Ask Sciencewomen: How much to reveal during start-up negotiations?

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgReader science newbie poses a great question to me and asks for the collective wisdom of our readers:

Dear Sciencewoman,

I have been reading & loving you blog for some time now. Thanks! You rock!

Ok, I have a question....
I have interviewed for, and been given a verbal offer for my first assistant professor position. We are negotiating startup funds, salary, etc right now. Due to state budgetary constraints, I have been informed that all of my startup funds (excluding salary) will have to originate from the department's funds, not university or state money. I have found some information that additional partial funding is available through the state's "diversity initiative." My area of research is exceptionally male-dominated, and I will be the only woman in the department when I accept the job. However, my gender alone is not enough of a "diversity difference" to make me eligible for the state funding help. However, if they were aware of my sexual orientation, I would more than qualify. I am not realy "out" to many people, but if asked would answer truthfully. Should I inform the hiring comittee that I'm a lesbian, since it would alleviate a fair portion of their financial challenges and potentially increase my startup funding, or should I keep my mouth closed?

Please, if you address this question in your blog, do not use my name. :)
science newbie

My thoughts below the fold, but please weigh in if you have any ideas or experience to share!

Hi Dr. Newbie,

First, congrats on the job offer! In this economic climate, it's a reason to celebrate and a testament to your excellence in getting this far! But, you've posed a really tough question and one that I don't have much experience to draw on in trying to give you an answer. My own experience has only been that of being a mother and its been hard to hide at the interview stage, so I've never had to make these sorts of calculations at your stage of the game. Plus, they don't give mothers diversity packages. :)

I guess it depends on your personal calculation of what you will gain versus lose if you reveal that information. I'd do that calculation for you and not think about what is good for your department. Some things to consider are: Will you really get more start-up money or will it just help the department's finances? You'll probably get some official good will from the chair. Are you OK with your whole department and certain university officials knowing your sexual orientation? Did you get a sense of how woman/family/LGBT friendly your colleagues are? Are you likely to come out to your colleagues in the next couple of years anyways? How will you handle departmental social events (i.e., the ones where spouses are typically invited)? Are you comfortable with being an even more important diversity role model as a lesbian woman versus just a woman in your male-dominated field?

If you are comfortable with your department knowing your sexual orientation from the get-go and there is a reasonable chance of getting more money or less restricted start-up money, then you should tell the chair. But realize that you are potentially putting yourself in a spot-light position with the administration, and they may turn to you for service related to diversity issues.

If it is mainly to ease your department's woes or you feel trepidation at the thought of being out at work, then don't do it. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your personal comfort and confidences just to help out the university. After all, you'll be giving them 50+ hours per week, your intelligence, and your enthusiasm for the next several decades, they don't deserve to have everything else if you don't want them to.

Can I share your question and my answer on-blog? My readers usually have much more wisdom than I do.


More like this

I can't help on the disclosure side, but from past experience in negotiating hiring conditions in tight times, it's always worth trying for deferred funding (perhaps with deferred deliverables) rather than settle for less net than new hires will get two years later.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 06 Jul 2009 #permalink

Due to state budgetary constraints, I have been informed that all of my startup funds (excluding salary) will have to originate from the department's funds, not university or state money.

Be aware that in these circumstances, if you hustle and find internal money the department might try to count it against your startup. Note that internal money might include multi-investigator grants. For instance, if your campus has some sort of multi-investigator center relevant to your research, and by working with them you purchase some equipment off of their grant, somebody in your department might say "OK, a university source helped you get that equipment, now you don't need start-up funds from us for it."

I think chairs who do this are short-sighted, because they're taking away your incentive to beat the bushes for extra money from internal sources. Your incentive is then to spend down the department-provided startup ASAP before looking for other sources.

How does this relate to your situation with regard to disclosing personal information to qualify for diversity funds? Well, if you decide to reveal that personal information and then help the department with the work of applying for the money (even if you more than qualify, it's likely that there will be significant paperwork), your chair might at the end of the day count that money against the department commitment, since it's state money at a state school, i.e. in some sense it's still "internal." Should your chair do this? Probably not. Will your chair do this? Depends on how tight things are and whether your chair has the good sense to reward people who beat the bushes and find money.

