The CataLyst: National Women in Engineering Day Report

A couple of weeks back, on the 23rd June was the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) here in the UK. This is a day organised by the Women in Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate their 95th anniversary and to promote women in engineering.

WES was founded in 1919 after the First World War to deal with the issues concerning continuing employment of women engineers who had contributed to the war effort. It faced opposition from government, the industry and unions across the country. It’s aim was:

To promote the study and practice of engineering among women; and, secondly to enable technical women to meet and to facilitate the exchange of ideas respecting the interests, training and employment of technical women and the publication and communication of information on such subjects.

Several branches across the UK were active, and the first issue of “The Woman Engineer” was published in December 1919. It seemed they faced many struggles until the Second World War when all of the sudden women were needed again, but at the end of that war in 1945 many of the prominent women were expected to go back into the role of wife and mother.

Today, women in engineering still face similar obstacles that the women of previous generations did. Yes, we have manged to enter the workforce and legislation against sexual discrimination exists in many countries. But today discrimination is subtle and covert, and a lot of the time women are left questioning whether they interpreted a situation correctly or not.

As part of celebrating NWED my office held an open panel debate about Women in Engineering which was attended, through online help, by 15 offices across the country. The panel consisted of senior women and men within the company talking about what it was like 10 years ago, what changes there have been, and what challenges we still face today. It was a great discussion and many brilliant points were made.

One that I would like to touch on in particular is communication. With governments and many companies today continually improving policies and terms and conditions for workers, it’s important to keep yourself up to date with what rights you have. Examples were made where managers had denied staff certain privileges because they didn’t know the law or the company policy on the matter. In other cases employees hadn’t asked for what they were entitled as they weren’t aware that they had a right to it in the first place.

This can be anything from maternity (and paternity) leave, to flexible working hours or how to raise complains about sexual harassment and what support is offered at work. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that staff are aware of any changes in terms and entitlements, but as employees we can also be proactive in keeping up to date with new legislation as well as company policy changes.

Another thing about communication, and an issue with these kinds of events is that I personally feel like, a lot of the time we’re preaching to the choir. The people attending these events (mostly women) are already aware of the struggles and difficulties that we face. How can we make sure that we educate those who’s minds have not yet been opened to these issues? That’s one of the biggest struggles for me, as many of those in power are just the ones who could use some more insight.

The CataLyst – Can you name a female scientist?

My guess is that most people know who Marie Curie was (the first woman to win a Nobel Price), and that’s probably where the list ends for many of us. Can you name a male scientist? How about 5, or 10? Yeah, not that difficult, is it? A European wide study found that although most of us could name one, a quarter couldn’t name a single female scientist, dead or alive. So the odds of people knowing more than one are slim.

They’ve uncovered some of our planet’s and the universe’s mysteries and their discoveries have helped to shape the world we live in, yet there’s still an out-dated idea that women haven’t made a difference to society. I’m pretty sure that this can be blamed on our ignorance about female scientists through history, and the fact than in many cases these women have effectively been written out of history books to the befit of their male counterparts.

Science journalist Priya Shetty said: “Women’s contributions have always been overlooked whether in politics, literature or science.” She added that without efforts to promote them, female scientists would sink into obscurity. “They’re not part and parcel of the education system. We’re not giving youngsters role models. Some of these women have had fantastic lives – why does nobody know about them?”

The Guardian had a piece a couple of months back about a similar issue after the Royal Society had been urging people to highlight the achievements of women in science by adding to their Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is one of the most used sources of information today. It’s free and open, and anyone can add and edit articles. Yet the Wikipedia pages of many prominent women both in science and other fields show little more than a couple of short paragraphs of information.

Dame Athene Donald, fellow of the Royal Society, said “Many female scientists are either not there at all on Wikipedia or just [have] stubs. It’s not just the historical characters, it’s the current ones, and these very eminent women just somehow get overlooked.” And so, on March 4th this year, ahead of International Women’s Day, the Royal Society, working with the Royal Academy of Engineering, hosted an “edit-athon” to boost the presence of female scientists.

