Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Myths & Guessing vs. Data-Driven Solutions

When I started blogging, my intent was never to be a current-news blog. I prefer to present a well-thought-out and researched post over an insta-pundit thinkpiece. That said, attempting the discipline of blogging everyday has shifted things a little, as I've tended to write more about recent Twitter and Facebook discussions.

While this post IS inspired by a recent Twitter discussion (#DiversityJC chat yesterday), the data in it is old news. On October 8, 2014, as part of the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women In Computing, they had a panel of Men as Allies as a plenary session.

I was not present at the conference. I have yet to go the the GHC, although I hope to at some point. What I have read from accounts is that, as a plenary session, the Men as Allies panel was the only event occurring at the conference at that time. There were no concurrent sessions for women to "vote with their feet."

A hashtag was developed for the event, #ghcmanwatch, and there is a storify of those tweets.

I can say that there was follow-up, at least one of the men met with women later, to listen to their inputs instead of telling them what he thought.

I was present at an equivalent Men as Allies plenary session at WE14, the Annual Conference for the Society of Women Engineers in Los Angeles last year, just a few weeks after GHC. My understanding is that the SWE panel has been going for ~5-6 years, and the first attempt had similar concerns and issues. When I attended the SWE panel, there were numerous alternative sessions that we could attend.

Now, for those who read the Storify, you might have noticed that much of it revolved around an Ally Bingo card. The BoingBoing article also includes a link to the Github list of phrases, so you can switch the card up.

Now, I have heard one interpretation of the original Ally Bingo card as, "Everybody knows what to say."

That's part of the problem. The Ally Bingo card that was distributed at the event is full of myths about diversity, opinions that are commonly held but do not stand up to evidence-based diversity research.

If you want to know what the research says, I recommend three resources to start, and an additional three libraries as time permits:

  1. AAUW's "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics"
    • Note that there is a follow-up, Solving the Equation. I have watched some discussions but have not yet read the entire report.
  2. The National Science Foundation's "STEMming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering"
  3. The Anita Borg Institute's "Solutions to Recruit Technical Women"
Plus these libraries:
  1. Catalyst.org Knowledge Center
  2. Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network's Women in STEM Knowledge Center
  3. McKinsey & Company's Women Matter series
Additional resources are in my sidebar and through Harvard Business Review.

In December of 2014, as a follow-up to the GHC Ally Bingo Cards, another article was written discussing what we want and need to see men do to help. The article includes a new Ally Bingo sheet, listing phrases that we DO want to hear, and what people should do and say if they are serious about diversity in STEM.

One of the reasons I provide this information, is because I do NOT want to see more of this:

[30:30] Elizabeth Bierman: "But research does show that a lot of women leave engineering in the first few years of their career. Why do you think that is and what has encouraged you to persist?"
Gwynne Shotwell: "I didn't actually know that until you sent me these questions. I didn't. I mean, I knew the percentages of females in engineering was appalling. But I didn't know that they didn't stick with it. So I thought about it last night. You know, I don't have any answers that are based on, you know, any knowledge. But I could guess..."

Here. The links above give solid, research-based answers to this question. We need to stop guessing and start using the data.

[Update 5/6/2015] If you like this post, you might also like: