Tag Archives: conferences

SWE Helps to Fix the Grad Student Leak in the Pipeline (Reports from WE12 this week in Houston, TX)

This is my second post from the Society of Women Engineers National Conference, WE12, this week in Houston,TX. You can find my first (Lovefest over SWE) here.

I am a grad student. I have been a grad student for more than three years. I both love and hate it. I love that I have freedom to pursue things that interest me. I can set my own schedule. I have access to a student fitness center that would cost $50/month out in the “real world”. I love working with people who are enthusiastic about their careers. I love that students are willing to embrace new technology and techniques.

I hate that I have no expectation of rest or vacation whether I work 40 hours or 100 hours a week. No one cares. I have a master’s degree in engineering. If I worked in the “real world,” I would make at least $65,000 a year. I make quite a bit less than that. The casual, no consequences mentality of student life often frustrates me. Graduate school is sometimes isolating. You work alone; you may not be taking classes: and you feel constantly on the brink of failure. I am not the only grad student who feels this way. It is especially challenging for those of us who return to grad school from a career in industry. I worked in industry for two years and I miss the disposable income! I can’t even imagine being a PhD student with a spouse and/or children. From what I observed, it is exhausting. So people leave, women leave. Industry wants more women with Masters and PhDs and academia certainly wants more women faculty but first these women have to be grad students, tired, poor grad students.

The national organization of the Society of Women Engineers national organization recognizes that grad students are underserved. Today, in a discussion, this question emerged: How can SWE serve grad students alongside undergrads, who are not of a single demographic. A MS student who is studying at her undergrad institution may be perfectly content to attend a tailgating party with undergrads. A grad student in her 30′s, with children, may not care about the university’s football team and may not want to bring her kids to an event with alcohol. Both women are grad students and both may need the community available through SWE.

Another problem is funding. (Isn’t it always about money?). National SWE cannot recognize more than one SWE section at a single institution, meaning that a student section of SWE must serve all students. Universities and other sources of student organization funding may fund either graduate or undergraduate organizations, but not both. The national organization is beginning to realize that it may be important to allow grad student organizations some level of independence from the undergrad section.

Finally, how do we create a sustainable organization, one that will continue after key leaders move on? The answer seems simple: Before the leaders leave they must transition leadership to new people. That is easier said than done. On Thursday, I met another one of those dynamic women that I gushed about in my first post. Gwen is a grad student at a great school. She created the grad SWE organization at her university and she wants it to continue after she graduates. She is choosing to take on more responsibility in the regional and national organization and ask other people to work in the local organization.

So I ask you who are grad students: What have your experiences in grad school been? Do you feel connected to undergrads? What organizations do you value? How might SWE serve you more effectively? What might you do to encourage and support your sisters in graduate studies? How do you ensure something you worked on will survive when you graduate?

Interesting Links:

Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics from the American Association of University Women.

SWE’s Graduate Student Blog.

SWE Logo - 2010

SWE and Me (Reports from WE12 this week in Houston, TX)

This is the first of what I hope will be a three part post about the Society of Women Engineers.  This week I am in Houston, Texas for WE12, the SWE national conference.  This is the fourth national conference I have attended and I want to talk about why I love both the organization and the conference.

I originally intended for this post to be a history of the Society of Women Engineers but then I realized that I would basically be reiterating what I found at SWE History and at SWE Wikipedia Page .  So instead, I will write about my history with SWE. (You can find my first discussion of SWE at My Other SWE Post .)

SWE helped me get an internship and then help me get my first job after undergraduate studies.   But the biggest impact of SWE has been the people I have met.

I remember attending the SWE welcome picnic my freshmen year, 2002, at the University of Kansas.  I liked the idea of SWE,  but was did not find time, at first, to be involved.  I attended meetings, periodically, but  did little else.  At the beginning of my junior year, I happened to be at the meeting at which officers were elected.  I sat with a group of my friends who nominated me first for treasurer and then for fundraising chair.  I accepted because it felt nice to be wanted.  I served as in these positions for the next two years.   As fundraising chair, I was responsible for managing and recruiting volunteers for a football concession stand that we shared with two other organizations.  People hated volunteering because it was hard work and sometimes gross.  I didn’t enjoy the concession stand, but I came to love the SWE women.