I think this is a great initiative, as every day we hear about the lack of role models for girls and how the STEM industry are losing its female workforce at various points in their careers. Wikipedia is a great arena to put focus on inspirational female role models as it’s almost always going to come top of Google search results. There is also hope that as the number of female Wikipedia editors increase, the focus will be shifted more onto women.

If you want to brush up on your knowledge of female scientists then read about these 6 women who were snubbed due to sexism, or why not learn about these 10 ground breaking women scientists written off by history. And in the interest of diversity, and my last post, the Royal Society has highlighted Inspiring Scientists: Diversity in British Science. Enjoy!

The CataLyst: Privilege and Diversity

Before I was an adult woman (and had to endure everything that comes with it) I was a girl growing up in a place where, as far as I could tell, the biggest injustice was not based on gender. I knew that I was treated differently by certain people, but it wasn’t because I was a girl. You see, in addition to being a woman, I’m also mixed-race (hello diversity!).

My mum moved to Sweden in the late 1970’s, and back then Sweden was (and comparatively still is today) a very homogeneous place. I was lucky enough to live in a city with a larger than average immigrant population, and in fact, many of my school friends were not Swedish by birth. However, even among the diverse groups of ethnicities in my school I was a minority, and the stereotypes that come with looking Chinese were constantly being pointed out to me.

What I’m trying to say is that whatever group we identify as belonging to, we carry with us some sort of privilege that other groups may not have. These privileges come in different forms and depend on where we are, where we come from and where we’re going. And it’s so important to be aware of them and recognise that we have them. The same way that men have a societal privilege over women, white women have a privilege over women of colour and other ethnic minorities. Having been brought up in the West gives you a certain privilege and what socioeconomic background you come from will also play a part.

I’m by no means trying to rank people on how bad off they are. I am, however, trying to highlight that in this fight for equality between the sexes, it’s easy to see things in just one dimension (men and women). It’s easy to forget that when encouraging girls in schools, their biggest struggles may not be based on their gender, but on their skin colour, religion, or sexual orientation. And asking of them to identify with one very specific type of woman might be harder than identifying with someone of a similar background.

This is why it’s so important, that even though we’re trying to promote women within STEM (and for me, women within wider society in general), we have to remember to diversify our group as much as possible. Being inclusive is the only way that we will truly succeed, and having a cross-section of women from all backgrounds represented, ensures that we can reach out to girls from all parts of society.

Easier said than done? Yes it is. For the same reason there are more men than women in STEM, there are more white women then ethnic minority women. And there are more women from higher socioeconomic backgrounds than from lower ones. But that’s all part of the reason that initiatives like this exist right? So although we should keep up the effort to get more women into STEM, we also need to look at what we can do to balance the makeup of our group. We should definitely keep encouraging girls and focusing on girls everywhere, but maybe put a little more focus on the girls who will have to fight the odds a bit more.

There is (maybe not) surprisingly little out there about intersectionality in STEM fields, but I’m hoping that talking about it will be a good start.

Six Developer Bootcamps Helping to Close Tech Gender Gap

It’s no secret that women are largely underrepresented in the software engineering field and the numbers don’t lie: women make up only around 20% of the computer programming world. In the US, plenty of organizations are attempting (and succeeding) in drumming up interest in STEM subjects among K-12 classes. Many of these, like Girls Who Code, are working hard to generate interest with specifically younger girls. But how can we encourage women to start mastering programming skills or even switch careers after they graduate from high school? Developer bootcamps are one of the most popular and disruptive trends in education today – let’s take a look at how these immersive bootcamps may fit into the puzzle and solve some of this gender disparity.

No Boys Allowed
Two coding bootcamps in the US exist exclusively for women: Ada Development Academy and Hackbright Academy. Their primary teaching languages, tuition costs and curriculum differ, but both share the same overarching goal: to train female software developers and close the existing gender gap.

Ada Development Academy
Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the world’s “first programmer,” so it’s only fitting that the Ada Development Academy take their name from the famed female mathematician. Ada is based in Seattle and offers a 24-week intensive curriculum, followed by an internship in the tech community. During this class time, students learn HTML/CSS, JavaScript and Ruby on Rails. Ada cites the wide gender gap in Washington state (85% of programmers in the state are male) as their impetus for training women to be software engineers, and perhaps the most enticing and unique feature at Ada is that tuition is free!

