Tag Archives: women in engineering

Let Us Never Forget Their Names

Content Note: This post deals with the École Polytechnique massacre and violence against women.

24 years ago today, 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Targeted for being women and for being engineers, we must never forget their names.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

For those of us who grew up in Canada, the white ribbons of December were a reminder not just of the work left to do in stopping gender violence, but of the links between that violence, deeply held notions of gender roles and “women’s place”, and the importance of pioneering women’s work in science and engineering. While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.

Fellow blogger Lukas writes:

This event was a catalyst for action in Canada, spawning a monument for the deceased, a national Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, and a White Ribbon Campaign (started by and targeted at men in order to address and confront male violence against women). For me, Dec 6th marked the beginning of my independent feminist organizing. It happened when I was just starting high school and shortly afterward a few classmates and I started a feminist club at our school. We attended local vigils for women who died at the hands of their male partners. We educated ourselves about issues facing women beyond just our small city and we organized gatherings to share this information with others. In the years that followed Dec 6th was a touchstone for doing actions that both drew attention to women and domestic violence but in recent years since moving into the tech world it’s developed a whole other layer of relevance to me.

 

When this date rolls around I am reminded that the outreach I do in the tech community matters, to be proud of being feminist, taking space in engineering, and also being someone who works diligently to make space for more women and underrepresented groups to join me. It may not always be through a directly violent act but there are many ways women and minority groups are being told they do not belong here and there are some of us are proving ‘them’ wrong. We are designers, engineers, problem solvers, big thinkers, dreamers, creators, makers, and people who can help make worlds both big and small better for others. We can be a pipeline for new arrivals, be mentors, be allies. On this day I am grateful for my allies both within the geek feminism community and without who work side by side with me to work on improving equality, seeking justice, and calling for the end of violence and discrimination in the technology space.

Never forget their names.

One week until Ada Lovelace Day 2013!

Ada Lovelace Day is a week from today: Tuesday October 15.

Ada Lovelace Day is a profile-raising day for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Write or record something about a woman in STEM on October 15:

Ada Lovelace Day in a nutshell

Ada Lovelace Day is about sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today. The aim is to create new role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.

Add your story!

On October 15th, write a blog post about your STEM heroine and add it to our collection: Just follow these simple steps:

  • Write about a woman in science, technology, engineering or maths whose achievements you admire.
  • Publish your story online.
  • Visit our directory of stories and either join up or log in.
  • Add your story to our collection.
  • Tell your friends!

Yes, it really is that simple!

List sources of inspiration here, or previous year’s ALD posts that you’ve really enjoyed.

NB: for clarity Ada Lovelace Day is independent of, and pre-dates, the Ada Initiative, the non-profit I work for that specifically focuses on women in open technology and culture. Both organisations are named in honour of Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace.

Linkspam now, ask me how (31 May 2013)

  • 6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism: “Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: because they are women.”
  • Star Trek Musings: “Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? “
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Where Did All The Strong Starfleet Women Go?: “Star Trek has always been about achieving your fullest potential no matter your race, gender, creed, or pointiness of ears. Which is why the utter lack of strong women in Star Trek Into Darkness is a slap in the face to all the outstanding female Star Trek characters we’ve met over the years.”
  • How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’: “But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.”
  • The Truth Of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem: Contemporary urban fantasies would be more interesting if they based werewolf etc. fantasies on actual diverse animal social structures rather than old myth about alpha wolves.
  • Lost to History No More: “It is now clear that without Dr. Kober’s work, Mr. Ventris could never have deciphered Linear B when he did, if ever. Yet because history is always written by the victors — and the story of Linear B has long been a British masculine triumphal narrative — the contributions of this brilliant American woman have been all but lost to time.”
  • So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman: “New technologies may present new ways of violating people’s privacy, but that doesn’t mean they’re legal.”
  • Code of conduct not enforced at the North American edition of Yet Another Perl Conference.
  • Why isn’t it hate speech if it’s about women? “We don’t often call open misogyny hate speech, but that’s what it is.”
  • California teen invents device that could charge a cell phone in 20 seconds: “Khare showed off her so-called super-capacitor last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.”
  • Words Matter: “No one’s being hurt, it’s their fault if someone is offended – after all, it’s just words, right? Sadly, that’s grossly underestimating the power of language and interaction.”
  • We Can Do Better: “I want to be apologetic and say “I don’t think most people were being consciously sexist by treating these women as less than equals” but really, I’m growing tired of “I’m sure they didn’t mean to” as an excuse. Many of us have an internalized sexism.”
  • Are you ready for Ada Lovelace Day 2013? “If you belong to a STEM-related group, why not ask the organisers to devote one meeting during the autumn to editing Wikipedia? Or offer to help put on a special Ada Lovelace Day meet-up for your edit-a-thon? If you don’t belong to any official groups, why not gather your friends together at a pub with wifi and help each other research and create new entries, or expand existing stub articles on notable women?”

