Tag Archives: diversity

Wednesday Geek Woman: Barbara Burford, medical scientist, writer and diversity activist

This is a guest post.

Barbara Burford (1944–2010) was a medical scientist; a writer of fiction, plays and poetry; and a lifelong diversity activist. All these things she did with love, skill, panache and unfailing courage and good humour. It was a privilege and an inspiration to know her.

Born in Jamaica, Barbara moved in 1955 to England and subsequently studied at the University of London. She went on to specialise in electron microscopy and the work that she led at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children was central to several advances in heart and lung transplants for children in the 1980s.

At the same time as pursing her medical research, Barbara was active in UK feminist politics and publishing plays, poetry, short stories and a novella. In 1984, she contributed to the first Black British women’s poetry anthology: A Dangerous Knowing – Four Black Women Poets, and her play Patterns was produced at the Drill Hall theatre. In 1986, she published The Threshing Floor, a collection of stories including the title novella which is still a regular recommendation on school and Further Education reading lists in the UK and US. Her writing was informed not only by her lesbian identity but by her complex cultural identity “as a descendant of three different diasporas: African, Jewish and Scots.’

In the 90s, Barbara moved away from London and out of medical research, first into IT and then to pioneer diversity initiatives in the National Health Service and the Civil Service. From 1999, she served as director of equality and diversity at the Department of Health; from 2002 to 2005 she was director of diversity at the Department for Work and Pensions; and from 2005 onwards she was deputy director of the Centre for Inclusion and Diversity at the School of Health Studies, Bradford University as well as running her own consultancy. Many of Barbara’s initiatives are now well-established within the National Health Service and the Civil Service, and so have a lasting impact in the UK workplace.

And we are mistresses
of strong, wild air,
leapers and sounders
of depths and barriers.

Barbara Burford, “Women Talking”, 1984

The Guardian: Obituary
Barnes and Noble: The Threshing Floor
Amazon: A Dangerous Knowing — four black women poets
Barbara Burford Consulting: Barbara Burford’s diversity work

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Discussing sexism in geek communities is more important than discussing gender imbalance.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

Some female geeks use the discourse of increasing female representation in science, technology, engineering, and math (the “STEM” fields) as a proxy for addressing sexism in geek communities. Because countering sexism against women does not directly benefit men, some women reframe the issue of sexism by appealing to capitalist values. They argue that if women are better represented in STEM fields, it would lead to economic growth and technological innovation (and that this can be achieved through efforts to reduce gender bias).

However, this strategy backfires when male geeks interpret the movement to increase female representation in STEM fields as “social engineering”, i.e., feminists forcing women to do what we purportedly “dislike” (science, tech, engineering, and math). The subtext of this movement—which is that female geeks who love STEM topics have to endure sexism from male geeks or get out, and this is a Bad ThingTM that needs to be fixed—is lost entirely.

Observe this Digg comment on the Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences submission:

''There is nothing more miserable than a career that you don't really enjoy. But don't let that stop feminists from pushing other women into jobs they won't like. They have an agenda and ***** up someone else's life is not a consideration.'' (+10)

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White, male startup companies get funding for being white and male.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

When top technology venture capitalist John Doerr decides which startup company to invest in, he consciously and deliberately chooses white males over women and racial minorities:

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at Bezos, or [Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo Inc. co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. So when I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest.”

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Drupal Voices 100: Jack Aponte on Diversity, Power and Privilege in Open Source Communities

Neville Park is a queer mixie nerd in Toronto. This post originally appeared at Wild Unicorn Herd.

An interview with Palante Tech‘s Jack Aponte (a. k. a. Angry Brown Butch) on, well, diversity in Drupal.

Background: Drupal is a kind of CMS (content management system); it’s a particularly powerful and versatile platform for building and managing websites. It is free and open source, which means that you don’t have to pay to use it, and anyone can help work on it. There’s a very large and international community of people who use and work on Drupal, and like the wider tech community, it’s dominated by white straight cis men. Open Source people, and Drupal people in particular, pride themselves on having a “doacracy”—a community that values getting stuff done above traditional authority. This could create a beginner-friendly, non-hierarchical environment of subversion and experimentation. In practice we just have white straight cis men getting SUPER DEFENSIVE at the suggestion that maybe they got where they are not only by the sweat of their brow, and shouting down any mention of patriarchy, racism, or any other systemic oppression when people run the numbers and get to wondering why there’s so little minority representation in Open Source.

There is a nice summary of the podcast at the link, and my transcript is below the fold. I’ve added links to give context to some of the references Jack and the interviewer make.

