Tag Archives: research

Fouad and Singh, Stemming the Tide

There’s been lots of links around the results of Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh (2011) Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering. Since it’s freely available, I thought I’d encourage people to go directly to the source. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary:

KEY FINDINGS: Some women left the field, some never entered and many are currently engineers:
Those who left:

  • Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
  • One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.
  • One-in-four left to spend time with family.
  • Those who left were not different from current engineers in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.

Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation:

  • A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineering as being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
  • Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduation because they were no longer interested in engineering or were interested in another field.
  • Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.

Work decisions of women currently working in Engineering:

  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
  • Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations.
  • Women who considered leaving their companies were also very likely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.

Nadya Fouad is also writing blog entries about the study, the most recent is Is it all about family…?:

We heard from women who said that leaving to raise a family was not their first choice, and if the work environment had been more welcoming or flexible, and if supervisors and coworkers had been more supportive of employees’ balancing multiple roles, they might not have made that choice.

Have a look through Stemming the Tide: what stands out among their findings to you?

Can you accomplish more with a female instructor?

I don’t get what the bit about Obama and Desperate Housewives at the start of this article from Slate entitled “Pscyh-out sexism” is trying to say, but the research summarized later sounds interesting. Here’s a quote about the first study:

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

In the next study, they found that university-level women asked fewer questions in class and in office hours after a term with a male prof than they did after a term with a female one. And in the final study, they found that women had more confidence with a female teacher… even if tests showed that they were outperforming their male colleagues.

The latter two studies could be for reasons other than the gender of the teacher: previous studies have shown that although fewer women reach the level of prof, those who do tend to be exceptional so it might be their innate talents and not as much their gender that allows them to reach their students better. But still, it’s an interesting selection of research, and really speaks to why outreach from women’s groups like my local CU-WISE can be especially valuable! We do a variety of events for younger women including helping at summer camps, science fairs, and visiting schools.

So next time you wonder if it’s worth doing an outreach event, remember that your smiling face may be just what another young woman needs to get her to try that little bit harder!

This was originally written for the CU-WISE blog and has been altered slightly for GF.

The advantage of being me

From The Advantage Of Dual-Identities (A Case Study of Nabokov), I bring you this quote:

It’s also important to note that the advantage of having a “dual-identity” – being both a novelist and a scientist, for instance – isn’t limited to Nabokov. According to a study led by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, people who describe themselves as both Asian and American, or see themselves as a female engineer (and not just an engineer), consistently display higher levels of creativity.

So as a female, half-asian all-canadian researcher, I’m clearly better at creativity than all those boring white dude researchers?

Angela Montenegro from Bones… I don’t even know exactly where to begin on this. So I’m going talk about Bones for a minute. I’ve been watching it with my sister lately while we do other things (crochet, do mending, wander around looking for things in an mmo, eat dinner, etc.) and the other day she pointed out that she loves how the show deals with Angela, or really, how it doesn’t. See, Angela Montenegro is the team’s artist: she does sketches of the victims. But she doesn’t stop there: she also coaxes data off broken camcorders and swallowed flash drives doing digital forensic work. She’s an adept computer programmer who writes software that helps visualize and model what happened during a crime. What’s cool about Bones is that it’s totally taken for granted that she can be an artist and a coder. (And really, pretty much whatever else she wants to be.)

So I guess while I fundamentally agree that having multiple “identities” is a huge asset to my work and creative abilities, I sort of feel like… why are they making such a big deal about this, as if it’s some hugely abnormal thing. Why can’t they just accept that Angela can draw and code? Why do people insist on compartmentalizing people into single skill sets? I can drive a car and code and no one thinks that’s weird, but plenty of people have commented with surprise that I can edit a magazine (yes, I used to do this) and write code. Hello, world?

