STEMinist Profile: Taryn Musgrave, Chief Operations Officer for Robogals Global

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Taryn Musgrave

Chief Operations Office & Full Time Student

Robogals Global


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I just LOVE technology and maths! I always wanted to do something a little bit different and I love being able to solve problems. When I was younger I didn’t really know what I wanted to do… I wanted to work with computers but I didn’t have much thought beyond that. I ended up in an Engineering role and have since then come full circle back to Computer Science. I have always been an advocate of women in STEM roles and I am involved in promoting women in STEM roles as part of my role. I think when a maths problem, an engineering marvel, a physics discovery or a particularly tricky code solution gets you excited you have no choice! I have found my passion.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There have been plenty of cool projects along the way. Each project is different: different challenges and different people. One of the coolest projects was when I was living in Northern Australia. A train had derailed and destroyed a section of track and a point machine. I was on a team of two and we spent the next 12 hours rebuilding this machine from scratch. It involved physical labour, resourceful thinking, problem solving and teamwork to be able to get this machine up and running again. This project gave me a sense of achievement when the machine first operated.

Generally speaking my favourite projects are the ones that have an unexpected outcome and help people. I am a big advocate for volunteering and helping people as much as possible. Sharing knowledge and skills with others develops not only them but myself as well.

Role models and heroes:

  • Amy Poehler – just plain inspirational
  • Helen Pederson – for helping me find the confidence to pursue my dreams. Her Open the Door project provides education and aims to address the issues women face in the engineering industry when returning to the workforce after having children.
  • Karen San Miguel – a fantastic woman who promotes tech to young people through CoderDojo in WA. Also an all-round awesome person.
  • Marita Cheng – founder of Robogals. I would not have the wonderful opportunity I have now if Marita didn’t get the ball rolling.
  • My Husband – he is so patient, kind and supportive. He is such a positive male role model. I am so lucky to have him in my life.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Every day is different! I love to help people and solve problems. In my current role I get to visit schools and encourage girls to think about STEM as a potential career path. There is nothing more exciting than a group of young girls who never knew that their love of maths and science could be part of their future career. The girls that I meet surprise me every time. Their ingenuity and ‘out of the box’ thinking just blows me away. I meet so many older women who have lost that along the way and I want to encourage everyone to become themselves again. Through my different jobs in STEM I have been knee deep in snow fixing track circuits on the railway in England, responding to faults in Northern Australia in temperatures that melted my work boots, and currently sharing the awesome places STEM careers can take you with girls around the world.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Jump! If you find something you love doing, then do it! Happy people are successful people. Work takes up a substantial part of your life so it is important to love what you are doing. If you make a mistake, you learn. If you chose the wrong path, you can change it. Nothing is set in stone.

Favorite website or app:

  • Twitter – I love to tweet! Twitter connects me with the world and lets me discover so many new people :)
  • Slack – Newly discovered. It allows me to keep up with my team on a regular informal basis.

Twitter: @tarynmusgrave

No Surprises at Amazon

This week Amazon became the latest company to join the craze of releasing diversity statistics. While disappointing, the presented figures weren’t at all unexpected, as Amazon joined the other tech giants in displaying a vastly un-diverse picture on their diversity report.

Over a month after the company was pressed by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition and publications like USA Today to release race and gender breakdowns of its workforce, Amazon quietly responded by posting a page on their website about various diversity initiatives the company is involved with. No official announcement was made by Amazon management about the numbers, and corporate spokespeople have been silent in response to questions about the figures.

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For us at STEMinist, the overwhelming majority of men in the company –especially in managerial positions where just 25% are women– is especially troubling when considering the fact that this is for the company overall. Unlike other tech diversity reports seen in recent months, Amazon chose not to disclose the diversity numbers for its technical staff, which are undoubtedly even more dismal.

While Amazon does sport internal “affinity groups” like AWE (Amazon Women in Engineering), this doesn’t make up for the disparity in proportions. There was no time lost by Amazon in avoiding blame for that problem, declaring it as something that begins in schools.

“We know that in middle school and high school, students are already deciding what professions they want to pursue,” stated Amazon’s report. “More often than not female students and students of color are opting out of technology and engineering.”

They propose to be part of the solution by pumping money and resources into organizations focused on improving the “pipeline” for STEM minorities.

“To broaden our impact, we partner with the Anita Borg Institute to sponsor events such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. We also provide resources and volunteers to Code.org to increase access to computing in high school, and we host Girls Who Code to provide hands-on coding education. We actively assist these students to enroll in national programs such as Aspirations in Computing with the National Center for Women & Information Technology.”

