We recently hosted another STEM Women Hangout discussing the issue of everyday sexism in academia. Our guests were Professor Rajini Rao (Johns Hopkins University, USA; content manager at stemwomen.net) and Dr. Tommy Leung (University of New England, Australia). Dr. Buddhini Samarasinghe and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos co-hosted the hangout.
This post covers the scientific and legal definitions of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. We include an overview of the different ways in which sexism is described, such as hostile, benevolent, accidental or unintentional. These qualifiers of sexism can sometimes confuse people, as they invite people to see sexism as an individual or subjective idea. Sexism is neither – it is about how the collective interactions that happen at the everyday level are connected to institutional practices of harassment and discrimination. We provide examples of how sexist culture operates in at various levels of STEM, from undergraduate courses to gender inequality in pay, science publishing and recognition of women’s achievements. STEM Women seeks to move beyond superficial arguments about what sexism is and isn’t. The scientific evidence, some of which is included here, has established that inequality exists. We are looking for practical solutions to address inequality and lift the participation of women in STEM.
A few days ago, UC Davis Professor Jonathan Eisen raised a provocative question in his blog post, “Is Sexxing up your scientific journal okay? The Journal of Proteomics seems to think so.” He was referring to a graphical abstract published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Journal of Proteomics, depicting a woman holding up two coconuts against her presumably bare chest, linked to a paper titled “Harry Belafonte and the secret of the coconut milk proteome.”
The scientific community responded, and there are many excellent summaries of the events that took place. Scientists established the fact that this Journal has engaged in this sexist behaviour multiple times, leading entomologist Alex Wild to satirise the publication’s title as the Journal of Broteomics.
— Alex Wild (@Myrmecos) March 21, 2014
This collective protest led to the graphical abstract eventually being removed. But this incident highlights a larger issue at hand. We want to take a broader perspective on the sexist culture within STEM, with a special focus on scientific publishing. This latest example from Journal of Proteomics raises two key issues: 1) Scientists do not have a clear understanding of what sexism is. As such, sexism is reduced to a subjective understanding, divorced from its legal definition and its accompanying institutional practice. 2) Science publishing needs to have in place better safeguards against sexism.
Last week we had our second STEM Women Hangout, from the series How Men Can Help.
Our guest was Dr Yonatan Zunger who spoke to us about how leaders can work to be more inclusive of women in their teams. Yonatan is the chief architect of social at Google, and he is in charge of everything ‘social’ at the company. He has an academic background, with a PhD in string theory from Stanford University. He was kind enough to join our discussion as himself, and not in an official capacity representing Google. This is a topic he is very clearly passionate about, as you can see from the video below.
As part of our Role Models series, our team are sharing their inspiration for becoming involved in STEM. In this post, STEM Women creator, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, shares the creative inspiration for following her passion in molecular biology. Buddhini’s tale shows the importance of popular culture in igniting the scientific spark amongst young people.
I was 13 years old when I first read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I hadn’t seen the movie, so I had no preconceptions what to expect with the book. But it was enough to hook me. It wasn’t the dinosaurs that fascinated me, but rather the description of DNA, the sequencing machines, the cloning…I was entranced. Looking back, it’s rather ironic considering Michael Crichton was notoriously anti-science, and his characters are often very critical of scientists. Yet, it was my gateway into molecular biology and I knew that this was what I wanted to do someday.
A few years later, I borrowed my mom’s copy of The Double Helix by James Watson. Although at the time I was unaware of the sad story of Rosalind Franklin, I was still fascinated by the narrative of what things were like at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, the birthplace of molecular biology. From then I ravenously consumed books about science, ranging from Richard Dawkins to Thomas Kuhn; Stephen Hawking to Simon Singh. Read more
Our blog will be bringing you stories from women working in STEM as part of our “Role Models” series. We kick things off with our STEM Women team reflecting on how and why they became interested in STEM. First up is Liz Quilty, who shares her personal journey from being a single mother teaching herself to code to becoming a Linux professional.
This is a long story, it may take some time. I would suggest perhaps getting a cup of tea and getting comfortable.
Growing up, I was a tomboy and hung about with my brothers. Days were spent climbing trees, wrestling, and doing ‘boy’ stuff. My mother tried to make me more ‘girly’, but since most of her time was taken up with my disabled sister, I was rather wild. I never did particularly well in school, not learning to read until I was 8 years old, and having issues throughout school (later realizing I have some dyslexia).
In my early teens, we moved from one end of the country to the other, and I had to suddenly go to a girls only school. This was a bit of a culture shock, I had no real way of relating to girls so much. I kind of got along with some, but for the most part I was a loner. After getting fairly sick and taking 6 months off school when I was 16, I ended up dropping out of school. I met a guy not long after that, and left home.
For the next 7 to 8 years I had 4 kids, and changed partner a couple of times. By the time I was 25 I was a high school drop out, single mother of 4 with no real skills at all to speak of. I did not stay in contact with most of my family and was pretty much a train wreck waiting to happen. Living on government handouts life sucked, and I was fairly sick of it and wanting to turn things around. Having no skills at all really was the killer though – who would hire somebody with 4 kids who couldn’t even afford childcare to work? Read more