I know all this because I am also a recent hire at a state school in a severe budget crisis. In the end, I got what was promised, but I had to be quick and careful to ensure that I got it.

Congrats from me on the offer, too! It's a big achievement in any economy, let alone this one.

With regard to divulging your sexual orientation, are you sure that this is relevant to the diversity funds? I'm the Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Equity and Diversity at a state university, and there are very strict, federally-mandated criteria about who qualifies for consideration under diversity programs. Sexual orientation isn't one of them. Your institution may have other rules, though.

The issue of who, when, and how you come out is another question. People have different views on this, but it sounded like that wasn't what you wanted to know.

Best of luck!

By Marlene Zuk (not verified) on 06 Jul 2009 #permalink

When my bf came to his school, a diversity initiative was in place that would fund him for his first three years. By then the department would have to find funds for him (he is Hispanic and gay). The VP of Diversity issues also put together a welcome dinner for us when we came to house hunt--and this made us feel very welcome. You may have programs like this at your candidate school, so not being out may make you miss these opportunities.

This is disturbing, the utter brazenness of identity politics in the university setting. You get a bigger grant because your are a lesbian. That makes a lot of sense.

Particularly in a science setting, what does a persons gender, sexual orientation or race have to do with their ability to create new knowledge?

Futhermore, its a bit two faced to decry those who see LGBT as "different" or "odd", and then turn around and accept special preferences for those very characteristics.

OK, it's my blog, I'll feed the troll once, but any further trollish comments in this thread will be deleted. I want productive conversation that is helpful to science newbie, not the sort of physioproffing comments that remind her why she's not more open about her identity in the first place.

Diversity initiatives exist to help out people who face stiffer obstacles in their roads to success than those faced by members of the white-straight-good ol boy's club. Bigger start-up packages are one way to help offset the biases and barriers faced by minorities. Why should we care about diversity in science, in knowledge creation. To quote, a recent NAS report on the subject of women in science.

"The United States economy relies on the productivity, entrepreneurship, and creativity of its people. To maintain its scientific and engineering leadership amid increasing economic and educational globalization, the United States must aggressively pursue the innovative capacity of all its peopleâwomen and men. However, women face barriers to success in every field of science and engineering; obstacles that deprive the country of an important source of talent. Without a transformation of academic institutions to tackle such barriers, the future vitality of the U.S. research base and economy are in jeopardy."

If we perpetuate science as a profession accessible only to those who fit the traditional mold, we lose a significant amount of brainpower to work on creating new knowledge. Furthermore, people from non-traditional backgrounds may be more likely to tackle innovative problems, try new methodologies, or interpret results in a different light. Thus, it is everyone's best interests to foster the careers of people like science newbie, because people like her are the innovators who are advancing science and working to make the world a better place for the rest of us.

Why should we care about diversity in science, in knowledge creation.

Above and beyond the pragmatic harms caused by unfettered white male privilege, it is also morally wrong not to attempt to redress it.

Particularly in a science setting, what does a persons gender, sexual orientation or race have to do with their ability to create new knowledge?

None....unless, of course, that gender, sex, sexual orientation, race or other factor are barriers to these people achieving the tools (e.g, faculty appointment) necessary for full realization of their potential.

It is very clear that those factors have been barriers in the past and continue to be barriers. Thus, it is in the interest of those who are interested in the conduct and furtherance of science to dismantle barriers which have nothing to do with a person's ability to create new knowledge. Those who stick their fingers in their ears and say "la, la, la...what barriers?" come across as ignorant best.

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 07 Jul 2009 #permalink

You have no responsibility to help alleviate their financial challenges. In terms of negotiation, you are better off playing it tough now. If you take the pressure off them by revealing a large source of external funding, then they will (not unreasonably) refuse to up their offer.

I like the first recommendation above, to aim also for deferred funding. You will not get it, though, if you reveal this extra funding first. I don't think you should show your cards yet.

I wouldn't myself feel comfortable taking state funding because of my sexual orientation, but of course the program is there for a good reason. Of course we are all responsible to the public that supports our research, and how is this different? Maybe my discomfort isn't very logical.