Interview: Sociology at Work

Interview: Sociology at Work

I was interviewed by Mendeley about my work in equity and diversity in research environments. Below is an excerpt.

My focus is on gender equity and diversity. I have worked with many different organisations as a consultant and project manager; I’ve instructed them on how to review, enhance, and evaluate effectiveness of different policies. I’ve also provided consultancy on how to provide training at different levels so organisations can better understand their obligations and responsibilities.

My work includes enhancing workplace culture, particularly, the everyday cultural dynamics that impact on working life. For example, by offering more flexibility for workers, and looking at where there may be gaps or opportunities to enhance existing procedures. I also study how everyday interactions can enhance productivity. In other words, I don’t just look at how organisations can meet their legislative requirements, which are merely the minimum standard. I also work with teams to see how they interact and how organisations can create policies to suit their unique workplace needs.

In the course of my career, I have worked with a number of research organisations, mainly here in Australia, such as the Academy of Science. I helped them implement their gender and diversity programme. I have also worked with several other national and state research programmes, looking at how they can meet the challenges of intersectionality issues; that is, how they can better understand how gender equity and racism intersect along with other diversity needs, including those associated with class, sexuality, and disability.

I’m sad to say that the research community is far behind other sectors: bullying is much higher in academic and research contexts. Although there ought to be a better understanding of diversity, minorities report they are targeted via a variety of forms, including microaggressions – everyday comments and “jokes” that exclude or demean differences. Furthermore, compared to industry and government, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) people in the research sector are more likely to remain “in the closet.” Studies indicate people working in universities feel less safe in disclosing their sexual identity to their managers, and they feel more susceptible to harassment and homophobia. This is particularly prevalent in Australia and English speaking countries including the UK and USA.

Read more on Mendeley:


Commenting policy

Before commenting on this post, please read the article.

I moderate comments to maintain a safe space first and foremost for women of colour of various backgrounds, and also to support the voices of other minority groups who are marginalised. I welcome comments but please note that I do not allow abuse. People commenting should discuss sociology; be polite; stay on topic; and be aware of their own bias. My commenting policy is in my About section of G+ and also here:

Please note I often lock my posts overnight or close off comments after a few days when I’m unable to moderate. This keeps my threads free from abuse.

#sociology #socialscience #socialjustice #equity #woc #socialpolicy #medeley #science #womeninscience #womeninstem #diversity #academia #inclusion

Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

My latest for American Humanist Association. Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism.

The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination ( The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund, while academics like Stephen Jay Gould showed that The Bell Curve obscured data (

Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” (

It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people. […]

Harris’s characterizations of Murray’s critics are a projection of the push back he feels he’s unfairly faced. “You were one of the canaries in the coal mines,” Harris tells Murray. Having previously dismissed Murray, Harris now feels an affinity due to facing rebuke for racism (while continuing to espouse similar views).

The atheist movement has changed. Once the almost-exclusive domain of White men, calls for equality have challenged conversations, as diverse groups of women and minorities seek a more inclusive vision for atheism. It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.

Read more on The Humanist:


Commenting policy

Before commenting on this post, please read my article, and the scientific sources referenced.

I moderate comments to maintain a safe space first and foremost for women of colour of various backgrounds, and also to support the voices of other minority groups who are marginalised. I welcome comments but please note that I do not allow abuse. People commenting should discuss sociology; be polite; stay on topic; and be aware of their own bias. My commenting policy is in my About section of G+ and also here:

Please note I often lock my posts overnight or close off comments after a few days when I’m unable to moderate. This keeps my threads free from abuse.

#sociology #socialscience #socialjustice #equity #scientificracism #racism #poc #socialpolicy #thehumanist #americanhumanistassociation #humanism #atheism #charlesmurray #science

SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Woman of colour reads her phone in front of a laptop

Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.

On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.

George Mason University requests email addresses of march followers: Source screengrab via Science Magazine

Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.

How did this major error happen?

Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.

These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.


Continue reading SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

This article was first published on DiverseScholar, on 27 March 2017.