Hackbright Academy
Move a bit further down the West Coast to find Hackbright Academy, based in San Francisco. As a 12-week program, Hackbright is modeled after the more traditional coding bootcamp structure, but stands out with it’s commitment to boosting female engagement in tech and because they’ve chosen to teach Python as opposed to Ruby.

While some critics have commented that female-only schools don’t reflect the real world, Hackbright alum Siena Aguayo feels “that completely misses the point of all-female engineering schools in the first place. I feel like we’re really changing things- people are talking about the problem of women in tech a lot more. And that opens the door to talking about racial diversity and income disparity as well. (…) Hackbright graduated more female engineers than both Stanford and Berkeley combined this last year.”

Tuition at Hackbright Academy is $15,000, although students who accept jobs with companies in the Hackbright hiring network get a refund of $3k.

Scholarships
Not every school is exclusively female, but many bootcamps offer scholarships to women in order to boost applications and create more balanced cohorts.

1. Dev Bootcamp is one of the most established coding bootcamps in the US, and has led the charge in many ways in encouraging women to apply. Most recently, they partnered with Girl Develop It to offer $2500 scholarships to 10 women who are active members of GDI in New York. Dev Bootcamp also partners with the Levo Scholars program to give partial scholarships to women in their quest for gender parity.

2. Codeup is a 12-week school in San Antonio, Texas that teaches the LAMP stack along with JavaScript and jQuery. Each cohort, they offer 3 scholarships to women for 50% off tuition in order to level the playing field. Regular tuition is around $9,000

3. The Iron Yard awards two $1500 scholarships per class in order to lower the bar for women who want to break into programming. In addition, Iron Yard makes outreach into the local tech community a priority. Students are required to volunteer at the free kids’ programming camps.

4. Flatiron School in New York offers a scholarships for women who apply- while we aren’t able to pinpoint the exact amount, we’re more excited about the school’s most recent new hire: Sara Chipps is Flatiron School’s new CTO and will head up the newly founded Flatiron Labs, the school’s dev shop that will employ their graduates. Strategic hires like this show that the school is committed to bringing women on in senior positions.

How can you distinguish a bootcamp that’s trying to change the future of technology from one that’s stuck in the past? Look for schools that do outreach in younger communities and with underrepresented minorities. Visit the schools you apply to and meet with their founders or instructors to really understand their values. And once you’re enrolled, be sure to stay involved in your local tech community inspire the next generation of girls to be STEMinists!

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the technology Codeup teaches. It includes the LAMP stack, not Rails. 

Author
Liz Eggleston is a LivingSocial alum and co-founder of Course Report, the online resource for potential students considering a coding bootcamp. Catch up with Liz on Twitter @coursereport and on the Course Report Blog.

Research Survey on Stereotype Threat in STEM

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The CataLyst: Guest Post from the Stemettes

For this post I thought it would be fun to lift an organisation that does wonderful work here in the UK; the Stemettes! Rather than writing about it myself, here’s a guest post from Jacquelyn, Managing Stemette, who wants to share with us what the Stemettes are all about. Enjoy!

I’m an Arts student (History and Spanish, Durham, specifically), yet somehow – after two years too many working as a management consultant for two and a half years – I’ve ended up supporting one of the biggest “Girls into STEM” organisations in the UK. It’s funny that I should feel myself worthy to help girls on their path to a career in STEM when all I have is an in-depth knowledge of 20th Century Russian society and an ability to talk all sorts of things in Spanish to all sorts of people. But here I am co-running a fast growth start-up STEM social enterprise – and I reckon I am just as qualified as anyone else. Because at the Stemettes, passion is what matters.

The Stemettes was launched in February 2013 by Anne-Marie Imafidon (youngest girl in the UK to get an A Level aged 11 and Masters from Oxford at 20, both in Computer Science). She attended a keynote at the Grace Hopper Celebration in the States where she found out the number of women working in technology, wasn’t just declining – it was in freefall. After some research in the UK (specifically the Kings College London ASPIRES Report) she realised the situation was the same, if not worse, over here.

