Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Women in STEM and the "Other"

As a woman in STEM, I've come to appreciate reading the perspectives of other women in STEM, whether we work in related fields or not.  This morning I read Xykademiqz post about Honorary Dudeness.  I started to reply, but the reply got long and merged with the thoughts I'd been having about "growing up global."

Then I saw this post by Sociological Images, "To Whom is George Zimmerman a Hero? And Why" and it all came together.

I've come to realize that one of the things that makes me different from many of the Americans I have interacted with is my Brat heritage, growing up military.  Now, we were only ever stationed State-side, so I didn't get the full-up expatriate Third-Culture Kid experience.  Sometimes I call myself a Third Subculture Kid, because the Brat semi-suburban culture was very different from the rural culture my parents were raised in.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Xykademiqz blogs about the experience of teaching female students, and how there's often a sharp dichotomy between the female students she develops a mentoring relationship with and the female students who seem to decide "this professor sucks."

Now, in engineering my experience with female Engineering professors is VERY limited.  While Dr. Leah Jamieson was teaching at Purdue when I was an undergrad in Electrical Engineering, I never took one of her classes.  I would have liked to take EPICS, which she established, but it just didn't fit into my Plan of Study.

So I only had one female professor for three classes as an undergrad.  I thought she was very challenging, very tough, but an excellent teacher.  Her classes were not in my major, only the first one counted for my degree, but I wanted familiarity with her field of study to help my own career.  Grade-wise I struggled, but I feel like I learned so much from her classes.

So... as a woman in STEM and a Geek Girl, I've often preferred to be just "one of the guys," similar to "Honorary Dudeness..." but many of their descriptions of "Dudes" strike me more like the fraternity boy, suave and secure, which I didn't identify with.  With the HDs often being sorority girls or from similar establishments.

In my experience, there are girls and women who do that "nose in the air" looking down on other women.  Sometimes it's for being "uncool," fat, or unfashionable as described in those comments.  Xykademiqz and her commentors connect it with a white, American attitude, which also fits with my experiences.  Sometimes I've connected it with people who hadn't traveled outside of the country, who hadn't met or needed to work with people who looked or believed very differently from themselves.

I've seen it in person, online, and in letters to the editor, with people making statements like "We're all Christian here," and I think back to my awareness of how the Base Chapel would adapt, removing the cross for Friday night Shabbat, leaving it plain for Protestant services, turning it around to a crucifix for Catholic Mass... the awareness that Muslims and Hindus have other practices and may have other religious requirements.

And that, I think, is where the Sociological Images article ties in, with the boundary rigidity and tribalism.  Homogeneity can be "tribal," and anyone who is not "Us" becomes one of "Them."  I lived a year in a small, fairly homogeneous town, where very few of the students expected to go to college or to get out of town at all.  When surrounded by people who look and believe very similarly, one doesn't have to take the same range of perspectives into consideration.

I would have thought that a college / university would broaden one's horizons.  I know I met a wide variety of people on campus.  But it doesn't come naturally to everyone.  It takes a willingness to try new things, meet new people, be willing to step outside of one's self-segregated tribe and try being the odd one out.  I was astonished to meet young, millennial coworkers who had managed to go to a major university and not learn from the international students on their campus.

My current engineering course is taught by a woman professor, and I am really enjoying her teaching.  Some of the discussion board conversations with my fellow students... I've recommended to them the same things I'm saying here.  See the campus.  Walk through the Black Cultural Center, contact the Jewish or Muslim worship centers for opportunities to make a respectful visit, attend a lecture, ask questions, learn something.  If there's a public invitation to a Divali event, Eid, or Asian New Year, fit some of those cultural events into your schedule, and get to know what they mean, how they fit into people's lives.

And, most of all, travel.  Go out, see the world, meet new people, broaden your horizons, and think.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why I Cannot Bury My Head in the Sand

There is a story told, of two young fish swimming along.  An older fish swims by, and asks them "How's the water?"  The one young fish looks at the other, and asks "What's water?"