President of the student section while I was working at the concession stand, was intelligent, driven and resilient.  The amount of work she could do in a day inspired me.  Cassandra would work, then work out, then reorganize her kitchen.  With organizations like SWE, a few people must put in the work.  She was that person.  She made things happen.

After graduation, I moved to Utah, where I had no friends or family.  I emailed the president of the local professional section of SWE.  She asked if I wanted to be an officer.  I also met, Marilyn who had taken a non typical path to her work as an engineer.  Marilyn is older than I am and she became my friend and mentor.

When I enrolled in graduate studies  at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I found it difficult to relate to the undergraduate community.  I was old and cranky and liked to go to bed at 10:00 PM.  My new university had a very active SWE section and although I went to the events, I never felt like I belonged.  In 2010, I went to the SWE national conference in Miami.  Travel from Honolulu to Miami is hard.  When we arrived in Miami, I was exhausted, and, because of a  problem with our room, I was crabby, too.   Our section had reserved a room in advance and we had an extra bed.  Eva, from another university and arriving late, took the extra bed.  I woke up just long enough to be rude when Eva arrived at the room.  But she didn’t hold it against me.  The next morning, we found we had much in common.  Eva is funny, intelligent and a pitbull when it comes to getting things done.  The last year of my MS was difficult and, even though she lived in California and I was in Hawaii and even though we had only hung out for a few days in Miami, Eva became one of my best friends.  We still talk to each other about once a week and visit when we can.

I started PhD studies at Iowa State University in 2011. The SWE section there is huge and well run.  I was greeted at a special grad student table.  Bethany had completed her undergraduate studies at ISU and been very involved with SWE; but when she moved into the grad program she found that SWE was no longer meeting her needs.  So Bethany started the graduate committee.  There I have found a wonderful community of women engineering grad students who are willing to address the issue of gender in engineering.  This committee is the most productive group of which I have ever been a part and being a part of it has made me more productive.

I love SWE; it is an amazing organization that I have always been proud to be a part of, but the reason that I keep finding ways to be involved is because of the amazing ladies I have met there.  These women have become my friends but more than that they have become my mentors and inspiration in a field where I often feel alone.  The community that SWE provides has helped me more time than I can count to continue in my career in engineering.

Over the next few days I will be meeting new people, seeing old friends, and attending workshops discussing inclusion, grad school, career planning and some other interesting things.  I will be writing about SWE’s effort to attract  and retain women in STEM fields and why women engineering grad students have different needs than young professionals or undergrads.  If, by chance, you are also at WE12 this week and you want to meet up just say so in the comments!

I used to be an adventurer like you until I took a linkspam to the knee (23 October, 2012)