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Recruiting youth to our linkspamming lifestyle (2nd November, 2010)

  • Trying to do it mostly right most of the time: The Border House‘s rho interviews Failbetter Games’s Alexis Kennedy, primary writer for Echo Bazaar, about the game’s approach to diversity, sexism and racism in a setting that was historically sexist and racist.
  • Feminomics: calculating the value of ‘women’s work’: an interview with Marilyn Waring, author of If Women Counted. But how will we know [about women's unpaid work] in the future? This past summer, the Conservatives, in rewriting the long-form census, eliminated only the section on unpaid work. That means that, in the future, StatsCan won’t be able to tell us with any certainty that men perform an average of 2.5 hours of unpaid work per day while women do 4.3 hours, like they did in 2005.
  • I’m Right Here: Rudy Simone on Life as an “Aspergirl”: Aspergirls is partly a personal memoir and partly a book of advice and support for women on the spectrum and their parents and friends. Simone has asked a chorus of Aspie women to speak through its pages, and this personal testimony is deeply moving.
  • British student invents a solar-powered refrigerator: [Emily Cummins] is a graduate of Leeds University, and was once refused a place on an engineering course because “she didn’t have the correct qualifications”. She qualified now?
  • “Renewable Girls” Peddlar Responds: Earlier this week, I critiqued the sale of a cheesecake calendar to help promote and sell solar panels, and asked readers to write to its purveyor, a dude called John B.
  • Stephen Fry, how could you? asks Laurie Penny. Unfortunately, everyone’s favourite gay uncle really has proposed that women only ever have sex for money, or to manipulate a man into a relationship. (oursin responds with to Penny: No, really, say after me ‘It’s always more complicated’)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Geek Feminism and Mideast Youth

Guest Post by Esra’a from Bahrain. She enjoys hardcore acoustic noise-terror music, and is fortunate enough to be a TED Global Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and on the Advisory Board for the European Summit for Global Transformation and the Meta-Activism Project. She gave a keynote at BlogHer about the group blog and about kicking ass and free speech in general.

I’m the geek who founded Mideast Youth. I have been aggressively expanding it with my friends for the past 4 years and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Mideast Youth is first and foremost a group blog shared by a growing number of young activists and bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa who want to be heard on a variety of different topics, from religion to free speech to politics to gay rights (and more.) Aside from that, we run a network of about 15 sites that deal with: Baha’i human rights, Kurdish human rights, migrant worker rights, underground activist musicians, free speech for bloggers, and a few other campaigns that deal with free speech and minority rights.

Mideast Youth currently operates in English, Arabic and Farsi, featuring podcasts in these languages as well.

We’re all volunteers – and the core Mideast Youth team consists of about 5 people (Me from Bahrain, Fatima from Saudi Arabia, Ali from Iran, Ahmed from Egypt and the 5th person is a frequently rotating team of other volunteers who help with design, development and video editing.)

We love running our projects and making people aware of things that not many people talk about – but most of all, we love helping others set up their own projects, which we design and host for them, for free:

http://www.mideastyouth.com/services

Our latest project is CrowdVoice.org, which is a user-powered service that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowdsourcing information. This site rocks. We believe you might think so too, once you look at it.

As you can see, we are an active bunch, but we need your help to continue. Some bird told me that geeks enjoy helping other geeks out. That is a lie actually (birds don’t talk.) But I want to believe it’s true.

If you support our community, our mission, and believe in it as much as we do, your help would be highly appreciated.

Where to after we do the required reading?

In my latest Ask a Geek Feminist round (questions still being accepted!), I wrote:

If your question boils down to “why are there so few women in science/computer science/mathematics/engineering/physics, and what should we do?”, we’re unlikely to answer, please see this list of resources to turn to.

A questioner writes in response to me saying:

Actually I think it would be a very good idea to have another discussion of “What are some things each of us can do to help improve gender ratio in STEM?”

The resources page you link to is extremely valuable but it’s challenging to go from there to specific actions. I think there’s enough energy in the area that a post on this would be very well timed, and could highlight existing Geek Feminism resources.

Mainly what I want to avoid with that proviso is going around and around and around with the same theories and potential solutions that have been outlined, tried and discussed for years by hard working academics, activists and people on the ground as if it’s novel territory. (Because our comments policy doesn’t allow it, you don’t see it a lot, but we get a lot of “last week, I noticed that my CS class is 95% males, and then I thought about my sister and her friends and how they don’t like computers. Have you ever considered that women don’t like computers, Geek Feminism blog?”) But our questioner does suggest a different, more in-depth, tack to me. Thanks questioner!

So, for people actively working on women-in-STEM (science, tech, mathematics, engineering) problems, what have your successful approaches been? Are there any follow-up activities, groups or research you wish you could do but don’t have resources? Have you created resources that you are ready to share and are looking for takers? Could you provide expertise of some sort to related projects?

And on the other hand what looked good but didn’t pan out, and do you have any ideas why?

Tracking diversity at your conference

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question. Questions are still being taken this round.