Given the high profile of the Women’s March against the Trump Administration on January 21, 2017, the March for Science (MfS) seeks to rally against the science policy changes, funding cuts, gag orders, and the administrative overhaul of science organisations by the Trump Government.

The March for Science is scheduled to occur globally on April 22 in over 400 cities. The aims and functions of the march have been drastically altered in the first two months of its existence, especially as the organisers began to receive critique from the scientific community regarding diversity issues. By setting up the march as being “not political” and by reproducing various problems of gender inequality, racism and other forms of exclusion, the march organisers have inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse, which has been subsequently adopted by a vocal majority of the MfS supporter base.

In sociology, the concept of discourse describes how language comes to convey and justify dominant ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. Discourses are built around the social identities, values, interests, and power of dominant groups. This means that the stories we tell about “why things are the way they are,” reinforce the status quo, and thus justify the reasoning, policies, and practices of groups that already have institutional control.

The idea that White men are the taken-for-granted norm of what it means to be a scientist is learned early in school, and then reinforced throughout education, career progression, prestigious prizes, and the publication and funding systems. Institutional mechanisms in science serve to reinforce a discourse that naturalises White men’s dominance in science.

My article on DiverseScholar shows how the MfS organisers have come to reproduce the existing discourse of science, by normalising the interests of scientists who are White and from majority backgrounds. I present an analysis on public reactions to the third (of four) MfS diversity statements that reflect this position.

I analysed 354 comments and over 3,300 reactions to the MfS diversity statement. There were two broad response types to the March for Science diversity statement on the public Facebook page: comments were either discouraging or encouraging of the MfS diversity statement.

The discouraging comments fell into four sub-groups: people who felt that diversity was either politicising or dividing the practice of science; and those who felt that diversity was depreciating or distracting from the goals of the march more specifically.

The encouraging comments included individuals who felt uniquely positioned to be informing others about why diversity is important to the march, and supporters who thought that diversity is enhancing science more generally.

Discourses reflect the history, culture, identity, and politics of those in power. To make the MfS truly inclusive, the organisers need to think more strategically about how to manage misconceptions about science. They will also need to be more proactive in promoting a new discourse about the march.

Read more on DiverseScholar.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

This article was first published on Latino Rebels on 14 March 2017.

Inspired by the impact of the Women’s March, March for Science (MfS) emerged from a series of social media conversations. The ScienceMarchDC Twitter account was set up on January 24, and a Facebook page three days later. Their follower base ballooned from a couple of hundred people to thousands. At the time of writing, the Twitter account has 337,000 followers, the public Facebook page has more than 393,000 likes, and the private Facebook community has over 840,000 members. There are currently 360 satellite marches being organized in various American states and in many cities around the world.

The MfS organizers go to great pains to separate science from politics, and science from scientists, as if practice and policies are independent from practitioners. For example co-chair and biology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jonathan Berman says: “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Another co-chair, science writer Dr Caroline Weinberg, recently told The Chronicle: “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These sentiments strangely echo other highly publicized opposition to the march, and are being replicated in some of the local marches. The idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. These notions privilege the status quo in science, by centring the politics, identities and values of White scientists, especially White cisgender, able-bodied men, who are less affected by changes to the aforementioned social policies.

The topic of diversity has dominated online conversations between many scientists across different nations who are interested in making MfS inclusive.

Even as the movement gained swift momentum, the leadership and mission were unclear in one key area: diversity.

Discussions over the march are important not just due to the planned demonstration. The debates matter because they reflect broader issues of diversity in science.

Read more on Latino Rebels.