The article just makes me a little uncomfortable. This worst part is the paragraph about how the US will be overrun by mixed-race folk like me with superior creative skills — awkward racial superiority with a different spin — but even the study methodology doesn’t quite sit right with me at a first reading. But maybe the article is simply a journalistic reflection of research into of a real logical fallacy that people often employ: the assumption that one must specialize in only one skill to be the best person one can be. That’s one of those things that might be true for programs, but I really haven’t seen much evidence of it being true for people.

Despite my issues with the article, I think it’s got a nice take-away message: it’s a-ok, normal, and maybe even superior to have and use your multiple identities. And don’t let incredulous folk tell you otherwise.

This was originally posted on my personal blog.

“Because those in a position to change the system do not” and other downsides of academia

I’m nearing the end of my PhD and starting to seek jobs, and I’ve been asked over and over again whether I’ll be staying on academia or I’ll be moving to industry. I haven’t signed a contract yet, so it’s still an open question for me. However, the fact that my own future is still nebulous might be why the following articles have stood out for me. They’re all about the downsides to academia, and reasons to leave it, written by women. The thing about these posts is that they’re not really just about academia: those of you in the tech industry are going to see some parallels. Those of you in other industries likely will too.

First, here’s a segment from Paraphernalian’s post about leaving the academy “Because: a manifesto

Because my talents, accomplishments, experiences, and hard work are not acknowledged or rewarded in this system.

Because I am not not nurtured, encouraged, or valued in this system.

Because those in a position to change the system do not.

Because I refuse to believe that a system that does not value me is the only one in which I can have worth.

Because I am enduring personal, financial, and professional hardship to no perceivable purpose.

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively.

Because I already got what I came for–three advanced degrees and immersion in a subject I love.

Because I want to continue to love it.

And here’s a fragment from Laruian’s post about going to industry.

Here is the rub. I think many people are surprised that I didn’t go into academia… or, that I didn’t go to a research lab. Well, I don’t think. Many people said, “I’m surprised.” My advisor, in particular seems, well, for the lack of a better word, miffed.

Laurian lists several things that contributed to her decision:

  1. Teamwork. The odd joint grant is not the same as working with a team to produce a product.

    The problem is that from what I’ve seen in academia, when you become a professor there isn’t much team spirit. Yes, you collaborate on grants. Yes, sometimes you co-teach. But there doesn’t actually seem to be much team work. Meaning that what little benefits I see in being the second, third, or, god forbid, even a forth female faculty member are out weighed by the fact that most of my work is going to be individual.

  2. There’s no tenure track grind in industry.

    From what I’ve been told, you’ve got a whole bunch of stodgy white dudes in suits sitting around a table assessing if you are good enough for the university to invest in you for the rest of your career. It is fantastic if you get it. What job security! But, if you don’t, you no longer have a job.

  3. Sick of fighting the system

    In the ten years I’ve been gathering my various degrees the battle to change institutional policy has been one that has tired me out.

  4. Lack of role models

    My entire time at Virginia Tech I saw *one* female professor have a baby. I’m not just talking about in my department. I’m talking about the whole flipping university. One. Later I met a couple or women who have had kids while running for tenure here at Virginia Tech, but their stories were not encouraging. I had zero positive role models that said to me, “It is the best thing I’ve ever done and I have zero regrets.”

  5. Work with impact

    I can tell you what was my favorite moment of working at IBM Almaden. It was when the findings had been presented to Lotus, and they thought they were really important, valuable, and would contribute to future design. And then, when the final findings were given, and I get the same review. Ahhhh. Design with impact. What looked like a medium size user study actually made a difference and was implemented into the next Lotus. It was so different than what I’d experienced so far. The practicality of something that felt nebulous was a breath of fresh air. Academia doesn’t dabble much in practical.

And then the lack of impact and lack of collaboration is echoed again on College Ready Writing:

My academic research will not change the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the authors I am currently studying, found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.

Dr. Skallerup also asks some really valuable questions:

  • Are Academics really interested in “sharing”?