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.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer

Originally posted on Lecta for Ada Lovelace Day.

Else Shepherd is an Australian electrical engineer specialising in communications equipment. She has co-founded multiple Australian engineering companies, including Mosaic Information Technology, a custom modems company, and Microwave & Materials Designs, developing microwave filters for mobile phones. She was appointed as the chairman of Powerlink, the state government-owned corporation maintaining Queensland’s high voltage electricity grid, in 1994, and has been a board member of the National Electricity Market Management Company (now known as the Australian Energy Market Operator).

Shepherd won Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 2007, their most prestigious award, recognising an engineer with over 20 years of substantial contributions to professional engineering in Australia. As best I can tell, she is the only woman Peter Nicol Russell medallist. She is also a Member of the Order of Australia since 2003, and was the University of Queensland Alumnus of the Year in 2009. She is also a pianist and choral director.

Shepherd has talked about her experience as a woman in electrical engineering with University of Queensland publications. She and one other woman graduated in 1965, the university’s first women graduates in electrical engineering. She was unable to attend Institution of Engineers meetings in the 1960s, because they were held at the local Men’s Club. She continues to promote workplace flexibility, having used part-time work during parts of her career to care for her two children.

Further reading:

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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

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!

Elementary my dear linkspam (26 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.

One week until Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace Day is a week from today: Tuesday October 16.

Ada Lovelace Day is a profile-raising day for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Write or record something about a woman in STEM on October 16:

It’s really easy to get involved in Ada Lovelace Day: When 16 October starts in your time zone, just write or record something about a women in science, technology, engineering or maths whose achievements you admire. It can be a blog post, a Facebook update, a podcast, a video – whatever you like.

When it’s published online, visit our Directory, log in, and add your story to our collection.

Yes, it really is that simple! So make a date to join us on 16 October and help raise the profile of women in STEM.

List sources of inspiration here, or previous year’s ALD posts that you’ve really enjoyed. On ALD itself we’ll have a second post to share your favourite links from this year.

Ada Lovelace Day is also raising funds to support ALD 2012 activities, and to investigate founding a charitable organisation to support women in STEM.

NB: for clarity Ada Lovelace Day is independent of, and pre-dates, the Ada Initiative, the non-profit I work for that specifically focuses on women in open technology and culture. We’re both named in honour of Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

There Is Another Linkspam (4 September 2012)

