Boycotting a science conference because program is all-male

May 21, 2014 at 8:29 am 14 comments

Salon.com wrote about the boycott that’s emerging because a major chemistry conference is all male.  The linked article, from the President of the University of Cincinnati, talks about what’s needed to retain and grow women in STEM.  I wouldn’t have guessed that we’d have this problem in Chemistry before Computer Science.

The recent threat to boycott an upcoming international chemistry conference because of its all-male speaking program reminds us how far we still have to go when it comes to women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The challenge remains that many STEM professions remain male-dominated, especially in academia.

via Campuses must create formal networks for female STEM professors (essay) | Inside Higher Ed.

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Technology’s Man Problem: An important issue for NCWIT Constructionism for Adults

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Monica McGill  |  May 21, 2014 at 9:23 am

    The Salon article is well-written and several well-made comments are included. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read it.

    Kress is right in part. We’d all much rather be talking about and engaging in research in our field. However, his statements that “if you just work hard, you’ll get ahead” is so full of malarkey it is hard to stomach.

    I have seen over and over again how connections are used more often than not over merit. It’s also incomprehensible that a male scientist would ignore all the hard scientific research on gender and racial inequality.

    Again, going back to what I want for my own daughters and my niece, I tell them to use all the connections they have. They feel guilty for doing so, having bought into the idea that merit is what counts.

    I don’t think the problem will be getting any time soon. But, if we keep talking about the facts and the science, sooner or later the message might enlighten and possibly change ill-held beliefs.

    Reply
    • 2. Michael S. Kirkpatrick  |  May 21, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      “It’s also incomprehensible that a male scientist would ignore all the hard scientific research on gender and racial inequality.”

      This speaks to a general problem in fields like CS: Anything that is related to people and social interactions gets inappropriately dismissed as “soft” science, regardless of how much data there is to support the claims.

      Reply
    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  May 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Michael Kimmel gave an outstanding talk here at NCWIT yesterday (video available), and he talked about Larry Summers got wrong in his famous 2005 comment that women with families “aren’t willing to put in the 80 hour work weeks.” Kimmel says that Summers had a “bring ‘them’ into ‘us'” mentality — why should *ANYONE* want to work 80 hours a week to get a head in science? Rather, think about a better life for everyone and changing the way the world is.

      Reply
      • 4. Michael S. Kirkpatrick  |  May 23, 2014 at 11:19 am

        I’m really not trying to spam this (I’m not Philip Greenspun, nor do I know him), but Kimmel’s remark reminded me of http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science, which I linked to in a previous post. Key point: “Adjusted for IQ, quantitative skills, and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States. This article explores this fourth possible explanation for the dearth of women in science: They found better jobs.”

        Reply
  • 5. Natasa Grgurina  |  May 21, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Is the 2014 Tarragona International Summer School onTrends in Computing, to be held over a few weeks in Spain, going to cause a similar stir with its all male program?

    Reply
    • 6. Monica McGill  |  May 21, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Wow, that’s quite a few speakers and again difficult to imagine that there aren’t qualified women available to travel to beautiful Spain at this time of year to present. (If need be, I would happily sacrifice for this event!!)

      You can only hope to bring attention to it. You could email the organizing committee, email the presenters to make them aware of the situation, and email general notices to ACM-W and NCWIT.

      Any thoughts, Mark?

      Reply
      • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  May 21, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        I have literally no idea what this is about in Tarragona. They invited me last year, and I bailed before going. Others who went recommended going, so I offered to go. I hope to learn more there.

        Reply
  • 8. Dennis Frailey  |  May 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Is there any evidence that a significant number of women submitted papers to this conference? Or that their papers were rejected via a non-blind refereeing process? I don’t know the answer to either question but would want to know before I could comment on whether there was any discrimination on the part of the conference.

    Reply
    • 9. Monica McGill  |  May 21, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      You are correct, Dennis. I have emailed the organizers and asked for their selection criteria for the 29 presenters and keynote speakers. I hope to hear back from them very soon.

      Reply
  • 10. Rob St. Amant  |  May 22, 2014 at 7:09 am

    This sort of thing has happened with software conferences as well:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/20/british_ruby_conference_cancelled_after_diversity_row/

    The debate, as far as I can tell, is identical.

    Reply
  • 11. Natasa Grgurina  |  May 23, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Mark, please raise the issue in Tarragona and also please count the woman attending.

    I belong to the target audience of this summer school which is around the corner for me – yet I decided not to attend due to the gender issue (quite some time before it was mentioned on this blog).

    Reply
    • 12. Monica McGill  |  May 25, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Natasa, thank you for bringing attention to this matter. The organizers have not yet responded to my inquiry about their selection criteria, unfortunately. I’ll keep trying. It’s a bit worrisome, but I still hope there is a rational explanation.

      Reply
  • 13. Monica McGill  |  June 2, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Just a quick follow-up. I did receive an email back from the organizers, but I did not receive authorization to publish it publicly, though I asked.

    In a nutshell, from what I gather, the fact that this is only a male-presenter conference is not a problem for the organizers. The organizer pointed me to the fact that in 2013, there were several female speakers. However, the organizer did not inform me as to how many women were asked for 2014, so I have no idea what the numbers are.

    It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t more transparency with respect to these issues. For goodness sake, we are academics. What does anyone gain from hiding this information?

    Reply
    • 14. dennisfrailey  |  June 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

      I want to respond to the comment along the lines of “for goodness sake, we’re academics”. The implication is that we should be more willing to be transparent (in this case). I’ve heard similar sentiments over the years implying that academics should be expected to have other virtues – academic integrity, honesty, openness to new ideas, etc. I myself held such views early in my career (especially when I was a graduate student and continuing on to when I was a full-time, tenured university professor). However my view has changed after a 50+ year career in both the academic/research/teaching world and in the industrial/practical/producing products world. My somewhat unusual career path, with one foot in academia and one in industry, enabled me to see both of these from “both sides” so to speak and what I’ve witnessed suggests that there’s not much difference – we’re all human and we all have human traits, both honorable and less so. I’ve seen supposedly open minded academics refuse to consider new ideas or alternative viewpoints even when they are clearly worth considering. I’ve seen them evade, equivocate and lie on research grant proposals, tenure paperwork, accreditation “evidence”, and in technical papers. I’ve seen them cloud the decision process so as to hide some of the less-defensible reasons for decisions they’ve made. I’ve seen them cheat on their taxes, and cheat on their spouses. I’ve seen them take greatly unfair advantage of their students and staff, especially graduate students and clerical staff (for example, the ones who take their atrociously written research grant proposals, rewrite them to be of high quality, and get none of the credit when they win an award). And, of course, I’ve seen similar behaviors in industry.

      Fortunately, the incidents of which I speak are in the minority on both sides. And in both cases there are mechanisms to curb and punish such behaviors, albeit not always very effective. The assumption made in most cases is that people in responsible positions will act responsibly. It’s not always a valid assumption.

      The great majority of my industrial and academic colleagues have been honorable, honest, and admirable. But even the best of us can be blind to our faults (or else unwilling to admit them). And then there are the few who don’t seem to have the qualities we expect.

      After over 50 years in both academia and industry, I no longer believe that academics have the high ground.

      Reply

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