I wrote this post below for STEM Women on G+ about the MAKERS documentary focused on women in the American space program. I wanted to add some notes about two women of colour featured in the program.
Latina Engineer Marleen Martinez wanted to be an astronaut from the age of five. She writes the scripts and procedures to test the Orion spacecraft. She is the daughter of migrant farmers and says she overcame a lack of role models to reach her goal:
“I do remember that engineer wasn’t really a girls’ field. There was other things you could do. When people found out I was becoming an engineer, a lot of people were taken aback. Especially being a Hispanic female, it’s not something that you really run into very often, it’s actually very rare.”
Physician and peace-corps worker, Dr Mae Jameson was also featured. She is celebrated as the first Black woman in space, a title she says frustrates her:
“I was really irritated that I was the first African-American woman in space, or the first woman of colour in space in the world. I was irritated because there should have been many more before me… One of these things that people talk about nowadays is the overview effect [astronaut’s overwhelming experience of seeing the Earth from orbit, as a ‘pale blue dot’ without national boundaries]. But that wasn’t the part that struck me. The perspective that stuck with me is that I am as much a part of this universe as any speck of stardust. I have as much right to be here. It connected me with this greater universe. That perspective of belonging was what was important to me. “
You may have heard that Megan Smith former Vice President of GoogleX is now the Chief Technology Officerfor The White House. Smith has both a Bachelor and a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, she serves on the MIT Board, and she is also a successful entrepreneur. She has an outstanding commitment to gender diversity and she is one of the few big-name leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) who is visible in her work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. Smith was formerly the CEO of PlanetOut, an online LGBT organisation. Let’s take a look at Smith’s amazing credentials and her work on women in STEM and LGBTQ advocacy.
This morning, I co-hosted a STEM Women on G+ event, speaking with two women who work on Google’s IT Residency Program. We asked them about how women can get involved with this program and how it helps them manage working in a male-dominated field. Erin Leverton manages the program which runs across several cities (including Sydney). They recruit new graduates like Samantha Schaevitz who spoke with us about her experience transitioning from studying computer science and working at the IT helpdesk in her university, to training on the program, and then getting a permanent role at Google as an engineer.
Here’s our STEM Women on G+ Hangout with Google+’s Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger. We had limited time and we could have easily spoken longer. I was especially interested to hear Yonatan speak about his personal journey to learn additional leadership skills to support diversity, such as active listening.
I see that many individuals are invested in supporting women in STEM, which is heartening, but this often means taking a personal interest to read more on the issue, as Yonatan has done. My interest as a sociologist is how to improve these individual efforts to build a critical mass. How do we better maximise and pool our collective efforts to achieve broader change?
I’m a big advocate of mandatory equity and diversity training within organisations. I also see that issues of inequality for women and other minorities need to move into a central place within all the STEM fields. These matters need to be addressed earlier in research and applied careers, so that they are not marginal topics that we debate later. Instead, the conversation we’re having with STEM Women is: things are unequal, what are we going to do about it?
A couple of weeks ago, I joined the STEM Women management team. Our goal is to improve the visibility and participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We have a number of exciting initiatives coming up, including a series of fortnightly Google+ Hangouts (broadcast on our YouTube). This includes Hangouts with women talking about their careers in STEM; discussions with organisations about practical programs that address women’s inclusion; analysis of topical issues impeding progress and how to move forward; as well as conversations with men about how they can help support women and how we can address gender inequality together.
Earlier today, I co-hosted the first of our new fortnightly interview series, and Rajini womaned our social media live. We chatted with Professor Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist specialising in microbiome research and editor-in-chief of the open-access journal PLoS Biology. Jonathan was a fantastic guest who spoke candidly about the need for male academics to be more proactive in addressing inequality. He gave some practical examples of how women’s participation in science can be bolstered by simple measures, such as by: offering childcare as part of academic conference services; through diversity training for hiring panels; and providing better mentorship for young women in science. Continue reading I Joined the Team at STEM Women
Product designer Anne Katherine Halsall provides an interesting perspective on what it’s like being a woman entrepreneur in the technology sector at different career stages. She says when she was younger and worked at Google, she was flattered to receive compliments on being a good woman programmer. As she started doing more serious coding (” learning how to learn to program”) she realised her previous attitude was a problem. Continue reading Woman Entrepreneur in Tech
Hispanic women are fully aware that our culture is entrenched in misogyny, but not necessarily any less than American culture. Women in the United States are often expected to take their husbands’ last name. Many men still go to their bride’s father to ask for her hand in marriage; just because we see it as a sweet gesture it does not mean that it isn’t patriarchal in nature… Loving tradition and having pride in your culture does not mean these women cannot vocalize the gender issues of their communities. My mother’s feminism was the truest form of feminism for me; a belief in the potential upward mobility of all women.
Patricia Valoy, Civil Engineer, feminist blogger, and radio host reflects on gender politics and the sacrifices her stay-at-home mother made for her children after they migrated from the Dominican Republic to the USA. Valoy writes that Western feminism encouraged her to see her mother as being trapped in patriarchy, but she argues that we need to find a way to move past narrow conceptions of feminism:
Feminism cannot continue to exist as a monolithic block, or we will never be able to include women from all walks of life.
The New York Times has published an article on the historical and social influences on technology adoption. Science Professor Bernard Carlson, (University of Virginia, USA) tells engineering students: “they are going to produce sociotechnical systems,” meaning they need to understand how people “interact with technology.”
Last month, The New York Times gave a disheartening insight into Google’s Executive hiring practices. Google is predominantly staffed with young men,* and they have trouble hiring and retaining women. Google turned to its “famous algorithms” to work out why this was the case, developing spreadsheets to help address the matter. In Google Executive land, it seems, engineers and computer scientists are characterised as “guys” who are proactive in advancing their careers, while women are seen as failed “business” people who don’t ask for promotions. Google has taken some measures to address their hiring practices, but its Executives seem to accept that their gender imbalance (30% women to 70% men) is unlikely to change much. While I focus on Google as a case study, my analysis deconstructs the flaws in the gender logic that large companies have about workplace inequality. Studies find that it is not the fact that women do not ask for promotions that impede their career progression; nor is it simply the decision to exit the workplace to have children. Instead, empirical data show that when employers are faced with equally qualified and experienced candidates who put in the same amount of work and who have the same outcomes, they are more likely to hire, promote and remunerate men over women. I argue that there is a resistance in workplaces to understand how their organisational practices are structured in ways that impede women from thriving professionally.
Gender imbalance and inequality are not inevitable. These are the outcome of daily interactions, organisational practices, policies, and unexamined norms and values. Sociology can help workplaces address gender inequalities by taking an organisational approach to gender. Such a framework makes gender biases visible and involves everyone in addressing inequality – not just women, but people of all genders, as well as the Executives who hold ultimate power in organisational change. Continue reading Google’s Glass Ceiling: A Case Study of Why Organisations Lose Innovative Women