March for Science Can_t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

Sociology of the National Arboretum

Playground at the National Arboretum Canberra

One of the themes of my visual sociology is the representation of science. Conservation is as much about social practices as it is about earth science, biology and other natural sciences. Today’s post is about the sociology of the National Arboretum, which sits on Ngunawal country. Ngunawal people are the traditional custodians of this part of Acton, west of the city in Canberra. Less than a seven minute drive central business district, this is one of the world’s largest arboretums for rare and endangered trees. I am no arborist. I cannot even claim to be a fan of gardening. I was interested in the Arboretum first in an attempt to capture a visual sociology of Canberra, and second to see how people interact with this place as a science centre. The focus of my post today is on the social dynamics of the Arboretum, especially on community aspects of conservation and the trees that drew the greatest interest amongst the crowds I saw: the Bonsai and Penjing Collection .
National Arboretum (18)

Continue reading Sociology of the National Arboretum

Career opportunity on a national gender equity program increasing the numbers of senior women from diverse…

Career opportunity on a national gender equity program increasing the numbers of senior women from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and technology!

Job is with the Australian Academy of Science based in Canberra, Australia.


Originally shared by Zuleyka Zevallos

Job Opportunity: Gender Equity in Science

Join our team Science in Australia Gender Equity and support Australian universities, medical research and government institutions who are working to increase the career outcomes of all women and gender minorities. Applications close TODAY before midnight, AEST. 

Learn more and link to apply: #careeropportunities   #jobs   #genderequity   #science  

The Future of Science: Women

The Future of Science: Women

Today I attended an event on how women are the future of science, co-hosted by the Australian Academy of Science at the National Press Club of Australia. It was a truly excellent discussion and historic: the Press Club hosts hundreds of talks every year – but only a minority of women have been invited as speakers. Even more sobering is the fact that women make up less than one percent of the scientists who’ve been invited to address this national media forum. Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) of the University of South Australia Professor Tanya Monro talked about how difficult her early career was because she took time to have children and she had to “bootstrap” funding for her first research centre. She was the first woman professor ever hired in the Physics department at one of Australia’s oldest universities since the University of Adelaide was established in the 1880s. 

Professor Emma Johnston, Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program, discussed how she “did everything wrong” in terms of her career: she chose to have children (unfortunately, the “motherhood penalty” creates barriers for women researchers); she invested a lot of time in her teaching and pastoral care of students (science careers punish this important but undervalued work); and she was reticent to put herself forward for promotions and grant funds – unsurprising since peer reviewers always took the time to tell her everything that was wrong with her grant applications: too many career gaps (spent looking after family). Professor Johnston had a focus on intersectionality throughout her talk, which was truly wonderful to hear.

Professor Nalini Joshi is the first woman professor of mathematics at the University of Sydney – Australia’s oldest and most prestigious education institution. She was only the third woman mathematician elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Science. She talked about how she chose to wear a white top to today’s televised panel because when she goes to the Academy events dressed in a black suit, with her name tag clearly displaying her name and professorial title, she is mistaken for a waitress by her peers. Professor Joshi talked about how the work we’re doing in Science in Australia Gender Equity will transform science careers, by actively requiring institutions to analyse data to identify gender equity and diversity issues. 

All three scientists discussed some practical solutions – most importantly, all three supported setting institutional targets to increase gender equity.

Watch the panel discussion on ABC Australia  :  

Image: National Press Club: #stemwomen   #womeninstem   #women   #australia   #science  

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Any time there is an article about vaccine initiatives, a segment of the public begin to shout about government conspiracies and their perception of nefarious science. What is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I start by discussing the scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement before providing a broad sketch of the public who don’t believe in vaccination.

The science demonstrating that there is no link between autism and vaccines is peer-reviewed and well-established. The original paper that made the assertion that such a link existed was retracted by the original publisher, The Lancet, due to fraud by Andrew Wakefield and his team.

People who are convinced that vaccines cause autism have never read the original article that made this outlandish claim, let alone understand the science and its motives. For example, the fact that the study used a sample of only 12 boys; that the methods and conclusions were falsified; and most importantly, that Wakefield had a financial interest in making his fraudulent claims. He was funded by lawyers who were engaged in a lawsuit against vaccine companies. The retraction can be clearly seen on the original paper. The original retraction states:

“no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.”

It is rather ironical that some people imagine there is some financial or political incentive amongst scientists to support vaccines. This is simply not true.

