“I have as much right to be here”: Women of Colour in Space

“I have as much right to be here”: Women of Colour in Space

I wrote this post below for STEM Women on G+ about a terrific 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. “

#womenofcolour   #womenofcolor   #poc   #sociology   #socialscience   #science   #stemwomen   #latinas  

Originally shared by STEM Women on G+

Women in Space

Check out this must-see documentary by MAKERS (link below). It features footage and interviews with the pioneer women who joined the American space program including the inspirational Dr Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and the extraordinary Dr Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space. There are many interesting tidbits about the practical issues that helped make the case for gender equality. For example given that weight is an important concern to space flight, and the fact that women generally weigh and eat less than men, this helped rationalise the idea of allowing women into the space program.

Dr Randy Lovelace was the American physician who led aerospace medicine and he tested and passed the first 13 women for inclusion into the space program. He found that women performed better than men in the stress tests, and they also complained less during their physical tests. Having passed the training program, these women had to make their case to the USA congress because the law did not allow women to become jet pilots for the military, and that was a prerequisite for astronauts. Their request was rejected and the program was stopped almost two decades.

Women and People of Colour Wanted

The documentary notes that women’s eventual inclusion was not due to progressive views per se, but because women activists increased political pressure and there were economic concerns of lawsuits. Technological innovations also ushered in equality. With better design and safety provided by shuttles, astronauts were no longer required to be jet pilots and could instead qualify as mission specialists (researchers and physicians for example). In 1977, for the first time in a decade, NASA put out an advertisement for a new recruitment drive, adding: “Astronauts wanted: Women, minorities are urged to apply.” Women and people of colour did not apply because they’d been excluded for so long, which is why NASA recruited Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols to help make their message of inclusion clear.

Women’s Endless Frontier

The documentary provides a fascinating insight on women’s space history, including the unique challenges faced by these women in their education and addressing bodily practices in space! A couple of stand out quotes:

On equality: “Women have lived in space, and women have died in space. And there is probably no greater equaliser than that.”

On recruiting more women in future: “I don’t particularly think the ‘first’ part matters so much except to the spectator crowd. It’s the work. Come be part of this adventure. Look what you can do. I don’t want someone saying, ‘Well the first has already gone, so there’s no reason.’ It’s not about the first. The first is a moment in time. It’s an artefact in the history books. It’s an artefact on the TV shows. The exploration, the discovery, the scientific opportunities the chance to make such a difference in the world is still all there. You are still a part of it. You can be a part of it. An endless frontier. Your endless frontier. Go after that endless frontier.”

Featured in the image below is Poppy Northcutt who, at 25 years of age, was one of the first women to support NASA’s mission control. 

Watch the documentary: http://goo.gl/eLbHgj

Learn More

As this is a documentary focused on America, of course it does not cover the first woman in space, Dr Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited Earth in 1963, two decades before Sally Ride flew into space. Read about Tereshkova: http://goo.gl/am2dt7

Want to know more about pioneer women of colour who supported the NASA space program? Check out our website for an interview we did with Candy Torres, a Latina software engineer who helped code for missions by NASA and the International Space Station. http://goo.gl/SRvBtW


HT Thank you Garron Longfield for sharing this on our sister community Science on Google+!

#stemwomen   #nasa   #stem   #engineering   #womeninstem   #womenintech  

Megan Smith: STEM Woman in the White House

You may have heard that Megan Smith former Vice President of GoogleX is now the Chief Technology Officer for 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.

The Tech industry needs us badly. - Megan Smith
The diversity of all of the millions of us, the technical women, the computer science women, is broad. This industry and this planet needs us badly. – Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer, USA

Continue reading Megan Smith: STEM Woman in the White House

Women in Robotics

On Monday the 28th of April at 730am Aussie time (Sunday 27th 230pm USA Pacific) I’ll be co-hosting this discussion with Buddhini Samarasinghe for STEM Women on G+.

Join us for a STEM Women HOA as we speak to Annika O’Brien  on her career as a roboticist. Annika is an engineer who works on robotics and also a passionate STEM educator, teaching kids how to program and build robots through STEAMtrax. She will talk to us about her exciting career path as a woman in STEM, what inspires her, and why supporting women in STEM is important. 

A write up of the video is on the STEM Women website.

Inclusive Management in Tech

Here’s our STEM Women on G+ Hangout with Google+’s Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger, co-hosted by Buddhini Samarasinghe and me. 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?


Continue reading Inclusive Management in Tech

Woman Entrepreneur in Tech

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

Social Influences on Technology Adoption

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.”

Google’s Glass Ceiling: A Case Study of Why Organisations Lose Innovative Women

Google's Glass CeilingBy Zuleyka Zevallos

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

Sociology of Altrusim

The Bad Chemicals, Sharing is Caring

In a vexing new twist on the established theories of altruism, a neurologist, an engineer and a veterinarian argue that ‘selflessness’ can be ‘pathological’. They’re talking about human behaviour, even though they are not social scientists who are trained to study the social consequences of human behaviour. Natalie Angier’s New York Times article interviews the researchers about their upcoming book, ‘Pathological Altruism’, which will explore the hazardous and self-destructive extremes of ‘helpful behaviour’. The research used to exemplify ‘pathological altruism’ includes:

  • highly empathetic nurses who ‘burn out’ because they care too much for their patients
  • anorexic patients in hospitals,
  • victims of abuse,
  • so-called ‘animal hoarders’ (people who take care of too many animals they cannot afford to keep).

There are several individual and institutional causes for stress, mental illness and abuse that are not easily explained by altruism-gone-wrong. It seems especially problematic to suggest that a victim of abuse is being altruistic through their experiences of violence. Provocative, yes. Helpful? Probably not. The sociological study of altruism reveals why this is the case.

Continue reading Sociology of Altrusim