Last weekend, I gave a talk on “Ending Sexual Harassment in Science, Technology and Maths (STEM) and Academia,” at Kiwi Foo, in Auckland, New Zealand. The discussion was really wonderful, with many thoughful stories shared about experiences of harassment and how to take collective action. In particular, we talked about how men can be better allies to women and femmes. Kiwi Foo is a weekend getaway, with 180 participants who either stay on site camping or in dorms, or nearby the camp grounds. It is an “unconference” where the schedule of talks are not pre-determined by organisers. Instead, everyone comes together on Friday night and puts forward sessions and people can combine their sessions together if they are closely aligned in topic. The sessions are less about the presenter talking – no PowerPoint slides – just setting the scene and then facilitating discussion. The other talks were wonderful and gave me much food for thought.

I’m off to beautiful Auckland in Aotearoa (New Zealand) for #KiwiFoo! My second time Fooing. 😃 Last time was wonderful. I was very apprehensive before arriving, because while I’ve lectured, done dozens of conferences, and led hundreds of presentations and workshops, Kiwi Foo is an “unconference,” which I’ve never experienced. It is a unstructured event where none of the day talks are pre-organised. Instead, the 150 participants arrive on Friday night, introduce themselves to everyone else one by one (😮) and then together negotiate individual talks and panels. The idea is to put your idea for your talk on the wall (newbies first) and then see if others are talking on a similar theme and try to collaborate. A broad aim of the conference is to bring together people from many fields to work together on a better future.
The format was daunting because I was unsure about the process and how my talk would be received by the crowd. It turned out to be one of the best conferences I’ve attended, with an amazing range of talks, from new tech ideas, to making the law more accessible, to advertising for social good.
Last time I talked about gender equity and diversity in science, technology and mathematics (STEM). Link to my blog post of the previous Kiwi Foo in my bio. You’ll also find a summary of my previous talk.
This time, I’m going to talk about sexual harassment in academia & STEM organisations. I’ll discuss intersectionality (how gender inequity impacts on experiences of racism and other forms of exclusion); how institutions perpetuate a culture of silence; & how we can change status quo.

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Memories of Kiwi Foo, New Zealand, 2016

Kiwi Foo is a weekend-long unconference where there is no set program. The event begins after everyone stands up and gives their three-word introductions, listing three keyword interests. Then new Kiwi Foos are given first preference in putting up proposed talks and sessions. People with similar ideas are encouraged to combine their sessions. Talks are informal (only a couple of people used PowerPoint) and there is a lot of focus on discussion with the audience.

The talks were surprising in breadth of topic and sentiment. There were talks about new research and innovation; but there were also talks about how to redefine life after surviving cancer; some people discussed their passion projects or their professional work; but others led discussions on how to enhance collaboration and not for profit work. I presented on how to enhance gender and diversity in science and technology

Here is a little on a couple of my favourite talks.

Law, IT & the Future

David Harvey, a former judge recently turned academic, talked about progressive online legislation. He is set to open a new academic centre on the topic and sought ideas and questions about the type of issues they might cover, as well as crowd-sourcing ideas for further funding. He talked about how slow the law has been to catch up on international patterns of internet use, and how online legal resources were arcane and difficult to navigate.

Taking People With You

Another session on building stronger teams when creating social movements was well attended by people from various backgrounds.

Shaun Hendy and Jess Weichler led the session. We sat on pillows on the ground and shared our experiences running volunteer groups.

A few of us discussed the challenges in keeping volunteers engaged, by knowing why they sign up and by validating their service in tangible (if not material) ways.

Co-design to tackle complex social problems

Jane Strange talked about using co-design to tackle social policy problems. This involves not simply gathering data from community groups affected by particular issues, but also supporting community members to lead solutions. Using a set of posters, Strange discussed how two government agencies partnered with an NGO to better engage youth in South Auckland to increase the rates of youth-of-driving-age getting their licence. This area has a low-socioeconomic profile with high rates of youth crime and incarceration, however, many offences begin with minor issues, such as driving without a license. Getting a licence requires a relatively sound level of literacy and additional costs to qualify, and in rural areas where many families are struggling on social welfare, such things are luxuries. Strange talked about driving licenses as a social justice issue. Her talk was entertaining and I’ve thought much about it since.

Learn more on my blog: The Other Sociologist.


[Photos: 1) a quiet, long road with grass and a fence, the site where Kiwi Foo was held in 2016; 2) two people chat, sitting down outside of the cafe area; 3) many people sit in groups talking inside a light-filled lounge; 4) tents pitched on the grounds where the unconference was held]

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Sociology of Kiwi Foo, an Unconference

Have you ever been to an unconference? It’s where participants put the program of talks together once they arrive at the venue. I went to Kiwi Foo in March 2016 in New Zealand where people from tech, policy, academia and other industries discuss ways to collaborate on ways to make the world better.

From the little I knew about Kiwi Foo, it seemed dominated by people from tech backgrounds. I didn’t doubt the natural and physical sciences would be at home at Kiwi Foo – but what about social science? I wondered how my unapologetic intersectional feminism would be received. All of the public sociology and science communication (scicomm) I do brings a lot of abuse and it can be very draining. Other elements of my daily work exposes me to painful experiences of discrimination, sexism and racism. In my little precious time off, travelling on only a couple of hours of sleep, did I want to subject myself to the possibility of being face to face with more hostility?

In the end, I went for two reasons. First and foremost because it’s an opportunity I might otherwise never have again and second, because I felt so uncomfortable at the unconference format that I knew I had to try it once.  

I needn’t have worried. Kiwi Foo turned out to provide a highly supportive discursive space where feminists were not only welcome, but heard and validated by new colleagues looking to make a change. In fact, I was heartened that the Kiwi Foo website has an anti-harassment policy that is also emailed upon registration. This solidified my decision to attend the conference. Details like this make a tremendous difference on women, as conferences can sometimes be be daunting places where sexual harassment and sexism prevail. 

Thankfully this was not the case. Kiwi Foo led to one of the most productive gender equity discussions I’ve ever led or participated in.

Read more on my blog, The Other Sociologist.

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

Sociology of Kiwi Foo, an Unconference

Kiwi Foo Baa Camp timetable

On Friday the 11th of March, I travelled to Auckland New Zealand for Kiwi Foo, a two-and-a-half day “unconference” where 150 participants from New Zealand and other parts of the world from a wide range of professional backgrounds self-organise the sessions. This includes people from technology companies, policy and community organisations, as well as academics . The idea behind Foo Camp is to bring together like-minded individuals who might otherwise not meet, and listen to one another and look for ways to connect in our common goal to make the world a better place.

In order to attend, one must be nominated by a previous Foo alumn from Kiwi camp or SciFoo from the UK. You pay for your own travel but all other costs, including food and lodging if you want it, are provided. When you accept the invitation, you nominate three keywords. Upon arrival, in a large hall filled with around three hundred people, each person stands up to introduce themselves by their name, their affiliation and their keywords, without elaboration. It took awhile but it was really fun. I went representing myself (and this blog!) and my three keywords were: gender equity & diversity; science communication; sociology.

Kiwi Foo proved to be one of the most personally challenging but most rewarding experiences I’ve had. It was an insightful sociological weekend. This is part one of two posts. Part one focuses on what I learned, how I was inspired, and why you should jump at the chance to go, should you get  a chance. Part two contains my talk, Informed and practical ways to enhance gender equity and diversity in STEMM. Continue reading Sociology of Kiwi Foo, an Unconference