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement
Continue reading Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Gender Bias in Science Hiring

Gender Bias in Science Hiring

I’ve been quoted in this article in the New Scientist concerning the critique of a new study that argues women are not disadvantaged in science hiring. Please read it as Lisa Grossman has included excellent discussion by scientists Katie Mack and Lucianne Walkowicz addressing why talking about inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is necessary for increased equality and diversity.

Psychology professors Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci published a widely-shared opinion piece on CNN ( based on their own study published in PNAS ( On my blog, I show that the researchers have used a flawed methodology to measure hiring practices and they do not address how sexism is impacted by race, sexuality, disability and other socio-economic markers (

Williams and Ceci’s data in this study, as well as their previous research, actually show that women are under-represented, but the researchers argue this is not due to discrimination and bias, but rather because women are “self-selecting” to leave science, or that they choose to not put themselves forward for jobs. This ignores the context in which women are hired, which does not simply begin at the hiring stage.

Flawed Methods

In this most recent study, Williams and Ceci sent out an email survey to a randomised sample of over 2,000 faculty members in the USA. They had a 34% response rate, meaning their final sample was over 700 faculty. As with all survey research, the sample only includes people who are willing to participate in the study, and they may not reflect the broader sub-population of people who actually serve on hiring committees. Williams and Ceci say they have addressed self-selection bias of their sample by conducting two control experiments. In one, they sent out surveys to only 90 psychology faculty who were paid $25 for participation. They had 91% response rate (82 agreed to participate). The rest of the sample was not paid for their time.

Using psychologists as a control group is not a true reflection of gender bias in broader STEM fields as this discipline has a higher level of awareness about gender issues, as gender is a central concept of study. The other control study involved 35 engineering faculty who responded to hypothetical applicants’ CVs. This material is a better simulation for what we usually review when we are considering a candidate pool. Nevertheless, the rest of the sample – over 500 participants – were asked to rate three candidates based on short vignettes supposedly written by a hypothetical hiring committee chair, commenting on the candidates’ credentials and family situation. This is not how academics are hired. 

Academics are hired on the basis of their CV and response to selection criteria, as well as supporting evidence like letters of recommendation, teaching evaluations, publications, grants record and so on. It is the CV and application material that gets a potential candidate an interview; the interviewee sits before a panel; individual panellists make notes which are then deliberated upon; and the committee makes a decision together. To suggest that reading a short narrative that looks nothing like the real-world context in which hiring panels make decisions is flawed logic. 

Gender Bias

Williams and Ceci are both White tenured professors (meaning that their jobs as senior academics are secure, unlike an increasing number of casual roles). This is the second time that Williams and Ceci have published an article claiming that sexism is over in the academy. The first was published in The New York Times. 

In a video for their last study, the authors admit that their research is motivated by a desire to prove the literature on inequality wrong. Williams, a White woman, even says that she thinks sexism impacted her early career decades a go, but that sexism is no longer a factor. That’s an easy thing to say when you are White and you have achieved tenure at a time when tenure was more hospitable.

As I discuss on my blog, a comprehensive 30-year study shows that White women have made the greatest gains under affirmative action policies, and that minority women have reaped very little from historical diversity policies. It’s time for change.

To overcome gender inequality, we need more senior people contributing to increasing the inclusion and participation of not just of White women, but also of women of colour, migrant women, transgender women, queer and lesbian women, women living with disabilities, and every other group in between who is marginalised.


*PNAS, “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students”

* PNAS, “Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women”

* Sex Roles, “The Impact of Gender on the Review of the Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study” (study on psychologists)

* Zevallos, Samarasinghe & Rao for Nature Soapbox Science, “Nature vs Nurture: Girls and STEM:

* Zevallos for STEM Women on G+. What is sexism and how does it work in STEM?

For further discussion of the literature, see the references in these articles:

* My current critique of Williams & Ceci:

* My previous critique of their research on STEM Women on G+

* Supplementary critique on Ceci & Williams on DiverseScholar:

* The video by Williams, Ceci and colleagues:

* My comments on Williams and Ceci’s video (scroll through this thread):

#sociology   #stem   #stemwomen   #diversity   #science