In the Harvard Business Review article "Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers" (Registration required, paywall may exist), the authors explain that "Most women are unaware of having personally been victims of gender discrimination and deny it even when it is objectively true and they see that women in general experience it."

In my short class this spring, we discussed seven forms of power.  Over the discussions, I asked my classmates to tell me where women stand on examples of those seven forms of power.  Rather than answer the question, they spent two days arguing that a problem does not exist, because they could point to specific women who had achieved power.

Image courtesy of blakeimeson covered by Creative Commons license.

Ignoring it works for them, because they are not affected by the problem.  I do not have that luxury.  One cannot solve a problem one does not acknowledge.

I answered my own questions:

  1. Expert power – 2012 doctorate degrees awarded[i]:
Total: 27,390 (54%) men        23,562 (46% ) women
Life Sciences   5,331 men       6,698 women
Physical sciences 6,393 men   2,551 women
Social sciences 3,488 men       4,861 women
Engineering 6,527 men           1,883 women
Education 1,501 men  3,297 women
Humanities      2,654 men       2,847 women
Other   1,496 men       1,425 women
  1. Reward power
Fortune 500 CEOs – 23 women (4.6%)
Fortune 1000 CEOs - 46 women (4.6%)[ii]

Graphic visible here:
  1. Coercive power - Women make up less than 25% of most US reserve forces, less than 20% of active duty personnel, and the percentage decreases for Flag/general officers.
Graphic visible here:
  1. Legitimate power
As of July 14, 2013, 19 women were presidents or prime ministers.[v]  Women hold 99 seats (18.5%) in the U.S. Congress.[vi]
  1. Referent power - This is subjective.
  2. Informational power – Computer Scientist statistics:
Women earned 34% of Computer Science degrees in 1984.  It had fallen to 25% in 2004.[vii]
  1. Personal power – This is subjective.

[i] National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Doctorates
[iv], particularly:
[vi] Women in the U.S. Congress 2014.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Interim notes

If my Tumblr seems quieter than usual, I haven't been checking my Feedly in a few weeks.  A combination of busy with classes, homework, family things and a hardware malfunction on my electronics.

I have some tenuous first thoughts that I want to make note of for later depth.  I have a sense that they're all interconnected, but they aren't complete thoughts yet.

I've been a Geek for as long as I can remember.  I was "Star Wars Katie" long before the internet existed.

But as a young, originally-conservative engineering student, I did not tend to identify with the feminism I encountered at that time, primarily newspaper articles with quotes from NOW.

Even as I became liberal over the course of my undergraduate studies, there were particularities to the ways in which I did or did not claim feminism.  Many of these connect to my background as a military "brat", to my chosen career in STEM, and my own dreams as a Space Advocate.

When I was working on my M.A. in Humanities, I specifically tried to avoid "women's studies" classes, and sometimes the professors.  I didn't think that I needed that type of understanding, particularly not for the work I was doing.  I was not wholly successful, and two of the three women's studies professors I took classes with turned out to have a lot to teach me.

So when I started looking for other Geek Women online, I found the Geek Feminism blog.  From there, I began to learn about intersectional feminism, a concept developed by Kimberle Crenshaw.

More recently, I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and have been active in promoting STEM careers for women.  I have many thoughts about the book, but have been busy with schoolwork and have not taken the time to fully analyze them.

So I recently discovered bell hooks review, "Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In."  It is a powerful piece, well-written and passionate.  I have been trying, in recent years, to understand feminism and go beyond the "faux feminism" that bell hooks disparages.  I'm not sure how successful I am.