While every effort made is something to be celebrated and appreciated, only time (and their next diversity report) will tell if Amazon truly stands behind their commitment to inclusion.

 

 

STEMinist Profile: Erica Moulton, Marine Technology/Owner

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Erica Moulton

Marine Technology/Owner

PVC ROV


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think I knew when I was 4 that I wanted to work in the science field. Of course I was enamored by Jacques Cousteau, but I was also inspired by the physics of what Evel Knievel was doing on a motorcycle and the adventures of Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom. Whatever I could watch on evening television would inspire me to explore and build outside everyday. I built rockets with my friends, explored the mangrove estuary around my home, didn’t come home until the street lights came on – I think being a kid in the “free to be a kid outside” 1970’s is overall what inspired me to keep going in the STEM field. I try to inspire the same wanderlust in my own children through travel and exploration.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Coolest? That would easily go to an experiment fondly called Fish In Space. Three colleagues and I applied to have an aquaculture experiment on-board Space Shuttle Mission STS -95 (when John Glenn returned to space). It was accepted – and we learned a bit about the potential to grow Tilapia on future space missions. Second coolest? Building my first simple ROV and underwater camera system. Why? It was proof of my mastery of simple electrical skills – a mastery that has continued for over 10 years allowing me to teach hundreds of others basic electrical and waterproofing skills – enabling them to work, create and explore the underwater world.

Role models and heroes:
My role models and heroes? I don’t have specific people or characters in this category. Well not famous ones – I see the women I know personally – they understand that it takes a village – it’s those who are married, or single mom or maybe have a partner, have families, work in STEM, have balance, who say no to some things – who contribute to the world and to each other – those are my role models.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love working in STEM for a lot of reasons, but my favorite one? I love working in STEM because it allows me the opportunity to engage other people in STEM activities. I love to break down barriers to participation, teaching in ways that people like to learn and demonstrating that we use many facets of STEM on a daily basis without even realizing it!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Support other women! Be a sponsor, be a mentor – not a covert competitor.

Favorite website or app:
FabFems role models

Twitter: @ROV_Erica

Site: pvcrov.wix.com/pvcrov

STEMinist Profile: Martina Simicic, Software engineer

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Martina Simicic

Software engineer

Inspire



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always good at math but when choosing college I decided to go for Business Informatics. I finished it and still wanted to be a project manager. While writing my masters thesis on agile project management I got an internship as a Scrum coach.

Since I was extremely bored, after a week I joined a team of developers that was trying out a new thing called Ruby on Rails. I never went back to project management. From that time on I was learning as much as I could, every single day! I am now teaching others and I am loving it!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There were a few but if I have to name it, http://schoooools.com/ (it has been a while since anyone has worked on it). It was a social network for teachers, parents and students to connect, create content, share and learn from each other. It had some really nice features!

And the current project: https://www.kanker.nl/. It’s a place where people with cancer can find information, connect with each other, share stories and experiences.

Role models and heroes:
I have to be honest, I am not very good at those. It would be maybe someone from the field that I worked with and that I admire a lot but those are all small-big people.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I think working on something that people need and use can be very rewarding!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Are you doubting?

Favorite website or app:
http://stackoverflow.com/
http://www.quora.com/

Twitter: @pazinjanka

Site: martinasimicic.com

The CataLyst: To freeze or not to freeze?

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic since long before the news broke that Apple and Facebook are offering to pay for their female employees to have their eggs frozen. After all, the issue of maintaining a good work / life balance is one of the larger ones when it comes to women in STEM. And the ever leaking pipeline, certainly gets extra leaky around the time when women hit 30+. It’s been heavily debated what these companies’ “true” intentions really are, and many articles have been written both in favor and against.

Before I go onto my little rant about this I would like to point out that I respect any woman’s choice concerning what to do with her own body, and there isn’t a right or wrong choice that fits every person.

I have recently accepted a job offer which will (hopefully) advance my career. This opportunity though, means moving countries, and asking my fiancé to leave his current job and find a new one in order to come with me. I’ve done this now because I feel I need to get as far ahead in my career as possible before starting a family, so that when I eventually do want to get back to work, I’ll be in the best possible situation to do so. If only life was that simple… For me, whether you’re positive or negative toward the idea of this new ‘job perk’, Apple and Facebook’s plan has highlighted just how different the world is for men and women, no matter how much we try and pretend it isn’t.

