I've been invited to an event next week at which a small group of people are going to be having a bit of a chat about what Government can do to support / maintain science & engineering skills and get more young people, women in particular, into science and engineering careers.
I've said yes despite not being particularly expert in this area - I'm quick to learn and don't mind asking questions!
Generally whenever I've been doing critical appraisal 'stuff' of health-related things in newspapers or in journal articles I'm always looking for the 'what if?' and 'what's missing?'. So with that in mind I wondered about what the limits are of what Government can and can't do in this area. I'm not sure how much of a focus this is on getting more women in science (a fairly massive subsection in itself) as opposed to getting more diversity in science. It's a short meeting so I might not have a huge amount of time to wave that flag.
There are issues of personal preference - simply, does someone fancy studying science or engineering (S/E) and doing that sort of thing as a career. Do the people who don't do S/E feel that they were ill-done by not having done so... that they could have done so if they'd had a chance?
There are issues of the 'leaky pipe' (see 'further reading' below) - which covers people dropping out after studying S/E at school (includes issues of fewer studying it beyond school but generally refers to people, generally women, who do continue in the field but who then leave, for a variety of reasons).
The science and science communication blogging community has been hearing a lot this week about sexism and harrassment which seems to be pervasive across all community sectors. To me that seems like something that institutions should be dealing with better (anti-harrassment policies are springing up in conferences, I've been dismayed to learn that some institutions don't support staff when they complain of harrassment). I'm sure Government can set the tone, but that would seem to be more of an after-the-fact thing, communities should be able to deal with this better themselves.
Also... funding, pay, flexible hours, competition with other subjects, the separateness of science (it's "biology", "chemistry" etc but science and engineering done in academia and industry is usually vastly more interdisciplinary).
Should be an interesting meeting...
I'll probably keep thinking of bits to add here.
Colleagues at Queen Mary run the cs4fn (Computer Science For Fun) schools outreach programme to flag up the fact that Computer Science doesn't exist as a topic in isolation but is something which gives people useful skills to work in a variety of jobs (finance, medicine, bioinformatics, audio engineering, architecture as well as the more obvious things like running IT facilities for businesses or research in computer science topics).
There are 15 magazines (issue 16 has just gone to the printers) as well as online articles and they collected together some of the articles about women in computer science and produced a bumper issue called 'The women are here' (it's free online as a PDF but I'm taking copies to the meeting) which is popular with teachers who're trying to raise awareness of Computer Science among girls at school (hopefully some of the boys see it too!).
Through surveying teachers they've done a bit of evaluation on how it's been received in schools.
Black, J., Curzon, P., Myketiak, C., & McOwan, P. W. (2011). A study in engaging female students in computer science using role models. Proceedings of the 16th Annual Joint Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE'11), 63–67. New York: ACM.
Homework: other stuff I'm reading / mugging up on (feel free to suggest more)
Pop Quiz: How we discuss women in STEM
Both men and women should 'uncover' family responsibilities at work
The pipeline isn't leaky
"When a woman doesn’t pursuit the tenure track, she “leaked out” of the pipeline. Consider that terminology for a moment and the connotations it carries. When you have a leak in a pipe in your house, you have to fix it. If you don’t fix it, that leak can cause all sorts of problems – water damage to sheet rock, wood rot, mold. When we say that women leak out of the pipeline, it can sound as if we’re saying that they are making the wrong decisions, ones that are harmful to science. It’s almost as if we want women to feel guilty about leaving the academic track."Of course some people will make a positive choice to leave for something fab, others will feel forced out.
Stemming the tide
"The University of Cambridge’s gender diversity champion, Athene Donald of the physics department, is also clear that small actions can make a difference. The UK university recently started a scheme to support carers returning to work by awarding small grants to allow a childminder or other parent to travel with them to conferences.On posh white blokes in NGOs
And many conferences, including the large American Chemical Society national meetings, now offer free childcare. However, recent discussions on Donald’s blog suggested that for some, non-attendance is often blamed on a lack of childcare when in fact there are other reasons, such as a feeling that male-dominated conferences are just not pleasant for women to attend."
How not to run a women in science campaign: If science wants to deal with its diversity issues, it needs to think beyond gender and be willing to change
How to reduce the gender gap in one (relatively) easy step
- on women being cited less than men, but note the critical comments too
Want to see more black faces in science & technology? Here's how to make that happen today
CASinclude on Twitter (Computing At School)
Improving inclusivity in Computing for children at school, regardless of gender, race, SEN, disabilities or socio-economic background.
Columbia Professor and GZA aim to help teach science through hip-hop
Feminine science role models... and other bad ideas?
- one study suggested that 'feminine' role models might do more harm than good. It seems to have been pretty preliminary, critiqued here.
Diversity doesn't just STEM from gender inequality
(Lack of) diversity in STEM subjects