  • So Long, Barbie Dreamhouse: Roominate Gets Girls Excited About Architecture and Engineering: “When Jennifer Kessler, Alice Brooks, and Bettina Chen were first-year masters students at Stanford, they couldn’t help but notice a striking absence of women in their math and science classes. Wanting to inspire an enthusiasm for the hard sciences in younger generations of girls, the women created Roominate, a buildable toy dollhouse that teaches kids about subjects like architecture and engineering, their website reports. Roominate is a stackable set of dollhouse rooms, made for girls ages 6-10. Each set includes build-your-own furniture, circuit boards, color-coded wires and a mini-motor to operate lights, fans and buzzers. Once girls decide on an overall structure for their houses, they can choose to wire each room for light or electronics, take apart and reassemble the customizable furniture, and even change the wallpaper as they see fit.”
  • Amazon Customers Go Rogue, Hilariously Review Bic’s Idiotic Pen for Women: “We’ve discussed the ridiculousness of Bic for Her — the pen specially marketed towards women, which, no, does not mean that they’re branded with the face of Betty Friedan — in the past, but it seems that consumers have now taken the mocking of the product into their own hands via Amazon UK, a site where you can now find page after page of brilliant and hilarious fake product reviews from clever users who are alternately thrilled that there’s finally a tool that women can write with, confused because they’ve never seen a pen before or concerned about the dangerous path that allowing women to write will inevitably lead us down.”
  • A Challenger Appears for the Fake Geek Girl Meme: “But if there’s one we wouldn’t mind eradicating from the internet, it’d be the Idiot Nerd Girl Advice Animal meme. It’s emblematic of the persisting idea that tells people it’s ok to nastily call women out for not being “authentically geeky” enough… Dark Horse Comics editor Rachel Edidin, however, had the idea to try and turn that around a week ago, by creating a sort of anti-meme that, instead of presuming that the pictured girl is pretending to like nerdy things in order to get attention, presumes that the girl actually knows her stuff and is tired of people assuming she doesn’t because of her gender. And a week later? A quick check of QuickMeme is about half full with defiant nerd girls.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence] Study Says: Television With Powerful Female Characters Causes People To Have Higher Opinions Of Women: “The idea that a powerful female character outweighs violence against women so much that women actually find those shows more reassuring than shows without violence at all is pretty amazing. The idea that the men in the study found shows with sexual violence against passive women to be the most comforting is less so.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence] Joss Whedon Is The Tim Wise of Sci-Fi: “He includes ~strong female characters~, feminist characters, queer characters in his work. Great, I’m in. But then he proceeds to do really gross things to them. He undermines them, tears them down, places them into incredibly misogynist and abusive frameworks and then frames their heroism as clawing their way up out of that (if it doesn’t kill them) without adding anything new to the discussion. Then he proceeds to collect praise for confronting issues when he’s not really confronting them so much as using them as cheap narrative devices.”

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.

Closeup of a slide staged on a microscope stand

Cultural Forces in Geek Inspiration

An interesting survey by an Indiana University science education researcher and Scientific American reported the following about what sparks people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields:

Based on data from a randomized sample of universities and online volunteers who completed a survey, men and women who pursue STEM degrees tend to become interested in science in elementary school. When asked which people and experiences helped to spark their interest, women were more likely than men to select a teacher, a class at school, solving math problems and spending time outdoors, whereas men were more influenced by tinkering, building and reading. As men and women enter college, passion for the field far outweighs all other influences as the main reason for their persistence.

They have some nice graphical representations of their results as well, but it’s worth adding a bit of cultural context here.

“Tinkering” and “building” represent a broad class of activities that boys are pushed toward and girls are pushed away from. These activities can not only provide inspiration for STEM degrees, but also function as practice for laboratory work and problem solving, which is to say as practice for STEM degrees and careers. When Lego sets aimed at boys encourage more creativity and agency than Lego sets aimed at girls, there are real consequences down the line. It is great that so many men are lead to STEM degrees from tinkering and building. But unless we accept the lone tinkerer as an archetype for any gender, this path to a geeky career will be less likely for most women.

Two of the stronger factors for women entering STEM degrees, “a teacher” and “a class at school”, comprise structural external encouragement. It makes perfect sense that this would be more important for the under-represented gender in any field. If a girl doesn’t see people like her in a certain career, she may not consider it seriously as an option, unless she is directed there by something external like a class or a teacher. The good news here is that external factors can make a difference in bringing people to STEM careers, especially under-represented groups.

The largest percentage of respondents (38%) said that the drive to be in STEM came from “self”, and by the time college rolls around, “passion for the field” is the most popular reason to persist (three times as popular as the next three reasons). But still, these self-directed passionate scientists add up to less than half the total! For the rest of the group, and if we want to increase the number of women in STEM fields, it’s critical to have a culture that values science and mentors that seek out and encourage potential scientists.