Despite its special focus on diversity, the evolution of the March for Science shows that diversity has been an afterthought. Science and academia continually places scientists from underrepresented groups in the position of arguing for our rights. The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.
Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos provides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing.
Dr Carly Rosewarne was excited about the Environmental and Human Microbiomes conference, hosted by the prestigious publisher, Nature. As a specialist in the field of gastrointestinal research, the global conference was an important scientific event. Dr Rosewarne’s joy was short-lived when she looked at the program: with hardly any women speakers, it was a YAMMM: Yet Another Mostly Male Meeting.
Dr Rosewarne provides an analogy about the importance of diversity in her field of study, which is not reflected in the conference practices in her discipline. She writes:
“Improving gender representation on invited speaker panels at scientific conferences is not difficult. The most effective method is to use guidelines that specify a minimum target threshold, most preferably for each session but at least across the whole event. In the microbiome field there are no reasons why this is impractical since there is no shortage of highly qualified women who would be delighted to be asked! Additional consideration may be required in order to provide extra support (financial or otherwise) to those who have caring responsibilities. If diversity is also present amongst the organising committee these needs will be more readily identified.”
Dr Rosewarne has decided not to attend the conference in protest and urges other prominent scientists to speak up on gender inequality and to boycott YAMMM events to amplify the message
Astrophysicist Professor Vera Rubin, USA National Medal of Science awardee who confirmed the existence of dark matter, died on 25 December 2016.
One of the things I want to highlight especially for this post is the wonderful job Professor Rubin’s institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, did in their press release. They focus on Rubin’s scientific discovery using plain language, but they were bold in also highlighting her gender equity work in science, by calling her an “ardent feminist”. This is so important because women’s advocacy for gender equity is scientific work that is unpaid; it is undertaken on top of research, teaching, and grant work; and goes largely unacknowledged.
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).
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.
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
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
“But the sad fact is it is much easier to say ‘we need more women in science’ than it is to stand up, look the (mostly male) leaders in science and politicians in the eye and say: ‘Your laboratories, hiring procedures, grant-allocating processes and publishing routines are all sexist, and this results in science and technologies that aren’t good for at least half the population. Why have you allowed this to continue for so long?'”
I’ll be co-hosting this Hangout on how institutions can use data and analysis to improve gender equity policies and practices in STEMM organisations.
Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is running a Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia. Athena SWAN is an evaluation and accreditation program that has had tremendous success enhancing gender equity and diversity in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, especially focusing on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
Thirty-two Australian institutions have signed up to the SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN, including 25 universities, five medical research agencies and two government organisations. Athena SWAN seeks to improve the education and career outcomes of all women and to boost the recognition of underrepresented groups (such as transgender scientists, Indigenous Australian researchers and other minority groups).
SAGE will interview Professor Hazel Hall, Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team Leader for Edinburgh Napier University. We’ll discuss how the university selected its team to support their application for an Athena SWAN application for a Bronze Institutional Award. This Award recognises that an institution has started substantial work to eliminate gender bias and that it is working to create an inclusive culture for all. Professor Hall will speak about how her team overcame the challenges of collecting and analysing gender equity and diversity issues for their institution. Professor Hall will also discuss how they created actions to address areas of inequity and how consultations with staff and students helped this process.
Psychologist Linda Carli and her team find that an increased number of women in a particular field improves the perceived similarity between women and scientists but even numbers of men and women don’t necessarily lead to the same effect.
“Common cultural stereotypes about women, men, and scientists lead people to see women as incompatible with science. Men are especially prone to this bias, but everyone shares it. This may result in prejudice (a dislike of female scientists compared with men) and discrimination against them.”
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 small number 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.