I’m not going to take this to any extremes here (and those examples always exist) and I don’t see the evil Big Brother plot to control women’s lives which some have hinted at. I don’t think that the perk on face value is a bad thing. Giving benefits that include paying for infertility treatments or adoption costs is a way to show that families are important and as far as I’m concerned, the more options the better. BUT… the underlying message that this perk sends out is that motherhood is viewed as a liability.

The age at which most men and women start progressing their careers happens to be the same age most women begin to have children, and in a majority of cases, childcare responsibilities mainly falls on the mother. The consequence of this is that many mid-career women who want to get ahead (such as myself) are faced with the choice to either advance in their careers, or start a family. Facebook and Apple claim to be addressing this issue with their new offer, saying that it’s enabling women to delay pregnancy, while focusing on their career goals at the same time as their male counterparts. But I see this as a problem rather than a solution.

It seems a bit of a slippery slope, offering to pay women to freeze their eggs for career purposes. Firstly, I think it tells women that the only way they can succeed in the career is by not having a family. Secondly, I think it might scare women into believing that if they do choose to start a family in their early 30’s, they will have very little opportunity to re-enter, let alone move up in their careers. I would even go as far as saying that this perk is in fact perpetuating gender inequality and only contributing to the problem.

The fact that starting a family is a liability to a woman’s career but not a man’s is what the problem here is. Women should have an equal shot at success regardless of how they spend their personal lives. Companies need to allow flexible working environments, better maternity and paternity leave (after all, a problem shared is a problem halved right?) and childcare benefits. If we allow working moms and dads(!) to integrate their family and work lives, and sharing the load, women will have a much greater chance to succeed.

The money that is supposed to be spent on freezing eggs ($20,000 per woman) could pay for full-time childcare for up to a year (even in London!). Or companies could use the money and to build nurseries in their offices and staff them with day-care workers. The message that a company sends a woman when egg freezing is a benefit, and the fact they don’t see that message, is an example of how far we still have to go.

Will the Women in Tech Please Stand Up?

Unless you’ve been living under an internet-less rock for the last few months, you’ve probably noticed the huge increase in attention that the tech gender gap has gotten recently. The latest conclusion that the online community has reached is that women just don’t want to work in tech.

That statement seems a bit misleading. Saying that women don’t want to work in tech implies that there is something inherent in the technology itself that women just don’t like. There isn’t. We’re finally seeing more women choosing to enroll in STEM programs, so the interest is there. The myth that women aren’t as good at math and science as men are has long been debunked. So what exactly is keeping the ratio in technology so highly in men’s favor?

It’s true, there is the ever-present “boys’ club” mentality, and it hasn’t gone away. The “brogrammer” culture is unfortunately as strong as ever, meaning any woman who wants to try to balance a career with family life (or any sort of life outside of work and work parties) automatically has a lot on her plate. Add to that the fact that companies like Facebook and Apple seem to think that paying for a woman to freeze her eggs is more helpful for the female population than arranging for maternity leave and childcare, and you’ve got a doozy to deal with.

These are definitely problems, and ones that need to be solved. However, the best way to do that is to show these companies that women are active players in the technology arena and are here to stay. That brings us to the next problem facing ladies who are trying to get started in the industry: Where are the women who have already made it?

Where are the ladies who have hunkered down and shown the brogrammers that we can play ball? Who out there has found a tech job that allows them to have the work-life balance they need? How have women already in tech negotiated for higher salaries and better benefits?

These women exist, so where are they?

Jane Porter, from FastCompany, looked at why women seem to be leaving STEM jobs in droves and unsurprisingly honed in on a sense of isolation, biased evaluations, a lack of sponsors, and a lack of women mentors as some of the top reasons. All of these can be easily solved if the women who are already anchored in the world of technology look out for those just getting started.

For women to finally close the gender gap, we need not just sponsors and mentors, but true role models. So will the women in tech please stand up?

Are you a woman already making waves in STEM? We want to feature YOU on the STEMinist site! Stand up and help inspire future female leaders in STEM by sending us your information HERE. Keep up the amazing work!

The CataLyst: Are We Better Together?

About a month ago Scotland decided to remain part of the UK, and the “Better Together” campaign celebrated that a 300 year old union was not split up. I’m not going to get into politics here or my opinions about the Scottish referendum, as this is not the place for it. Instead, I want to talk about the concept of “Better Together”, the campaigns, how it’s left two groups of people very divided, and what we can learn from all this.