  • Engendering Change | Atomic MPC: “Katie Williams looks at how gamers and game developers are tackling sexism, and how some of us are just making things worse…”
  • Meaningful Adventure | Share Your Story: A game design project that “seeks to raise awareness of the positive and negative treatment women face in the gaming community by building a digital game. We are seeking help from both men and women to get a better grasp on what real women experience while playing games.” Looking for you to share your stories. “Within one or two weeks, the anonymized, edited collection will be posted on the project website at meaningfuladventure.wordpress.com.”
  • ‘As a woman’: Misconceptions in the diversity discussion | Gamasutra: “Our panel’s now available to view for all those who have a GDC Vault pass — and meanwhile, I’ve aimed to crystallize and illuminate some common misconceptions about diversity issues in games that we joked about.”
  • A Factory for Scientific Heroines at the Royal Society of London | Huffington Post: The doyenne of British psychology, Professor Uta Frith DBE, has written an article for the Huffington Post calling for more recognition of female scientists. She says that one way to do this is through creating and editing Wikipedia entries about inspiring female scientists past and present, and the Royal Society (of which Frith is a Fellow) has begun an edit-athon to do just that. One example of a glaring omission on Wikipedia at present, mentioned by Frith, is the lack of an entry for cognitive neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire of UCL, despite how hugely influential her work has been. Frith also has a related article in the Daily Telegraph, Shining a light on our science heroines.
  • Gender and Swag | MISinformation: “Each year when the Grace Hopper Conference happens, there is the inevitable discussion about the swag (the freebies in registration packets) given out. I have to confess that the first year I heard that companies gave out nail polish and “girlie” things, I was totally offended, but that was before I attended Grace Hopper. After attending, my whole attitude changed. Engaging in this year’s debate made me stop and think a bit more about the phenomenon.”
  • The point of calling out bad behavior. | Adventures in Ethics and Science: “And, I’ll level with you: while, in an ideal world, one would want the perpetrator of sexist behavior to Learn and Grow and Repent and make Sincere Apologies, I don’t especially care if someone is still sexist in his heart as long as his behavior changes. It’s the interactions with other people that make the climate that other people have to deal with. Once that part is fixed, we can talk strategy for saving souls.”
  • Two GF related projects with Kickstarters:
    • Articulate: “Articulate aims to raise the profile of women speakers in the technology and the creative industries by offering public speaking training, developing partnerships with event programmers, and giving better access to talented female speakers.” (Kickstarter coming later in October)
    • Mothership HackerMoms | Projects. Friends. Inspiration. With Childcare.: “We are a new kind of playground and workspace for creative mothers. Fun to us is not mani-pedis at the mall, but making, breaking, learning and hacking our bright ideas. These creations are our children, too, and deserve a chance at life. Our mission is to give mothers the time and space to explore DIY craft and design, hacker/maker culture, entrepreneurship, and all manner of creative expression – with childcare.”
  • Two GF related Tumblrs:
    • Academic Men Explain Things to Me | Tumblr: “Are you a female academic, researcher, or graduate student? Has a man tried to explain your field or topic to you, on the assumption that he must inevitably know more about it than you do? Share your experiences as a mansplainee here.”
    • Gender and Science: Gender and Science Tumblr: photos of and quotes from female scientists.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

I spent years building up a tolerance to linkspam (19 October, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Bring out your linkspam! (9 October, 2012)

  • Angry Nerds And How They’re Terrorizing Our Women | GQ: A take down of the nerds as nice guys trope.
  • Death Threats in Open Source Are not Occurring in a Vacuum | Subfictional Studios: “In other words, reducing and eliminating death threats in the open source community starts with being intolerant of microagressions.”
  • The importance of trustworthy power structures | mjg59: “We shouldn’t be willing to give people a pass simply because they aren’t actually groping anyone or because they’re not members of the KKK. Those who drive people away from the community on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation deserve vocal condemnation, and if they’re unwilling to change their behaviour then the community should instead act to drive them away.”
  • The Kissing Sailor, or “The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture” and The Kissing Sailor, Part 2 – Debunking Misconceptions | Crates and Ribbons: “It seems pretty clear, then, that what George had committed would be considered sexual assault by modern standards. Yet, in an amazing feat of willful blindness, none of the articles comment on this, even as they reproduce Greta’s words for us. Without a single acknowledgement of the problematic nature of the photo that her comments reveal, they continue to talk about the picture in a whimsical, reverent manner, “still mesmerized by his timeless kiss.” George’s actions are romanticized and glorified; it is almost as if Greta had never spoken.”
  • Join the October Feminist Wikistorm! | Claremont DH: “Wikistorm will be an interactive, informational event in which experts will guide participants in editing, expanding, and creating Wikipedia articles. Experience editors will help students, professors, and any other interested participants actively engage with and improve Wikipedia as an online space. Participants will clean up, add information to, create, or expand Wikipedia articles relating to feminist or anti-racist topics.”
  • Some links that reference the recent GOTO conference:
    • Sexism in Tech | Insight Of An Intern: “Yet there are still moments where I am forced to consider whether this is really an industry culture I wish to be a part of- and whether it really wants me to be a part of it…”
    • Sexism in IT, again | Pro-Science: “We need to stop implicitly accepting this behavior by keeping quite, and instead explicitly express our disdain of it.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

I’m Commander Shepard, and this is the best linkspam on the Citadel (2 October, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

When sex and porn are on-topic at conferences: Keeping it women-friendly

This is a cross-post from the Ada Initiative blog. Discussion is extremely welcome!