    While more and more scholars are using sites like Academia.edu or SlideShare, and even self-publishing, this type of sharing isn’t rewarded when it comes time for decisions on hiring, tenure and promotion. We are taught instead to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more “prestige.” Why not work to improve Wikipedia in whatever field you specialize in? The entries on Dany Laferrière’s works are lacking, calling me to improve on them, hopefully introducing and informing a broader audience about the author. But because the medium is “crowdsourced” instead of peer-reviewed, career-wise, my work there would be meaningless.

  • Are we allowed to be ourselves?

    [B]rowse the blogs of junior faculty members, graduate students and recent PhD graduates and you will notice one thing – they are almost all anonymous. Why? Why can’t we blog about not just our narrow research interests but everything we are interested in or want to write about? Is academia that insecure that it can’t take a little criticism or allow for a professor to be more than a talking head in front of the classroom or byline on a book or article?

I really want to end on a positive note, but I’m not sure I can here without writing another whole essay worth, and besides, no one sent me articles about staying in academia this month, and what does that say? So instead, I’m going to end on a more thoughtful note, again from Dr. Skallerup:

My research may not change the world (or ever be read), but it is far from meaningless. My outside interests may be meaningless according to the academy, but may help change the world. Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher ed narrowly thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.

Science is not the oppressor.

This post was originally published at Restructure! Some tense and time markers have been updated.

Some anti-oppressive thinkers distrust powerful institutions, and end up distrusting the scientific institution and even scientific knowledge itself. However, scientific knowledge and scientific practise are not inherently oppressive. The oppressions that appear to come from science actually come from the upper-class white male domination of scientific disciplines.

Science is not the enemy; the practise of science is a productive method for understanding ourselves and our world. When some scientific studies overgeneralize and/or neglect certain groups of people, the problem is bad science, not science.

One of the serious problems with the lack of diversity in the practise within certain knowledge domains is that some important aspects of reality are not even considered, leading the researchers to overgeneralize and draw incorrect conclusions. This problem comes from the fact that scientific practise is a social activity, subject to the biases and prejudices of the scientists. In contrast, the scientific methods of gathering empirical data to refute hypotheses, and using statistical methods to determine statistical significance, are perfectly sound.

It is illogical to assume without reason that the results of a given scientific study (especially one that you do not particularly like) must be false. There is no contradiction between truth and justice. Anti-oppressive thinkers should not be afraid of science.

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Quick hit: Women = Men when it comes to math skills

Females Are Equal to Males in Math Skills, Large Study Shows

These studies, all published in English between 1990 and 2007, looked at people from grade school to college and beyond. A second portion of the new study examined the results of several large, long-term scientific studies, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In both cases, Hyde says, the difference between the two sexes was so close as to be meaningless.

But despite these findings, we still may be a ways away from the day when I can quit doing back of the napkin demonstrations about gender and math ability:

The idea that both genders have equal math abilities is widely accepted among social scientists, Hyde adds, but word has been slow to reach teachers and parents, who can play a negative role by guiding girls away from math-heavy sciences and engineering. “One reason I am still spending time on this is because parents and teachers continue to hold stereotypes that boys are better in math, and that can have a tremendous impact on individual girls who are told to stay away from engineering or the physical sciences because ‘Girls can’t do the math.’”

(Read the rest of the article here.)

Meritocracy? Might want to re-think how you define merit.

Rock on!
You might think if you put together a lot of smart people, you’d get a smart group, but new research into group intelligence shows that’s not always the case. (For those of you who don’t have access to online journal subscriptions through your local library or university, there are more details in the Carnegie Mellon University press release.)

What we found is that the intelligence of the team members was not significantly related to the collective intelligence, either positively or negatively.

[...]

Our first observation and the one that surprised us the most was that the proportion of females in the group seemed to be strongly predictive of the collective intelligence of the group.

However, when they looked more closely they realised that it wasn’t the gender that mattered, but rather the social sensitivity of the group members (previous studies had shown that women tend to score more highly in social sensitivity).