This one came up on the Python Diversity list:

How can we gather data on the gender balance and other aspects of diversity at our conferences without asking attendees intrusive questions? Is having numerical data not that important? But without it, if our female attendance goes from (say) 150 to 180 or to 120, we might just eyeball the crowd and think, “Not enough”, not realizing that we’re doing something important right or wrong.

Skud, Terri and I had a conversation about this in comments last year, focussing more on making it optional than on doing it without questions at all.

Mary:

How do you suggest tracking the diversity of speakers? Gender can be approximated but not perfectly measured by looking at people’s first names (especially if you don’t have an ethnically diverse conference) but in general the problem we have with linux.conf.au is that we can’t see how to do this well without a demographic questionnaire, which women especially have repeatedly said they don’t want to see because they feel like they will then attend the conference as A Representative of Womankind.

Skud:

Yeah, that’s hard. Can you make the question optional, and link it to an explanation of why you’re asking it? Something like, “$conf supports diversity and is working on improving the mix of speakers at our event. To this end, we are trying to measure our progress. If you don’t mind, could you give us a few demographic details?”

If that’s still not culturally comfortable, you can get an approximation by just working off what you know. Eg. “Of the people we know, N are people of colour/from other countries/mid 20s or younger/whatever.” After the conference, you will know more of the people (esp. first-timers), and be able to adjust the figures accordingly.

We went on to discuss Australian/US/Canadian cultural differences, namely that Australians (linux.conf.au is an Australian conference) are used to, at best, much more limited demographic questionnaires from, for example, employers, grant funding organisations and so on than people in the US and Canada.

What do you think, folks? Do you attend events that use demographic questionnaires? How do they go down, culturally? Are they optional or compulsory? Is there a third way between that kind of measurement and educated guesses?

Finding more women to speak at Ohio LinuxFest: success!

This post is being cross-posted on Mackenzie’s blog.

Given Terri’s recent post about the same few women always being speakers, I thought this would be a good place to write about how one conference I help out with, Ohio LinuxFest, has tried to expand their array of women speakers. For those interested in pretty graphs, I’ve been graphing women speaker proportions at various LinuxFests on the GeekFeminism Wiki. This post was co-authored with Moose J. Finklestein, the Content Chair.

Some conference organisers will say “we didn’t get any submissions from women” to explain the lack of women on their stages. As of two years ago, the Ohio LinuxFest was in that category. With a little outreach effort, and embracing diversity as a core value, the Ohio LinuxFest has successfully recruited more women to share their experience at OLF.

How’d we do? While last year only five of the speakers at Ohio LinuxFest were women, out of a total of 31, this year 14 of the 38 speakers are women. That’s a third of the conference speaking slots! One of the two keynoters is a woman. There were 107 talk proposals for the 27 general speaking slots. Before anyone tries to suggest that we simply took them all, it should be noted that a full 48% of the proposals for talks categorised as not assuming high levels of prior knowledge (making them suitable for the most attendees) were from women.

We believe that much of this success is attributed to community outreach. This year, we contacted Ubuntu Women, Debian Women, LinuxChix, DevChix, and the FSF’s Women’s Caucus mailing list about the call for presentations, and did it have an effect!

Recognising the various concerns women speakers can face, we tried to specifically address potential issues in the email sent to women-focused mailing lists. Some of these known issues include lack of confidence in new speakers, not being clear what the intended audience is, or the “imposter syndrome,” where someone doesn’t recognize that they are qualified to speak on a topic. The woman to woman dialog made the difference.

We wanted to make sure people weren’t refraining from submitting because they lack confidence in their technical abilities (an excuse we’d heard before), so we explained the attendees’ demographics, hoping to get more proposals that would fill the gap we had for user-aimed talks. Ohio LinuxFest has everything from home desktop users who started using Ubuntu a week ago (or even that day!) to seasoned system administrators who love Slackware, Gentoo, or NetBSD. Nevertheless, beginner proposals have tended toward introduction to development topics, not leaving enough for people who want to be users, not developers. We also made sure to mention that it’s a great crowd who is very welcoming of first-time speakers.

Women are involved with more than just speaking at the Ohio LinuxFest. Beth Lynn Eicher has been actively involved as a director for 6 years now, and the current staff, all volunteers, is about 35% female.

The Ohio LinuxFest takes pains to create a weekend conference friendly to all people, not just women. The diversity statement includes gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and even operating system — folks who don’t use Linux are just as welcome as those who love it. There are regularly talks about or including BSDs, interoperability in heterogeneous environments, and cross platform free software.

Additionally, all speakers are instructed to keep the content of their presentations clean. The Ohio LinuxFest bills itself as a family friendly conference and aims to keep it that way. As an effort to make a positive effect with the community at large, the Ohio LinuxFest will host the second annual Diveristy in Open Source Workshop on September 12, 2010.

Looking at the growing trend of more female influence on the OhioLinuxFest we’d like to see it be the leader for more women to attend and become more involved with other free software interests.

Linkspam: Sexism Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.