Carpentry and with
teaching Scientific Computing fits perfectly with our program.
I know it may sound stupid to come to you like this, but I felt it
just makes more sense to tell you what my plan is instead of just
inviting you out of the blue ;)

<more details>

Let me know what you think.

Have a nice day,
Well Meaning Guy

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This work by Katy Huff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a work at katyhuff.github.io/blog.