Intersectionality in academia and research

Bottom two-thirds is a drawing of indistinct figures seated on the ground in a large building, beside windows. Title of the resource is at the top: Intersectionality, equity, diversity, inclusion and access

I’ve just published my new resource, Intersectionality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access. There are five individual chapters which are intentended to work together. The information is a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, introduction into the barriers and solutions to discrimination in academia and research organisations. The issues are restricted to career trajectory from postgraduate years to senior faculty for educators and researchers.

Each section includes a discussion of the theoretical and empirical literature, with practical, evidence-based solutions listed in text boxes, capturing my long-standing career in equity and diversity program management, education and research.

This resource is split into five pages, for the purposes of improving reading experience; however, all five sections are intended to paint an holistic picture for social change. (If you prefer, read this resource as one PDF). 

This project has taken me two years from start to finish, with a lot of heart ache and bumps along the way. This is one of the main reasons I’ve blogged less over the past year or so, as bringing this together took most of my time and energy, when I had these to give. Please share, and cite ethically: a lot of people plagiarise my work, and while I publish my knowledge free, please don’t exploit my labour.

Explore the themes via this detailed table of contents:

Continue reading Intersectionality in academia and research

Using Intersectionality in Collective Responses to Sexual Harassment

Trigger warning sexual harassment and assault: let’s talk about intersectionality, policy and practice in dealing with sexual harassment.

There seem to be endless cases of sexual harassment coming to light, but these are the tip of the iceberg. In Australia, 575 cases of harassment and rape have been reported in higher education in the past five years alone. Most cases go unpunished, while other institutional responses are sluggish or inadequate. For example,  of the 575 cases, only six perpetrators were expelled. In the University of New England, perpetrators were only fined $55 and received eight hours community service.

The issues are well-known, but equity advocates note that little institutional reform has happened. Continue reading Using Intersectionality in Collective Responses to Sexual Harassment

Strident Women Speak up on Gender Inequity in Science

Here’s a recap of a discussion I led on Twitter with the hashtag, #StridentWomen.

Hello everyone. Hope you had a strident day being strident. The Chief Scientist has said he hates it when women in science talk about inequality because it detracts from “progress.” Please bear in mind that while 49% of undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women, only 21% of senior professors of STEMM are women.  So let’s talk now about progress.

Continue reading Strident Women Speak up on Gender Inequity in Science

Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Why do academic institutions continue to replicate inequity? The Royal Society Te Apārangi in New Zealand has named their keynote speakers for their 150th Anniversary. All of them are White men. This seems additionally shocking because the organisation has recently rebranded and changed their name and misison to be focused explictly on diversity. This is a great thing! But clearly there’s a disconnect between their mandate and their event planning. Their response has been that the speakers were independently chosen by 10 autonomous branches who each nominated a candidate. They say acknowledge they have some work to do but don’t really give much detail to what this might entail. Perhaps it really is as they say- an unfortunate coincide that all ten panels chose White men? No, actually. What’s happened is not new.

Continue reading Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

There is increased pressure for conferences and events to stop excluding women as speakers, in science and in other fields. Yet there is less public attention on racial equity and representation of other minorities on panels. I take a look at a few recent examples where White people will focus on lack of “50/50 gender balance.” This phrase is often a proxy for seeing White cisgender people as the desired equilibrium. This excludes Indigenous people, other racial minorities and other under-represented groups. Let’s review what happened when the Royal Society of New Zealand announced its 150th anniversary celebration, the committee debating Brexit, and the pattern on social media, where White women unfollow gender discussions that focus on racial justice.

Continue reading Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Dr Ellen Ochoa, a Mexican-American scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering, was the first Latina in space. Twenty-four years later, on May 19 2017, having already been awarded NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, she’ll be inducted into the USA Astronaut Hall of Fame. Continue reading Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Gender Equity Among Conference Speakers

Dr Carly Rosewarne was excited about the Environmental and Human Microbiomes conference, hosted by the prestigious publisher, Nature. As a specialist in the field of gastrointestinal research, the global conference was an important scientific event. Dr Rosewarne’s joy was short-lived when she looked at the program: with hardly any women speakers, it was a YAMMM: Yet Another Mostly Male Meeting.

Dr Rosewarne provides an analogy about the importance of diversity in her field of study, which is not reflected in the conference practices in her discipline. She writes:

“Improving gender representation on invited speaker panels at scientific conferences is not difficult. The most effective method is to use guidelines that specify a minimum target threshold, most preferably for each session but at least across the whole event. In the microbiome field there are no reasons why this is impractical since there is no shortage of highly qualified women who would be delighted to be asked! Additional consideration may be required in order to provide extra support (financial or otherwise) to those who have caring responsibilities. If diversity is also present amongst the organising committee these needs will be more readily identified.”

