Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Diversity Conflicts: Religion vs Gender

In women on March 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

Lately, as you can tell I’ve been thinking about diversity. Today I want to write about diversity conflicts. I’ve worked in corporate America and Britain. All of the organizations I worked for had written statements of their commitment to diversity. But sometimes diversity becomes a set of tradeoffs, and I don’t think we talk about diversity tradeoffs as much as we talk about our commitment to diversity.

The tradeoff’s I’ve experienced most are the differences between religion and gender. I’ve been told not to touch a visitor (e.g., shake a hand in welcome or departure) to respect someone’s religious values. I’ve also been told what length skirt I should wear (over the knees), had requests for tights, and received a memo advising me to wear shirts that are to the cuff even in the middle of summer in order not to bear our arms all explained to me as being about respecting visitors preference for modesty in women’s dress.

I have to admit I found these requests very difficult. Its really awkward not shaking someone’s hand in the business context. Especially when everyone else (i.e. all your male colleagues) do shake this person’s hand. It’s a great way to amplify the isolation of being the woman in a male dominated field. My normal clothing often resembles that of my male colleagues, t-shirts and jeans/shorts. I’ve wondered whether I use my clothes as a type of camouflage, to blend into the environments in which I work. Dress like all those around you to dampen the differences. Skirts and blouses really scream yes, I’m different, especially in these male dominated environments. (Also have you ever tried to re-cable a machine under a desk wearing tights and a skirt, probably not, so here’s the word, its very easy to ruin the tights, its awkward to manage the skirt on top of everything else you’ve got going on.)

If there’s an upside to all of this, its that I’ve managed to respect all of these orders, even when they have collided with my own value system. And even, when I think they take a position within that diversity system. We mostly talk about diversity as being something that we do. It is also a set of value systems that sometimes collide and then must be chosen among. How we make those choices is not something we discuss as much (IMO).

MOOC Diversity

In academia, computer science on February 5, 2013 at 8:43 am

My colleagues, perhaps like yours, are discussing MOOCs a lot. I’ve got my own set of reservations about them, but today I want to focus on a question. How diverse are the instructors of MOOCs and what implications does that have for increasing diversity in STEM fields?

Recently my colleague, Mark Guzdial, argued that we should do no harm via a MOOC. His point was simple, that MOOCs could reverse the decades of hard-won efforts to diversify Computer Science. I know from experience, every single time I teach Computer Science classes just how non-diverse Computing remains. I’ve been in the situation of doubling the number of women in the class more than once (especially when I have a female TA). It would be nice to get away from that.

And then I saw my colleague, Tucker Balch’s, demographics from his MOOC. Wow! Highly educated men dominated the people who completed his course. As Mark points out in his analysis of Tucker’s demographics, some of this is likely due to the nature of the course, particularly it being an elective (Computational Finance).

This led me to my question. I wonder what diversity is like on the other side, among the faculty who offer MOOCs? And I offer my story of how I stayed in STEM as an example of why I think it matters. My first Computer Science teacher was a woman. She watched out for me and the other one or two women in the class. I remember that she encouraged me, took time to talk to me beyond the content of the classroom… and so I stayed for two years in a classroom with over 25 14-16 year old boys. (I think this deserves a OBE).

This continued with my second teacher, a man. The class was very small, seven and I was the only woman. The advantage of the small class was that we all got to know each other well, perhaps too well. Some boys of 16-18 well, boosting, talking about sex and women in ways that weren’t exactly flattering…  My teacher recognized that this was hard for me, and spent time talking with me about why I should persist despite it. He taught me that developing trust, taking time with an individual student outside of the academic content, could be crucial to inspiring the type of trust that would lead to confidence.

I needed those two teachers. I needed them very much. They are without doubt the reason I am still here. Especially since while I had a couple of faculty at Leeds who really encouraged me (thank you), I didn’t find the part of the discipline that I was passionate about until I reached UC Irvine and my Ph.D.

Given the lack of women in academia, particularly in STEM, I wonder whether the pattern of male dominance repeats itself in who offers the MOOC and I wonder what in turn that does to the student population. Perhaps some would say, offer a MOOC, redress it. But, my route into the field was not about volume encounters, but about those that were very personal. Its only maybe four people who made enough of a difference that I got through, but how can any person be that when they have 50,000 students? Also, how can you achieve these intimacies at a distance, across the network as opposed to face-to-face.

Diversity and Service

In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, women on February 4, 2013 at 8:15 am

As I mentioned in a previous post recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions. And being inspired by  Female Science Professor‘s question “why don’t more senior women in STEM blog?” I want to continue

In addition to teaching, research, and publishing responsibilities, service constitutes a major part of a professor’s career. … The gender breakdown within a department plays a significant role. Typically, there are more men than women within a discipline, and yet committees seek as much diversity as possible. Women, then, are often asked to do double the amount of service as men, a number that increases for women of color. While service is certainly considered when promoting, publications play a much larger role.

I understand the logic, to have a diversity of representation/voices at the table and so forth. But this is clearly the flip side of it, that women and minorities can get over-serviced. And since time is limited, service will eat into other important activities like research and teaching. This is a serious problem. But I don’t know what to do to change it. In the long-term we do need to recruit and retain women and minorites in STEM, but what do we do in the short-term? There seems to be a conflict here: we want to hear from diverse voices but in so doing we ask them to participate in things that compete for their precious research time.

One short-term piece of advice I would offer to anyone who fits this potential category, is to be very aggressive about saying no. Benchmark your service against a non-minority in your department at your rank. Do no more. (Read studies such as Link et al. “A time allocation study of university faculty” to see broad trends and uneven distributions as a reminder to do no more.)