We’d like to start a discussion: How can the Ada Initiative extend the example anti-harassment conference policy to explicitly allow respectful, woman-positive discussion of topics like sex and pornography when it is on-topic, without creating loopholes for sexist and exclusionary behavior to creep back in?

First, let’s be clear: harassment and unwelcoming behavior at open tech/culture conferences are far from over. For example, one recent conference tried to “break the ice” using slides with sexual messages and/or animals mating and ended up getting racism and prison rape jokes (unsurprisingly – see this list of higher risk activities for conferences to avoid). That’s why the Ada Initiative’s advice on including pornography or sexual discussion at technology conferences is “don’t.”

A brief explanation of why pornography and sex are off-putting to women and LGBTQ people of any gender: Most pornography shown in this situation assumes that the audience is male and heterosexual, and sends the message that everyone who is not a heterosexual man is not the intended audience. Also, shifting people’s minds towards sex often triggers people to view women as sexual objects, in a context in which women want to be treated as humans with a shared interest.

Cindy Gallop

Cindy Gallop speaking

But showing pornography and talking about sex in public are not necessarily a “women not wanted” sign. Women are using open tech/culture to create erotica by and for women, and to have open discussions about sexuality in general.

For example, Archive of Our Own is a “fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks,” designed and created by a majority women community, and hosts erotic fan fiction written by women among many other fan works. At the Open Video conference, Cindy Gallop talked about ways to change pornography to be more women-friendly, as well as more “open source” (and launched a startup actually doing it). for women in open tech/culture also need to speak about what keeps women out of their communities, which requires talking about pornography and sex.

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp DC

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp

What we want to do is support conferences that have organizers, speakers, and attendees who are sufficiently aware of sexism, homophobia, racism, and other forms of harassment in order to distinguish between, e.g., trying to “spice up” a presentation with a little off-topic pornography, and a discussion of ways to change pornography to be more women-positive. Our own AdaCamp is an example of a conference in which sex and pornography are on-topic.

The Ada Initiative’s current anti-harassment policy includes the following paragraph:

Exception: Discussion or images related to sex, pornography, discriminatory language, or similar is welcome if it meets all of the following criteria: (a) the organizers have specifically granted permission in writing, (b) it is necessary to the topic of discussion and no alternative exists, (c) it is presented in a respectful manner, especially towards women and LGBTQ people, (d) attendees are warned in advance in the program and respectfully given ample warning and opportunity to leave beforehand. This exception specifically does not allow use of gratuitous sexual images as attention-getting devices or unnecessary examples.

We then add a blanket provision approving discussion about topics that are appropriate for the specific conference.

What do you think? Comments are open (but heavily moderated).

Food for discussion: A few examples of anti-harassment policies from conferences where sex and pornography are on-topic: BiCon, Open SF, and Open Video Conference.

If you like our work and want to support our work making conferences more women-friendly, please donate now.

Donate now

By your powers combined, I am Captain Linkspam! (21 September, 2012)

  • Scientists, Your Gender Bias Is Showing: “To test scientist’s reactions to men and women with precisely equal qualifications, the researchers did a randomized double-blind study in which academic scientists were given application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position. The substance of the applications were all identical, but sometimes a male name was attached, and sometimes a female name. Results: female applicants were rated lower than men on the measured scales of competence, hireability, and mentoring (whether the scientist would be willing to mentor this student). Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.”
  • Beating the Odds – How We got 25% Women Speakers for JSConf EU 2012: “We received 234 total talk submissions by 180 unique submitters. 162 (90%) men, 18 (10%) women. We invited 35 women to submit to the CFP, of these 13 ended up submitting one or more proposals, 5 women submitted on their own. The 40 speakers we selected for the weekend are the top 40 anonymously ranked of all proposals.The final tally:
    • 40 speaking slots (100%)
    • 30 men speaking (75%)
    • 10 women speaking (25%)”
  • World Con and accessibility (or lack thereof) | sasha_feather: “Karen Moore recently went to WorldCon and was struck by the difference in the lack of accessibility there vs. at WisCon. She wrote us a letter to say so, and gave me permission to quote her letter in my blog. Excerpts from her letter follow”
  • Things To Do When The Internet Makes You Enraged | Skepchick: “I’ve been struggling recently, trying to find the best way to handle the ongoing barrage of anger and hate that has been directed at various people in the [feminist/atheist/skeptic] community….So I thought I’d put together some things that you and others can do to make a difference in this community to build it up and strengthen the foundations”
  • Wikimania 2012: Opening Plenary with subtitles | Amara: Mary Gardiner’s “Fostering diversity” Wikimania keynote, begins at 11:44
  • WitsOn, an online mentorship event/program, has been getting some attention with their recent press release and a New York Times article . College students can sign up to participate at https://piazza.com/witson.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Group of male-type and female-type body symbols, 8 male, 2 female