Having leafed her way through reams and reams of reports and documenting the problem, Anne-Marie felt it was about time that someone a) proposed solutions, and b) actually set to carrying out those activities which made up the solution. It doesn’t seem like rocket science…not to us or to you, but it may as well have been – there were so few organisations or women tackling this problem with action it seemed bizarre. There was practically no one.

The Stemettes aims to inspire girls to pursue a career in STEM through meeting amazing women already working in STEM via a series of panels, hackathons and exhibitions. And this year we are starting a mentoring and webinar programme also. We work with schools and corporations such as Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Accenture (see our website for more sponsors). We aim to break the social norm by showing girls they are just as welcome in STEM as they are in any other sector in industry. We get them coding, building, designing, creating, thinking and exploring. Through one “hot,” hands-on interaction with the Stemettes, we have seen the stats that prove girls are more positive about pursuing a career in STEM.

Results aside (we can show you rows and rows, cells and cells of feedback data as evidence), we know that part of what makes the Stemettes so successful is it is FUN. We do not try and convey a political message – the girls realise there is a problem but this isn’t why they should go into it; they realise they can work in STEM because they can and it is a good career, not simply in the name of equality.

There is no political message in a complete novice coding up a website or creating a mobile app in a day from scratch – not one that I can see anyway. Stemette Supporters, Big Stemettes and Little Stemettes alike enjoy themselves at our events, and our Twitter feed is awash with 140 characters of testimonies from all types: children and adults, men, women and girls.

We know the Stemettes can succeed, and our ultimate goal is to up the number of women working in STEM from 13% (2013) to 30%. That’s a realistic goal we reckon, especially as not only are more organisations coming on the scene that are fighting the same fight as us, but because the Stemettes are scaling up – and fast! In our first year we worked with 700 girls through 9 different events, mainly in London.

This year we hope to work with at least 1000 girls and run 18 events, half of which will take place outside London. Our success and the results and feedback we receive baffles us on a daily basis – Anne-Marie always says “no one is more surprised by this than I am,” and I believe her. She started the Stemettes project as a New Year’s resolution for 2013 as a side project to her full time job in technology at a global investment bank. But as long as that wave of opportunity and good fortune is still there, we’re going to continue riding it.

For more information, please visit our website Stemettes.org and sign up to our mailing list. You can also tweet us @Stemettes or email us at Stemettes@gmail.com.

Please do check our event page as we run new events every month.

Jacquelyn & Anne-Marie
Managing & Head Stemette

The CataLyst: The Stereotype Threat

At certain points in my life when I meet new people, the question of what I do for a living eventually surfaces. “So what do you work with?” they ask, to which I reply – trying to sound as neutral and normal as I possibly can – “I’m a chemical engineer.” Most of the time I’m met by silence, followed  by a facial expression that’s trying to not look surprised, and then a casual “Oh really, I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

I catch myself wanting to start a discussion at that point, asking people why they “wouldn’t have guessed that.” But then I remember why.

It’s the fact that things like this existed until very recently:

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And these kinds of stereotypes and generalisations are made every day, in a non-satirical way:

how_it_works

Sheryl Sandberg, the founder of Lean In, explains Stereotype Threat with these words:

Stereotype threat means that the more we’re aware of a stereotype, the more we act in accordance with it,” Sandberg explains. “So, stereotypically we believe girls are not good at math. Therefore, girls don’t do well at math, and it self-perpetuates. If you ask a girl right before she takes a math test to check off ‘M’ or ‘F’ for male or female, she does worse on that test. The reason there aren’t more women in computer science is there aren’t enough women in computer science.

The truth is these stereotypes are ingrained everywhere, and everyone carries these biases around. When the founder of the popular Facebook site “I F***ing Love Science” revealed her gender (although she’d never actively tried to hide it), fans of the page were stunned. In an interview she said: 

“Commenters said they were very sort of surprised they had the same bias within themselves. They were saying ‘[I] didn’t realize that I had this, but I obviously do. I never dreamed that I was sexist in any way, I never dreamed that I had this bias, but it’s there. I thought you were a guy.”

