Archive for: April, 2011

Finding Your Way In (Computer) Science: Self-Esteem

Apr 25 2011 Published by under academia, computer science, women

A long time ago, someone I really dislike recommended a book to me called, "Finding Your Way in Science." For a long time I avoided reading it, because I decided if my arch-nemesis liked the book it couldn't possibly be good.

But it nagged at me, so I gave in and bought it. And actually, so far it's not bad. Good job, arch-nemesis!

The book does read like a self-help book for scientists, and it's definitely biased toward the life sciences, but to its credit it does have some outstanding nuggets.

There's one nugget in particular that I recently found myself dispensing to a young FCS who was struggling with issues relating to her self-worth as a researcher. Given the prevalence of self-esteem issues greatly affecting women in technology, it seemed like I should repost it here:

Never place your sense of self-worth in the hands of another person.

And the corollary is:

A wise person is unmoved by either scorn or praise.

These are both important bits of advice. If you place your self-worth in the hands of another, then every time you are rejected (which will happen frequently over the course of your career), it will feel like being punched in the gut. It's very tempting to be over-the-top excited when Dr. Famous lavishes praise on you, and Dr. Awesome invites you to serve on a program committee, and Dr. Woot cites your paper. These are all good things to be happy about, but on the other hand you don't want to be devastated when Dr. Famous rejects your paper, Dr. Awesome gives you a scathing review, and Dr. Woot rips you to shreds in front of 2000 of your closest colleagues.

Be like a tree and all of that. Roll with the good and the bad. If you take this view, the outcome of a single event matters much less.

I've found it helps to take a career-level view instead of an event-level view. John Regehr writes about this - don't get too attached to a single paper, proposal, or job. Don't tie up your entire self-worth in the outcome of a single event. Everyone gets rejected!

Image description: Book cover parody of "Everyone Poops"
by Taro Gomi. This text reads: "Everyone Gets Rejected
By Female Computer Scientist". It has pictures (by Gomi) of an angry
looking person, a horse's behind, a goose, and an apple.

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Good Hair Day, Fair Pay Day

Apr 12 2011 Published by under women

What is equal pay day?

Today, April 12, 2011, is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into 2011 women need to work to catch up to a comparable man's salary. As recent as 2008, the gap between men and women was 77 cents per dollar.

This gap is even more stark for women of color - "Latinas earn 58 cents and African American 68 cents for every dollar men earn." (National Committee on Pay Equity).

Doesn't more education help?

Some people say, "But look at all these women in college and graduate school! Getting more education will help, surely."

Not so, I am sorry to report. In fact, at the highest level of education the pay gap is the largest:

Credit: Professor Hilary Lips, Northwestern Univ. [source]


Median weekly earnings, women

Median weekly earnings, men
















High school graduate, no college




Isn't a woman's choice to get paid less than men?

Then people say, "Well, what about all those women choosing to [rear children, go into professions that don't pay well, etc.]". Professor Lips writes as much as the media loves to say it's a woman's "choice", there are far more factors at play:

Women’s choices are not the problem.

Individual women can sometimes evade the effects of the gender pay gap by making certain kinds of choices, such as selecting male-dominated occupations, working more hours, avoiding parenthood. However, these choices occur in an environment suffused with subtle sexism and discrimination: there are more barriers for women than for men to making certain choices, and the consequences of some choices are starkly different for women and men.

Moreover, these individual solutions are not effective on a societal level; they work only if the women enacting them remain in a minority. For example, if most women moved into jobs that are now male-dominated, signs are that the salaries associated with those jobs would likely drop. But, by making it difficult to go against the tide, the forces of discrimination ensure that most women don’t move into such jobs. And as long as a few women get past the barriers, the illusion persists that any woman could do it if she wanted to—it’s a matter of free choice. However, women’s choices will not be free until their abilities and their work are valued equally with men’s, and until women and men reap equivalent consequences for their choices in the realm of work and family. [source]

This comic sums up the 'choices' argument best:

Credit: Amerstand at Alas, a blog. [link]

This post is depressing. Can you please give me some good news, FCS?

I am happy to report the news isn't all bad. Asian-American women, you're doing the best of all of us, making 91 cents on the dollar to men. And my fellow Engineering women, we're looking at 96.7 cents at least for the first three years of our careers. [source]

What can I (a woman) do to close the gap for myself?

Ask! Ask for a raise. Ask for a promotion. Apply to tons of jobs and get employers into a bidding war over you. Negotiate that starting salary.

Just don't be a wallflower, waiting around for people to recognize your brilliance. Fellow FCS Valerie Aurora has some great negotiation tips on her website. Remember - don't be afraid of people getting mad at you!

What can I (man or woman) do to close the gap for others?

If you're in a position of power over people's salaries (manager, department head, dean, etc.), go through your employees' salary data and crunch the numbers. Check for statistically significant differences between your male and female employees of comparable experience level to ensure salaries are fair.

Also, be sure when you assess employees for raises/tenure/etc you are using equal objective criteria. When you give an employee a merit raise, make sure you use the same criteria for John as for Jane.

Finally, remember to laud the ladies! Talk up the professional accomplishments of your female colleagues to anyone who will listen. Be a sponsor.

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