It’s not the intelligence of the group members that matters; it’s their social sensitivity.

So the more your group members were socially sensitive, the better the group performed in measures of collective intelligence. The key here was that group members need to collaborate, and to do that they needed those social skills to help them work together. This includes some different conversational patterns: groups where one or two people dominated conversations exhibited low collective intelligence, while groups where more people contributed had higher collective intelligence.

This scientific research is potentially a big blow to the standard “meritocracy works” theory often espoused in open source and computing groups. Standard meritocracy rules say you do clever things and you get accepted, and this will make for perfectly good teams. But given that there’s often bias that dismisses “soft skills,” it turns out that folk may actually be using typical geek meritocracy rules to weed out some of the people we need to make the group most effective as a whole.

Some of my female colleagues would like to conclude that you simply just need to hire more women. While that might be easier, what it really suggests is that you need to pay attention to what people refer to as these “softer skills” and thinking about who’s going to be a good team player, not necessarily focused solely on individual achievement, individual accomplishments.

So if you want to claim that the best way to build tech teams is meritocracy… you might want to think more carefully about how you define merit.

Rock show DS

The quotes in this article are drawn from Bob McDonald’s conversation with Dr. Anita Williams Woolley, the lead author, on the Quirks and Quarks interview aired October 9. You can download the podcast of the segment on collective intelligence here.

She Geek: Women and Self-Labeling in Online Geek Communities

Courtney is an MA student studying Victorian science fiction at Texas A&M University. She blogs about feminism, geekery, and academia at From Austin to A&M.

This post originally appeared at From Austin to A&M.

My intent in this project was to examine the labeling of female-oriented geek spaces on the internet. What I found was that self-labeling of geek women often defeats the potentially subversive act of creating a female-oriented geek community.

I would argue that the mere creation or and participation in geek communities labeled “for women” are aggressive acts towards male-dominated geek culture. One of the reasons we can see these communities as a challenge to mainstream geek culture is the still-prevailing myth of internet neutrality.

This myth argues that since we are “disembodied” on the internet, everyone begins on equal ground.

Bodies don’t matter in cyberspace. This is not how it works in real life, however, particularly in geek spaces. It is true that until you mark yourself as Other than the privileged class—male, heterosexual, cisgendered, abled, middle-class, and white—you will be assumed to be those things. However, this will not protect you from hate speech or sexist, racist, and homophobic “jokes,” since geek communities often engage in these forms of discourse. Even objecting to these discursive acts, without revealing the state of one’s own body, will immediately mark you as Other, and leave you vulnerable to harassment and denigration. By labeling their spaces as for women, female geeks challenge the neutrality myth, by making their female bodies conspicuous and by demonstrating a need for safe cyberspaces for women.

In a study of the language of male gamers playing within a Quake server, Natasha Christensen claims that

Even though the world of cyberspace allows for the possibility that gender can be transformed, men in Jeff’s Quake Server continue to relate to each other in ways which support male dominance and heterosexual male superiority. [...] In the bodiless realm of cyberspace, it is fascinating to note that men who are able to create an alternate world where masculinity is defined differently do not take this opportunity. Instead, real life is mimicked not only by taking on the physical attributes of strength, but also by using ways of talk that emphasize aggression and sexual dominance.

[…]

Therefore, in the same way that sports and war help to perpetuate the concept of male dominance through physical strength, the Quake server also promotes the idea of success through aggression and violence. [...] Sports and war games became a way for white middle class men to fight their fears of social feminization. At the turn of this century, online computer games are being used in the same manner. Computer geeks who are especially vulnerable to the accusations of being less than manly are able both through the actions and discourse on Quake to demonstrate the qualities required of hegemonic masculinity. Emphasis is placed on the strength of the masculine body while discourse sets the players apart from anything that is feminine.

