Archive for the 'academia' category

Hey, where did all the women go?

May 16 2011 Published by under academia, computer science, culture, sexism, women

New Scientist had an article several weeks ago, "Where are all the women scientists?" which ACM seems to have just picked up on in their thrice weekly Tech News. It caught my eye because the article begins by quoting fellow FCS and blogger Amy Dalal (her blog is called "This is What a Computer Scientist Looks Like").

After feeling simultaneously disgusted and terrified reading that Amy received harassing phone calls due to being the first FCS faculty member in her department, I found the rest of the first part of the article a bit ho-hum. It was the typical work-life balance stuff.

But then I saw this:

None of the above

But maybe it's not the babies. A study of more than 3,700 female engineers carried out by Nadya Fouad and Romila Singh at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee revealed that only a quarter left engineering because of family reasons ( The remaining three-quarters quit their jobs or left the field entirely because they did not like the workplace culture, or were unhappy with other aspects of the job.
While blatant gender discrimination in the workplace is rare, the subtle, everyday instances of bias that women experience create a snowball effect that, over time, can be overwhelmingly off-putting.
More than half of female scientists have experienced gender bias, according to a 2010 survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for L'Oréal. Examples include being ignored in meetings, students calling you Mrs. instead of Dr. or Professor, receiving unwanted comments on your appearance, and hearing that you were hired not on merit, but because you're a woman.

Yes! Exactly! Thank you! I've been saying this for years, and many, many times since I started blogging. Babies are rarely the reason women leave. It's culture. Culture, culture, culture.

Sadly after these three great paragraphs the article seems to have suffered from an overzealous editor, because it suddenly became, "But don't worry, look at this one positive example we have!" and talked about how at the US Geological Survey half of the top positions are held by women. I think that's great, but I would have rather seen the space used for talking about broader initiatives to attract and retain women across all the sciences and engineering, as well as across government, industry, and academia.

16 responses so far

Discrimination in an inverted hierarchy

May 11 2011 Published by under ableism, academia, industry, racism, sexism

At most institutions, we have systems in place to cope with people being sexist/racist/ableist when in a position of power over us. For example, if the offender is a professor and the offendee is a student, or if the offender is a director and the offendee is a department head.

But what about the other way around? When we talk about a "harassment free" workplace, what does that mean in terms of people "lower" than us in hierarchical stature being sexist/racist/ableist to us?

Kaija's comment on FSP's recent post about student -> professor sexism said, "Would it be ok if Mr. A$$hat had said the same things about black scientists, handicapped scientists, or any other particular group of people?" This was very interesting to me. At many places, it is unequivocally Not Okay for a white student to be overtly racist to a black professor, but it is ok for a male student to be overtly sexist toward a female professor. There are dozens of articles out there about how female professors tend to get the brunt of student incivility, yet where are the institutional policies addressing this?

It's bad for institutions to accept inverted hierarchical discrimination. Attitudes like, "Oh, don't make a fuss, you only have to teach him for the rest of the semester." or, "It's not like she'll be writing your annual review, don't worry about it." are not helpful to anyone involved - they are just sweeping the problem under the rug.

I would like to see more prophylactic measures taken by institutions to ensure all incoming people regardless of rank (interns up to CEOs) receive some sort of indoctrination training. "These are the best ways to talk to people of other races / genders / abilities than you." This is especially important for multi-cultural workplaces, where employees may come from a culture where sexist/racist/ableist comments are commonplace and socially accepted.

I also really encourage institutions to take a stronger stance on how they discuss inclusion with their employees. I'd like to see policies and practices that not only offer support from a legal perspective, but also state unequivocally that intolerant behaviors will not be tolerated, and have some serious consequences beyond wrist slapping.

7 responses so far

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.

11 responses so far