And it’s not surprising really, when these stereotypes get perpetuated and replicated everywhere we look. Despite the fact that there are more female STEM-literate roles in films and on TV (like Natalie Portman’s physicist in Thor, and Sandra Bullock’s doctor/astronaut in Gravity), many shows play on the old biases. CBS’ The Big Bang Theory has typecast female scientists into the “weirdo” role and the only other female character is the normal non-scientist. I personally find the show funny and entertaining because I can see its satirical side, being “behind the scenes” myself, so to speak. But for people who are not in STEM, this might be interpreted as a true representation of what STEM communities are like.

A study conducted by Sapna Cheryan from the University of Washington found that students who did not do computer science believed computer scientists to be intelligent but with poor social skills. They were also perceived as liking science fiction and spending hours playing video games. Some participants even went so far as to describe computer scientists as thin, pale (from being inside all the time), and having poor hygiene.

Participants were also asked to read articles claiming that computer scientist no longer fit those stereotypes, and another which claimed they do. The articles were identical with the exception of their opposing claims. While men were unaffected, women who read the article with non-stereotypical images were significantly more interested in majoring in computer science than women who read the article with gendered stereotypes.

The problem with these stereotypes have been outlined in several research papers, and even to those of us who study and work within STEM, these biases come so naturally. I frequently catch myself defaulting to male language (he, him, his) when speaking about work, research or people I don’t know. It’s a constant battle to undo years of being exposed to these stereotypes, and even though I know that we can’t all fit in to these narrow templates, it’s difficult to break away from an old habit.

One small change that might have a big impact is our spoken language . If you don’t know the gender, don’t assume it’s a man and maybe use “they” instead? These conscious choices that we make will eventually lead to a bigger change, and a different perception.

If you have any good examples of communities, websites or people who break these stereotypes, or just tips and tricks on how to stop enforcing stereotypes, please share them here. I’m sure we would all benefit from some new shades of STEM.

The CataLyst: The Myth About Maths

Last year the Institute For Fiscal Studies published a report stating that children who are good at maths at the age of 10 will go on to earn 7% more at 30 than an “otherwise identical” child. It’s worrying then, with the already existing salary gap, that girls are trailing behind boys in maths in many developed countries. The latest results from the OECD Pisa Test show that in most countries girls underperform boys in mathematics; among the highest-achieving students, the gender gap in favour of boys is even wider.

Nature vs. Nurture
But boys are not innately better at maths than girls right? For a long time, the performance gap in maths between boys and girls was explained using nature and biology. Boys were more logical, and girls more creative. Recently though, more and more research supports the nurture over nature argument. If this is true (which I think it is), it’s really scary that according to code.org, the cultural side is getting worse. The numbers are terrifying and fewer girls are doing maths, physics and computer subjects at school here in the UK.

Last year, the UK education minister Liz Truss, said the gender gap is a result of girls’ lack of confidence in themselves. This makes me think sometimes even the best role models cannot counteract the societal and cultural pressures faced by girls. There may be a clear link between confidence and performance, but despite the bleak figures there is hope.

Social Equality and Equality in STEM
If we look at the figures on a global scale, the maths gender gap in certain countries is almost non-existent. These are the countries that also happen to offer more equal opportunities and resources to men and women. The general correlation has been found that in more equitable societies, the STEM gender gap is significantly reduced. In countries like Iceland, Sweden and Norway the results from various tests show no difference in how girls and boys perform, whereas in countries like Turkey and even the UK, girls scored on average 23 and 14 points less than boys respectively.

I know that here in the UK, we like to think of ourselves as forward thinking, equal and progressive – and to a certain extent we are – but the numbers speak for themselves. Girls are not worse than boys at STEM subjects, but it’s difficult to be the first girl doing a Physics A-Level if none of your girlfriends are. It can’t be down to the individual alone to change the view of society. Although young girls all over the country and the world are already going against the trend, something needs to happen on a larger scale.

The way we view girls in media influences the way girls look at themselves.