But just as I had struggles as an undergraduate, I have struggles with this piece now.  I feel as if I am being called to choose between my work in corporate America and my caring for social justice.  To choose between my career as an engineer and STEM advocate, and the "true feminist" ideal of remaking the world.  I would like to think that by being who I am, where I am, here at the intersection of these issues, that maybe I could help find the common ground.  Corporate Social Responsibility is a mainstream concern now, my business classes have nearly all addressed it.

Ah... that was the other piece.  Changing the world someday.  I saw "In the Heights" when it came to town.  That could be another bundle of posts on female expectations...

I knew a young woman in Houston, that I would have sworn would change the world someday.  But she won't now.

Probably not a coherent post.  Like I said, the hope is that I can come back to these issues and create good essays on them later.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not Abandoned, just Quiet

I've been very busy, as usual.  Summer business classes are over, the fall engineering class has begun.  I think I forgot how comparatively easy business classes are vs. the mathematics of engineering.

I finally read "Lean In" over Labor Day weekend, and will probably write something about that eventually.  The short-short version is that it was better than I expected.

Chorus is in rehearsal.  Over the summer I started taking real dance for the first time ever, (Well, I square danced in college as part of a club.  I'm not counting that.)  and I'm keeping it up this year.  It's not martial arts, but it is fun, challenging, kinesthetic, and these things make me happy.

I plan to pull together thoughts I've learned about online classes.  Things that work, things that don't work for me, ways instructors can help out distance learning students.  It's going to take some time, since I have other higher priorities right now.

The whole point being, I'm not doing a lot of long-form blogging right now.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@stargazer412) and Tumblr (a similar handle, linked to my Twitter account) for the ultra-short and short forms.  When I read the news, I usually queue a lot of articles about a variety of topics: books, movies, geeky things (both SF / Fantasy and STEM), career and business articles.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Technology Tuesday: Cyborg posting

How do you keep up a social media presence with a full-time job?  I don't want to set up a bot that does everything without me, but I can't be on social media day long.

Well, there are a few tools to help:

1) Buffer
2) Tumblr
3) If This Then That

Friday, August 2, 2013

Working Together

I once read a book review that spoke about how every change begins with a conversation.  Ten years ago when I worked in Houston, it was just like that, a conversation that spun into something bigger than anything I could have done alone.

I was at the International Conference on Environmental Systems, in Vancouver, B.C., July of 2003.  A woman that I had seen around the office, but who worked on a different team than I was on, talked to me about how few woman engineers she saw at work.  I immediately started introducing her to so many of the women I had met through my work and at the conference.

At that time, I was the second woman on my team.  The first had been active in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and encouraged us to see what we could start in the Houston area.  I had gone to one SWE meeting as a freshman in college, and never went back.  In college, it just didn't feel like something that I needed.  And if it had just been me, I probably would have given up on starting an organization in my community as too much work.  But with three of us, every time one or two was busy, the third would usually find one more piece to the puzzle, that would inspire us to move that ball a little bit further.  Within two months I had paid my dues and joined the Society.

As advised, we sent out an invitation to lunch at a local restaurant, that brought out a couple of dozen women engineers in the area, some with SWE experience.  We started meeting for lunch on a monthly basis, and it snowballed from there.  In 2004, I joined about 9 other SWE members in signing the Charter for the Texas Space Center section of the Society of Women Engineers.

I'm still proud of that accomplishment.  I've stayed on that section's e-mail distribution, even after I moved away.  Ten years later, it feels like I have come full circle, as I get involved in my local section again.

Every new iteration is a chance to learn something more, to do something a little bit better. I know I made mistakes ten years ago, that I mean to learn from and not repeat.  I've also learned other skills and theories that I didn't know then.

Last weekend I was at a training workshop.  The closing quote said "One woman can change anything. Many women can change everything."  Ten years ago, we accomplished more together than I ever could have done alone.  That is true again today.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Atlantic: The Problem With the 'Privacy Moderates'

The Atlantic: The Problem With the 'Privacy Moderates': The Atlantic: The Problem With the ‘Privacy...

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