The same patriarchal standards that put women at a disadvantage also disadvantage computer and other geeks. Often, geeks cite an experience of growing up with bullying and teasing, precisely because they do not live up to hegemonic masculinity. Instead of using cyberspace to fight against hegemonic masculinity, however, geek men often use it to buttress those standards and fulfill them discursively instead of physically. This is precisely why geek women find online geek spaces—necessarily discursive spaces—to be so unwelcoming and hostile. And it is through alternative discourse, whether blogging or forum writing or fanfiction, that women challenge this culture of hypermasculinity.

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Howto: Stop Worrying About Female Brain Hard-Wiring and Get Smarter

This Ask a Geek Feminist question is about stereotype threat:

What can I do when stereotype threat is playing games with my head?

To give an example, I once had to take an IQ test at school in seventh grade. One section of the test included rotating three-dimensional objects in your head. The test was designed so that each section starts easy and then gets progressively harder. It is supposed to get so hard that there comes a point where you can’t continue any longer and then the tester stops that section of the test. On that section of the test, I managed to hit a window on the score because I got to the very end, having correctly answered all the questions in the object rotation section. The tester, who did these tests for a living, was astonished and he said he had never seen anyone come close to getting all of them.

As an adult, I heard the stereotype that women cannot rotate three-dimensional objects in their head. I heard it many times. Since I started hearing that, I have lost my ability to do so. I’ve tried some rather basic tests on this skill and I can hardly do any of them.

What can one do about this sort of thing?

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Fashion and The Female Geek – First Steps

This is part of “Ask a Geek Feminist” series! Questions are still being taken at the Ask A Geek Feminist post – so ask away!

I’ve got some general questions regarding dress code…

I’ve never been terribly observant regarding fashion matters, but it seems to me that male geeks can get away with a much sloppier wardrobe than female geeks. Is that just my impression or have others noticed anything similar?

What’s considered a suitable professional wardrobe for front-line geek feminists trying to be taken seriously?

“…I suggest that manners and etiquette, like language and fashion, are fundamental means of communication and self-expression. And, as with language and fashion, manners and etiquette adapt effortlessly to social change.” John Morgan, introduction to Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, 2001.

On the heels (no pun intended) of my post about girls, stereotyping and the colour pink (‘Does It Mean A Thing If It ‘Ain’t Got Pink Bling? Gender Differences, Toys And The Psychology Of Color‘) – apparently Barbie’s now an engineer? Sign Of The Times: Barbie’s A Tech Geek:

Mattel put the selection of Barbie’s 125th career in the hands of online voters for the first time… To create an authentic look for techie Barbie, designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to develop the wardrobe and accessories for the doll. She wears a binary code patterned T-shirt and is equipped with the latest gadgets including a smart phone, Bluetooth headset and laptop travel bag.

It’s interesting that they have the endorsement of the Society of Women Engineers and National Academy of Engineering in the creation (as I look at the doll, I notice that the article forgot to also mention the vibrant pink high-heels, laptop-logo and glasses – what, no contact lenses?).

I guess I’m in favor of changes to a doll which has traditionally perpetuated a rather narrow-portrayal of women – and yet it’s still limited by its portrayal of ‘geek-chic’. The blog post title says ‘Barbie as Tech-Geek’ – why not Barbie as educated or technical-savvy? Why is one of the most popular dolls on the planet (arguably, the most popular) – still posed on her toes and biologically impossible?

And what on earth does it mean to be ‘geek-chic’ anyway? Apart from sounding rather nifty when you say it aloud?

I’m going to see if, by responding to this question by a reader, I can address not only how to be taken seriously as a ‘front-line geek feminist’ – but also how to maintain a standard of comfort that is (quite frankly) essential to a woman who has plenty of ‘geeky’ passions that occupy her time and keep her on her biologically-accurate toes.

Despite the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – we do. Some companies do have a written dress code, some rules are unwritten and we follow the lead of senior management when considering building our wardrobe.

We’re not dolls. But we’re can’t ignore that there are eyes upon us that ponder ‘Maybe I can be like her one day – and doesn’t it look fine to be her?’

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