We have to ask ourselves what can by done by government, locally in our communities, through schools and parenting, as well as on social media to change the culture and perceptions of girls in STEM. Only then will we be able to offer equal opportunities and give girls the chance to prove gender doesn’t matter.

The CataLyst: Let’s Talk About Role Models

First, I’d like to thank everyone for the warm reception of my first post on STEMinist. I’m very excited to be here and hope to grow with this column and everyone who reads it, gaining new experiences and perspectives along the way. In this post I want to expand a bit on role models and what I mentioned briefly last time:

You can’t be what you can’t see.

To do that, however, I feel I should tell you a bit about my journey to where I am today.

The First Type of Role Model: Awakening Interest
I was always a good student and enjoyed studying. There were no subjects I found particularly difficult, but there were those I enjoyed more than others. In secondary school a new teacher really opened my eyes to maths and science. This teacher was enthusiastic, explained things well, listened to students and was never condescending in how he treated people of different ability levels. During the three years he taught my class, everyone wanted to do well in maths and science; everyone wanted to earn his respect. I knew a lot of my classmates had never enjoyed maths and science before, but now made an effort and thought it was fun to go to those classes. This is the first type of role model, the one that gets a child’s attention, awakens an interest and keeps it.

The Second Type of Role Model: Nurturing Potential
In high school/A-levels I continued my focus on maths and science. I studied in the IB (International Baccalaureate) and chose to do Maths, Physics and Chemistry more in-depth. Here again, I was influenced by three fantastic teachers. My chemistry teacher was a woman in her 60’s and had taught chemistry her entire career. Her experiments in class always failed, but her teaching was structured and guiding. When I struggled, she listened and helped, not letting me resign to ‘I don’t understand‘. She pushed me to get a higher grade than I originally thought I could achieve, and wrote a fantastic personal reference for my university application. This is the second type of role model, the one who sees potential and nurtures it into something more.

The Third Type of Role Model: “I want to be like her”
Starting university was a shock, not only culturally (I moved to a new country) but in the way teaching was structured.  It opened my eyes to just how much ‘man’ was around me. My first two years studying Chemical Engineering, I spent a lot of time questioning whether I had actually made the right choice. Two things made me stick with it (besides stubbornness):

  1. The first was a lecturer who taught some of our classes from the third year onward. This was the first time I’d seen a woman doing what I wanted to do. Not only was she inspiring just by being there, she was also approachable, helpful and understanding. More importantly, she didn’t compromise just because she was a woman. She became my personal mentor and no matter what doubts and questions I had, she seemed to have an answer, because she had been there herself. This is the third type of role model, the one you can directly identify with and say, “I want to be like her.”
  2. The other thing that made me stick with Chemical Engineering leads me to where I am today. I took a year off of university before my final year and worked in an engineering consultancy office for 13 months. This office showed me a mix of 50/50 men and women working together as engineers. Yes, there were issues, and yes there was a vague air of the old boys’ club that sometimes surfaced, but it was a change from university. These women spoke up when they felt things were unfair, and I went back to finish my degree with a different mentality as a result.

Searching for the Next Role Model
Today, I find myself surrounded by colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds, but what I don’t see is that next stage of Role Model to look up to. There are few senior female engineers and even fewer women in senior management.

To a certain extent, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” rings very true during the early years that shape our choices in life. I wouldn’t have ended up where I am today without a lot of guidance and inspiration along the way. But now that I’m here, and know exactly what’s missing, it’s my job to fill that role.

Whatever stage we are in our careers as women in STEM, we have to pave the way to make it easier for future generations of girls to get to where we are. At every fork in the road, when I personally chose to stay in STEM, I know others didn’t because they lacked the right role models.

What inspired you to stay in STEM, and what can we do to make choosing STEM easier for every girl who’s questioning it today?

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Gender equality is important in gaming – here’s why

They have no place, because developers and publishers have decided not to include them. For any number of reasons – the financial drain of designing extra characters, the belief that women don’t play genre X, or the idea that male gamers won’t play female characters. Regardless, the take-away message from this is that it’s not even worth trying to get women into gaming – that they, as a demographic, are essentially worthless to the industry.

[ via PC & Tech Authority ]