Sexism in Academic Science

The question is not: does sexism exist in STEM? Science shows institutional barriers are there. Question is: what are we doing about it?

A few days a go, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by two psychology professors who argue that “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist.” On STEM Women, I look at the various methodological problems with the Op-Ed which is based on a review study conducted by the Op-Ed authors and two economists. The biggest issue is that the way they measure gender inequality does not match the data they have available. The researchers fail to account for institutional factors that impact on women’s under-representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Continue reading Sexism in Academic Science

Academic Sexism

This is my latest post for STEM Women, which covers the recent Op-Ed in the New York Times claiming that there is no sexism in academia. There’s been a really great response from scientists speaking out against this article, particularly on social media. The issue is to really get the message out to the rest of the public that gender inequality in science is important and ongoing.

Continue reading Academic Sexism

Science Fellowships and Institutional Gender Bias in STEM

You may have read in late September that the ratio of women receiving Royal Society funding has “plummeted from one in three in 2010 to one in 20 this year.”  While the Society also awards the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships to early career women researchers, this award exists to boost women’s participation in science, not to augment or mask the issues in the Society’s mainstream Fellowship program.

The Royal Society was silent for a couple of days after its list of fellows list was made public, despite a large outcry by the scientific community on social media and opinion columns in the media. The Society President, Sir Paul Nurse, finally announced an investigation a couple of days after the fact. The question is: why did the Society wait until it was made public to assess their program?

I want to stress that while I’m using the Royal Academy’s Fellowship outcomes as a case study, the issue I am illustrating is the reactionary treatment of gender bias in all fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The point here is to tease out institutional patterns and to make the case that institutional approaches are needed to address gender inequality. While this point may seem obvious, the fact is that inequality in science, as with other spheres of social life, is still treated as a surprise. This is because, on the whole, organisations (and society in general) remains reactionary to addressing gender inequality. Diversity is an afterthought, when it should be a proactive and ongoing project at the organisational and societal levels.

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing on why the scientific community, inclusive of various disciplines, needs to re-examine its position on the problem of inequality in STEM. The picture I am building up is one of methodological rigour and interdisciplinary collaboration in order to better work towards gender inclusion.

Science Fellowships and Institutional Bias
Science Fellowships and Institutional Bias in STEM

Continue reading Science Fellowships and Institutional Gender Bias in STEM

“I Have as Much Right to be Here”: Women of Colour in Space

A Black child in an astronaut Halloween costume holds a sign that read 'I have as much to read here.' At the bottom is the title of this post: Women of colour in space

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. “

Continue reading “I Have as Much Right to be Here”: Women of Colour in Space

Ending Sexual Harassment in STEM

Dr Kathryn Clancy and colleagues conducted a study that finds sexual harassment is a widespread occurrence amongst researchers in the field. Women are especially likely to be harassed by a senior colleague. The study makes reference to three broad existing approaches that may be used to manage sexual harassment: “codes of conduct, principles of community, and sexual harassment policies.” The researchers note that despite these avenues, few of the participants in the study reported their experience of harassment. Few people knew how to report harassment. It is also likely that both victims and bystanders feared the immediate career repercussions of reporting harassment, as well as the after effects, such as ongoing trauma and career performance. The researchers note that of the minority who did report on sexual harassment, they were predominantly unsatisfied with the outcomes.

This post picks up on the existing avenues of action, centred on the principles of community approach. Continue reading Ending Sexual Harassment in STEM

STEM Woman in Chemistry: Professor Siromi Samarasinghe

This morning Professor Rajini Rao and I spoke with Professor Siromi Samarasinghe for STEM Women. Siromi spoke about what it was like being a woman Chemistry Professor in Sri Lanka and how to better support students. She discussed how one of the main issues impeding women’s progress in science is the cultural expectation of marriage.

Siromi pursued her Masters and PhD at a time when not many women were going into the sciences, both in Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world. She moved the UK to study even though there was tremendous pressure from family and friends on her mother to get Siromi married off. Thankfully, her mother was supportive and Siromi was able to carry out her research on food chemistry with a focus on the fascinating chemistry of tea!  Siromi was the only woman doing a postgraduate degree in any sciences at her university, and despite feeling isolated as a result, she completed her PhD studies with great success. Siromi went back to Sri Lanka were she would eventually become Chair of her Department – a role she held until recently. Read more about our chat below!

Continue reading STEM Woman in Chemistry: Professor Siromi Samarasinghe

Science on Google+ for the Win!

Drawing of protesters hold signs saying 'science serving the common good' and others

Here is a terrific, in-depth look at the passionate and dedicated discussions that take place every day on Google+ communities. Thanks to journalist Simon Owens for delving deeper into what makes G+ so special, and laying to rest the tired old argument that “Google Plus is a ghost town.”

Simon quotes Google product manager Danielle Buckley who says of G+ communities “People come up with really interesting ways of talking to each other that are community defined and make them really special.” 

I was interviewed for this piece, representing our tireless Science on Google+ Moderation team. Simon highlights our collective curation effort as well as the truly exceptional science posts by our members. I was super thrilled to see Simon chose to feature some of my favourite posters, Johnathan Chung, Jonah Miller as well as our fun ice spike post, and several others by our Community members.

Thank you to all our members who make our community one of the top 10 largest communities on Google+ as well as an amazing place for smart science discussion! Simon highlights some of our favourite posts by our community members. Continue reading Science on Google+ for the Win!

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

Girls in STEM

A post I co-authored with Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Professor Rajini Rao has just been published on the science website, We address the false idea that girls are fundamentally inferior to boys at science due to our biological capabilities. We examine how gender stereotypes negatively impact women’s careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Gender stereotypes are perpetuated through the stories we tell children as soon as they’re born. We show how children in Prep and Grade 1 tend to 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. Continue reading Girls in STEM