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.

 

 

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.

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.

Making STEM cool for women and minorities

Perhaps the final piece in the STEM puzzle — in addition to exciting curriculum, great teachers and hands-on experiences — is ensuring that girls and minorities interested in STEM have a role model that “looks like them” who can give them advice. As an African-American female, it was vital that I had someone to turn to who would understand the opportunities and challenges ahead. From the time I decided to enter engineering, I have had mentors push me, guide me and ultimately, inspire me.

[ via The Baltimore Sun ]

Diversity in Science: Leading the Way

In chemistry, where undergraduate gender parity has existed for at least a few decades, the pipeline is still leaky. The numbers of women staying in careers in chemistry decline steadily after graduation.

[ via Chemistry World ]

Increasing diversity in tech

It wasn’t until last fall when a Ruby conference was cancelled after its homogeneity that I decided to do more about it. I decided to shift my focus slightly to community and conference organizers, businesses and hiring managers, while remaining accessible to the community as a whole. This would allow me to connect with people that have the amount of power to begin enacting change immediately and influencing the people below them. It’s like a pyramid scheme, but for good instead of evil!

[ via Geek Feminism ]