Dr Rosewarne has decided not to attend the conference in protest and urges other prominent scientists to speak up on gender inequality and to boycott YAMMM events to amplify the message

Continue reading Gender Equity Among Conference Speakers

STEM Women in Astrophysics: Professor Vera Rubin, ‘Ardent Feminist’

Astrophysicist Professor Vera Rubin, USA National Medal of Science awardee who confirmed the existence of dark matter, died on 25 December 2016.

One of the things I want to highlight especially for this post is the wonderful job Professor Rubin’s institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, did in their press release. They focus on Rubin’s scientific discovery using plain language, but they were bold in also highlighting her gender equity work in science, by calling her an “ardent feminist”. This is so important because women’s advocacy for gender equity is scientific work that is unpaid; it is undertaken on top of research, teaching, and grant work; and goes largely unacknowledged.

This post is dedicated to Professor Rubin’s legacy and all the other ardent feminists in science and elsewhere. Continue reading STEM Women in Astrophysics: Professor Vera Rubin, ‘Ardent Feminist’

STEM Girls Know

Gender stereotypes are perpetuated through the stories we tell children as soon as they’re born. For example, little kids have few preconceived ideas about what a scientist looks like until they start going to pre-school. In Prep and Grade 1 they still draw scientists in gender-neutral ways, but by Grade 2 onwards, they start drawing White men in lab coats. By Grade 5 the stereotype that only White men are scientists has taken hold. The stereotype is both gendered and racial, as research shows that even minorities tend to draw White men, thus affecting diversity in science on multiple levels.This stereotype is used in other ways by teachers, parents, the media and other figures of authority to force girls to consider that maybe they’re not fit to do science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It turns into a phenomenon known as stereotype threat which affects women’s memory recall, decision-making and resilience.

The stereotype is repeated in high school, in the way women scientists and people of colour are missing from the science curriculum, to university, where women role models are largely absent from the syllabus. At every step of girls’ progression from education through to their careers, gender stereotypes are used to discourage women both in tacit and overt ways. This is known as the leaky pipeline, with studies showing how girls and women leave STEM at various stages due to the cultural pressures and institutional obstacles they face.

Read more from me, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Prof Rajini Rao on how to transcend gender stereotypes and structural barriers in science.


Image: quote overlaid over photograph of night sky: ‘Young girls know that stars, dinosaurs, bugs and volcanoes are magic. The problem is that day-to-day life in a patriarchal culture makes it hard for women to study them. – Shannon Palus’ on Quartz.

Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in STEMM

Informed and Practical Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in Science
This is Part 2 on my participation in Kiwi Foo, an invitation-only “unconference” in Auckland, New Zealand, that brings together people from broad fields to work on social change (read about the rest of Kiwi Foo in Part 1). I spoke about Informed and Practical Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM).

Ruby Payne-Scott. Photo via Peter Gavin Hall, Wikipedia
Ruby Payne-Scott. Photo via Peter Gavin Hall, Wikipedia, CC 3.0

I started my talk at Kiwi Foo by telling the story of Ruby Payne-Scott, a pioneer in radio astronomy whose work led to major technological innovation and scientific knowledge. She supported top secret science on radar detection in the 1940s during the war, and she was a women’s rights activist. During the 1930s and 1940s, she worked for Australia’s premier government research agency, CSIRO, at a time where women were not allowed to be married and working in the public service. So she secretly married in 1944 and subsequently lost (but fought hard to keep) her permanent position at CSIRO. She was finally forced to resign in 1951, a few months before the birth of her son, Peter, as her pregnancy was no longer able to be hidden. Her career in science was effectively ended because her family status was deemed unlawful for the public service.

Ruby Payne-Scott, third from the right, at the 1952 International Union of Radio Science conference, University of Sydney
Ruby Payne-Scott, 5th from the right, at the 1952 International Union of Radio Science conference, University of Sydney. Photo: Wikipedia, CC 3.0

Women scientists and allies who care about gender equity in STEMM tell Dr Payne-Scott’s story often, though it is a shamefully unknown story by broader Australia. My point in beginning my talk with this lamentable tale is that Payne-Scott’s historic impact lives on for the wrong reasons. In Australia, the shameful employment discrimination she endured overshadows her scientific achievements in many ways. More sadly, while women in the present day are no longer discriminated in the same overt way, other structural inequalities make it difficult for women to remain in science, especially after they have children. So Payne-Scott’s legacy remains perennially relevant, 70 years later. Continue reading Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in STEMM