How To Exclude Women Without Really Trying

An earlier version of this post appears on Tim’s blog.

Excluding by inclusion

This year’s “Future of Haskell” discussion, which traditionally ends the annual Haskell Symposium, stumbled into the question of gender equity, via the perennial question of how to increase the number of Haskell programmers. Many programmers (of all genders) find math intimidating and think that the Haskell programming language requires more mathematical skill than other popular languages. In the discussion, Doaitse Swierstra, a professor of computer science at the University of Utrecht, suggested that a good way to increase the number of Haskell programmers would be to recruit one woman for every man in the room. So far, so good: in fact, Prof. Swierstra showed creativity by introducing the problem of gender inequity at this point in the discussion. But then he went on to say that if this goal were achieved, it would make the meetings more “attractive”.

Speaking as someone who attended functional programming conferences for ten years, the field of programming language (PL) research in general is particularly male-dominated even by computer science standards. Also anecdotally, functional programming is an even more male-dominated sub-field within PL research. I would sometimes play a game during conference talks where I would count the number of men with long hair, and the number of women, in the room. There were always more long-haired men than women. I can’t know what someone’s gender is by looking at them (as I well know, since before 2007 most people who looked at me would have thought I counted as one of those women). Still, even with a very generous estimate as to how many people who appeared to be men may actually have been trans women or genderqueer people, the conferences would still have had a gender balance that doesn’t reflect the underlying population, or even the gender balance in computer science or software as a whole. Even the field of mathematics is less male-dominated than functional programming research, so the excuse that PL people are blameless and the numbers result from discouragement of girls learning math at the primary and secondary educational levels does not explain the imbalance.

Prof. Swierstra does get credit for recognizing that there is a problem. And I don’t doubt that by making the comments he made, he intended to encourage the inclusion of women, not exclusion. (You can listen to the relevant part of the discussion yourself—the link goes directly to 32:00 in the video. Apologizes in advance to those who are hard of hearing; I didn’t want to attempt a transcript beyond what I already paraphrased, since I wasn’t totally sure about all of it.)

Even so, Swierstra’s remark provides a great example of how it’s not the intent behind what you say that matters, but rather, the effect that your words have. By following a call for more women in the room with a comment about his opinion of women’s greater attractiveness relative to men, he completely undermined his own attempt to encourage equality, whether or not that was his intent. If you accidentally run a person over with your car, not having intended to hurt them doesn’t make them less dead. And if you make an objectifying comment that tells women their value at an academic conference is as decoration, not having intended to send that message doesn’t make those women feel any more welcome. (While accidental killings are punished less harshly than deliberate ones, the analogy stops holding at that point, since no one wants to punish people for accidentally making sexist comments, only to ask them to reflect and learn so they don’t make such comments in the future.)
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Red/Yellow cards

The gamification of feminism?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers from Annalee Newitz. Paraphrased:

Do you have examples of or ideas for the “gamification of feminism” – ways that people have turned advocating feminism into a game or fun activity?

Red/Yellow cardsExample: KC Crowell printed and distributed sports-style “red cards” and “yellow cards” to give to people being sexist at DEFCON 20 a few weeks ago.

What are your examples, ideas, and thoughts?