Another university in my city just gave a wonderful day-long symposium/workshop on women in philosophy. There was a lot to take away from the main speakers, Carla Fehr and Sally Haslanger, and the comments and suggestions of others. Among other things, Sally mentioned micromessaging, a notion that appears first in management theory.
When one thinks about the climate of a department, micromessaging should be considered an important part of it.
Micromessages are small, largely non-verbal signals that we send and pick up in many, and perhaps all, conversational set ups. They might range from the different amounts of time people are allowed to speak to whether a more powerful person looks others in the eye. If you have talked to people at the APA who are always looking over your shoulder to see who else is there, you’ve probably received some strong micromessages about your importance.
The messages are not neutral; they contain an assessment of your importance and the quality of what you have to say. They are encouraging or discouraging, and they can help you flourish in an environment or they can degrade both your mood and your work.
I would not be surprised if many of us have been told that these small details in our environment are not important. “Just ignore them and go ahead and do your own work.” I haven’t read enough of the book (linked to above) to say what the author’s reaction to this is, but I think that that is desperate advice. These messages can impact us on a visceral level. Perhaps like pervasive bad smells, you can work despite them, but that does not make them and their capacity for making you feel slightly sick go away.
We can ‘habituate to smells’ and no longer notice them. I’m not at all sure that getting habituated to a negative environment is the same. In any case, those who have a positive environment are given a strong advantage over those who do not.
What do you think?