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.

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

Why few women major in STEM fields, and what the UO is doing to change that

One look at data compiled by the UO’s Office of Institutional Research from fall 2013, says it all: 34.2 percent of undergraduates majoring in mathematics are female, while 42.8 percent of chemistry majors are. Females make up 20.9 percent of physics majors, while computer science undergraduates have the lowest percentage with an unsettling 14.1 percent.

[ via Daily Emerald ]

Introducing “The CataLyst,” a column about women in STEM

When I started my undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering back in 2005, it hit me almost immediately that the distribution of men to women was about 80/20. I have to admit I’d never reflected much on gender equality before. Having grown up in Sweden (one of the most gender equal countries in the world1), inequality had never affected me much. With the exception of the ever present media biases and “boys will be boys” attitudes, I have had a lucky escape.

Entering the workplace a couple of years later (the same place I still work today), I was again very lucky. My colleagues couldn’t have been more diverse (gender and ethnicity) if you’d blindly picked them from each corner of the world. As a result, the inequalities I’ve come to know are through working away from home and the stories told by my friends, colleagues, online communities and the media. It’s been a wake-up call, and I’m slowly realising that even in the most diverse offices of the most diverse and progressive companies, us women have something working against us: the gender roles that are placed on us by society.

In the Western world today, women still only represent 24% of the STEM workforce2 and the women who work in these fields still earn overall a third less than men, at all income levels3. Why is it that the dropout rate for STEM subjects in school rise rapidly among girls when they enter secondary school? And at university, how come certain STEM orientated courses still see zero uptake of female students?

In the film Miss Representation from 20114, Marie Wilson, the founder and president emeritus of the White House Project5 said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and although she was referring to how women are represented in media, this rings true for STEM as well. There aren’t enough female STEM leaders, managers and role models for girls at school to look up to and identify with when they’re making their choices about what they want to be when they grow up. This makes it all the more important for those of us who do work in these fields to be vocal and a stronger force for change.

Through this blog I want to be one of those voices, talking about the ups and downs of working in such a male dominated industry. I will write about the issues we face on a day to day basis, try and shed a bit more light on the problems but also help form part of the solutions. Being more vocal means standing up to inequality, speaking my mind and showing an example where women don’t have to just accept the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Working towards making STEM more attractive to young girls by breaking down boundaries and misconceptions is beneficial to future generations of women as well as the industry as a whole. I hope this blog will generate some interesting discussions and viewpoints, and I welcome you all to get involved.

Cata

Female students start to show more interest in science and engineering

Figures for combined sciences show a 19% rise in the proportion of female students expressing enthusiasm for the subject, compared to an 11% rise for male sixth formers. Young women’s interest in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering rose by 18% and 27% respectively, compared to 10% and 13% for male students.

[ via The Guardian ]

MPs ponder why there are so few women in academic science

The Report highlights the undoubted problem of short-term contracts which are the lot of most early-career researchers (and not just in the STEM subjects). Such contracts are particularly unattractive for those who may be considering starting a family or have a partner whose job is not portable. These factors tend to hit women harder than men.

[ via The Guardian ]

Their goal: find a million science and technology mentors for girls and young women

At the Million Women Mentors website, more than 44,000 pledges to be a mentor have already been received. The mentoring can take many forms, including online, face to face, internships, apprenticeships, and sponsorships of career opportunities.

[ via Christian Science Monitor ]

Gender segregation of toys damaging STEM equality

Gender-specific approaches are not fair on children as they learn constantly about how they are supposed to feel, behave and what would make them acceptable to their social group and family, Ms Willott said. “It’s not fair to make little girls feel that they shouldn’t be kicking footballs or building with Lego and it’s not fair to make little boys feel ashamed of playing netball or playing with a pushchair or pushing a doll along or whatever.

[ via Engineering & Technology Magazine ]

Strategy for Women in STEM

The target learning outcomes of the curriculum include problem-solving and research skills, application of knowledge in context, communication and effective teamwork. But as Vaz’s study showed, the outcomes were even more pronounced for women, who appeared to gain more in the three dozen or so aspects of personal and professional development.

Inside Higher Ed

[ via Inside Higher Ed ]