In any given group of people – be it family, work, school or randomly selected in public – you’re going to get different opinions about anything. So in a workplace that’s diverse and has representatives from all different backgrounds you could assume that people would think differently. This is natural as we have different life experiences that have shaped who we are. In the case of Scotland (a bit of an extreme to make my point, I’ll admit), we have two distinct groups with opposing opinions about their future. So, even though the “Better Together” campaign won, Scotland is now a nation where nearly half the population (45%) would rather have left. I question how good that is for unity.

Now let’s translate that into a work environment, a research group at university or a school class. How good is it to have such opposing opinions working together (by force or by choice)? I think it creates a very distinct “us and them” mind set. And this is where I think we have something to learn from Scotland’s predicament. The referendum campaign in Scotland was very harshly pushed from both sides. There was very little room for listening and trying to understand the other camp’s point of view. And where there was opportunity for compromise, many people were shouted down by those most extreme on either side. All of a sudden, there wasn’t a reasonable “middle” anymore, there was just black or white, us or them, yes or no.

I’m sure the people of Scotland have a whole range of diverse opinions, but when put in a situation where there are only two choices, people easily turn to an extreme. Likewise, in a workplace with a diverse group of people, we have to ask ourselves if everyone’s voice is being heard. Is it always the loud one who gets an opinion across, and do the people in charge take the time to ensure everyone gets involved? Maybe the quiet person who is a bit shy has a really great idea or solution, but no one ever asked them? Maybe the minority female staff have some ideas on how to increase equality, or make it easier to bring up diversity issues?

Any group of people can be diverse, and I think it’s great that we’re all working towards a world where the makeup of our society is reflected at every stage. BUT, a diverse society/family/workplace/school is nothing if we don’t use that diversity in an inclusive way, where everyone’s experiences are allowed to be heard. So are we better together? Of course we are, but the key is to not forget we come from different places, and can contribute different things. We need to continually work against our own prejudices (which we all have), if we are to move forward.

An Interview with Computer Science Professor Dr. Rebecca Wright

This summer, while at the NJ Governor’s School for Engineering and Technology, I was able to meet one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Rebecca Wright. After the program ended, I was also able to interview Dr. Wright about her experiences and insight into engineering. Dr. Wright is both a professor and researcher at Rutgers University for computer science, cyber security, and communications security. She attended Columbia University for her Bachelor’s degree and Yale University for her Ph.D.

As a little girl, both of her parents went to MIT and she was surrounded by female engineers. She was raised thinking that this was the norm, and that there were a decent number of women working in STEM fields. In fact, those women that she was surrounded by were a vast majority of female engineers and scientists in the world. Nevertheless, they collectively influenced Dr. Wright’s early decision to work in the computer science field. In high school, she chose computer science over playing the piano, deeming musical skills something that she needed more inherent talent for and engineering skills something more practical that she could work hard towards.

And indeed, a computer science degree was a hard major to work towards. I, based on my dramatically mind-exploding experiences in calculus, felt obliged to ask if the majority of the math classes she took in college were inapplicable to her current research and career. Dr. Wright admitted that the certain theoretical math classes were not useful, but the math learned from computer science classes was very important. In her first year of college, the discrete math requisite is what thoroughly fascinated and solidified her passion for computer science.

One of Dr. Wright’s most recent research projects focuses on human mobility modeling. Cellular networks provide the necessary data. She inferred home and work locations from each caller ID to create a model of users and their call behavior. Then, she created synthetic users with their calls based on the model. It effectively reproduced the real life population density distributions. The second project examined privacy on social media. Dr. Wright introduced a concept called side channels— information channels that are secondary to the intended communication channel but convey additional relevant information.

To examine side channels, Dr. Wright created an experimental Facebook account and discovered many “loopholes” or side channels that revealed information intended to be blocked (ie. friends’ restrictions). She conducted a survey to determine user awareness and concern about these side channels. One survey question asked if the user was aware that edit history was visible to anyone who can see the post. This type of research enables Dr. Wright to find and solve cyber security problems.

Outside of research, Dr. Wright has been to several leadership summits in Europe, China, Malaysia, Israel, etc. Communication, above all, is key. Thus, in response to my mentioning of the stereotype that engineers are bad writers, Dr. Wright laughed and stated that whether it was true or not, writing is crucial to engineering; after all, the discovery or invention is worthless
without effective communication.

As for personal advice, she underscored the work required to pursue such a career. Speaking from the experience of rushing to finish a research paper, completing arduous and sometimes arcane math classes, and many sleepless nights, Dr. Wright was sure to remind me that the path to becoming an engineer was not nearly as easy as she made it out to be. Laughing, I stated that I had and would never underestimate the effort.

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!