Women and the Google Doodle

doodle

Thanks to a SPARK study done last year you might have noticed the famous Google doodles have been featuring more women!

In 2014 SPARK studied the doodles being placed on Google’s homepage and found there was a distinct lack of diversity among the historic figures being celebrated. In fact between 2010 and 2013 only 17% of doodles featured women, and of that 17% only 4.3 % were women of colour.

History is learned in a variety of ways from a myriad of sources, including those fun images showing up on your Google home page! By leaving out women, as history so often does, Google was underrepresenting a group that makes up half the world’s population; a group that has also made significant contributions to science, technology, politics, literature and every field in between.

Since being made aware of SPARK’s study Google has made an effort to equally represent both men and women in their doodles. When SPARK went back to check Google’s progress they found the women are now being featured as often as men.  Just this past week Google featured trailblazing journalist Nellie Bly. To learn more about Bly check out the doodle, http://www.google.com/doodles/nellie-blys-151st-birthday .

For more information on SPARKS study click the following link, http://www.sparksummit.com/doodleus/

Women in Engineering – Inspiring the Next Generation

Close your eyes and picture an engineer. What do you see? A man in a suit? A young lad in a hoodie? A train driver?

Or do you picture a woman?

When a female such as myself enrols in college and selects a major such as engineering, the reactions she hears range from “Really? I would never have thought so” to “Wow, you must be REALLY smart!”

Indeed, the persistent bias towards women in male dominated fields can be damaging to one’s self-confidence, and self-confidence is something that one needs in order to tackle the growing responsibility as we advance in our careers. Maintaining confidence is crucial to success. However, finding this inner strength becomes a challenge when anatomy determines whether you are taken seriously. Because I am female, I know that I automatically have to prove my worth in such a field. And this is the core of the problem that we face today.

There is no easy way to explain why more women are not encouraged to follow these career paths. I took physics on a whim in high school out of simple curiosity, but had the sheer luck of falling in love with the subject. The difficulty but ability of physics to explain so many things around me – yet with so much left to discover – left me thirsty for more. However, I was perplexed as to why I had never even considered a career in engineering until then; was it because I had never heard of a female engineer on the news? Was it because there was a total of around 7 girls out of 30 in my physics class?

This feeling of perplexity never left me, but I brushed it off. It was not until an exchange I had during a college interview that this nagging feeling came back in full-force. The alumna (who was a successful businesswoman) hit me with the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer in my entire life: “Why do you suppose there are more men than women in the domains of economics, engineering, and math?” I was left speechless.

So I did some research and I began self-reflecting. I read up on the (lack of) women who had received Nobel Prizes throughout history – how in 2012, apart from the European Union, all of the Nobel laureates were men. How, to date, only 43 women have been awarded a Nobel Prize out of 862 people and organisations who have been named laureates. Why? Because three of the prizes are for science. Women faced endless barriers to entering higher education, with no access to labs, no connections, and few opportunities. That was my first clue – opportunity. So my quest to answering my interviewer’s question continued. Books such as “Who Succeeds In Science? The Gender Dimension” by Gerhard Sonnert have furthered my research, categorising the answer to such a question into two models: the deficit model (women are treated differently in science), and the difference model (women act differently in science).

It wasn’t until I saw this advertisement that I began to connect the dots:

The concept of selling engineering/building toys to girls (with the purpose of increasing their confidence in problem-solving and introducing them to engineering) made it so clear to me that the problem lay in social norms and in a culture that has been created over time. And one way to progress is to educate our daughters differently. When one walks through a girls’ toy aisle, it is pink and full of barbies, princesses and dolls. The legos sold to girls are a feminized spin-off, featuring pink and purple blocks, and characters that do things like sit at home or run a bakery. We are taught implicitly from a very young age that our goal is to become princesses and/or mothers. I myself loved playing with barbies and other typically girly toys, but I equally loved playing with my brother’s train tracks and legos. It was thanks to him that I was exposed to such toys (that were not gifted to me because I was a girl). And the contrary holds true too – he often came to play barbies with me. With the nature vs. nurture debate aside, there is no doubt that advertisers have capitalised on gender preferences, steering each gender to their specified section and ultimately broadcasting a more general message regarding gender roles and expectations in society. Identity becomes ideology.

So maybe there are millions of girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. Is it time to “disrupt the pink aisle”?

Progress is being made and times are changing – as my grandmother says, “you don’t give us enough credit, we couldn’t even vote a few years ago!” I therefore try to avoid thinking negatively about the male-female ratio, because ultimately, I believe that it’s all about doing what you love.

So if finding what you love depends on the opportunities presented to you, would you buy your daughter legos?

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering

In the spirit of McGill’s second Disabilities Awareness Week, I thought that I would bring your attention to this site from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF): Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. This site is where you can find statistics on women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering education and employment. They write a report every two years, mandated by the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act, and have made the latest digest available for download, along with the corresponding data files. The themes of the digest are enrollment, field of degree, employment status, occupation, academic employment, and persons with disabilities.

According to the NSF, persons with disabilities are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce compared to the population as a whole. However, the graph below shows that since 2008, U.S. citizens and permanent residents with disabilities have earned more science and engineering doctorates than in non-S&E fields.

NSFfig6b

Women as academic authors over the years, 1665-2010

Infographics are visually appealing and effective ways of representing statistics, knowledge, and data, both qualitative and quantitative. Some are static and others are interactive, like this infographic showing the percentage of academic papers published by women over the last five centuries.You can interact with the infographic by selecting which time period you would like to see represented and you can also sort the information in a few different ways. Be sure to read more about the data and how it was gathered, examined, and ultimately represented. This infographic comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education and the data was drawn from JSTOR, a digital archive of scholarly papers, by researchers at the University of Washington.

Image courtesy of www.bestcollegesonline.com

Ladies, get editing!

Last month, in sync with Ada Lovelace Day – an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math – a group of 20 or so volunteers gathered for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the library of the Royal Society in London. Not surprisingly, there’s some gender inequality on Wikipedia so the mission was  to edit and create Wikipedia entries on women who have made significant contributions to the STEM fields. “Making women more visible is a huge job that’ll take a long time. This is a spark. It has awakened a lot of interest,” – Uta Frith, a neuroscientist at University College London and one of the leaders of the event. It certainly awakened my interest and I hope yours too. To learn more about the edit-a-thon, including who got involved, and some of the entries that were added or expanded upon, read this news article from Nature.

Image from www.mindingthecampus.com

Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium at McGill on Friday and Saturday

Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full professor

Carrie Derick, Canada’s first female full professor

If you’re coming to McGill for Homecoming next weekend, you might want to check out the Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) 2012, on Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 in the Redpath Museum Auditorium.

“As part of McGill Homecoming 2012, this first Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) marks the centenary of the university’s first geneticist, Carrie Derick, being appointed as Canada’s first female professor.”

Have a look at the full schedule for this free symposium, which will look at the history, current status and future of women in STM fields.

Previously: We’ve come a long way baby, right?

Image: by Smithsonian Institution (from flickr Commons)

We’ve come a long way, baby…right?

Inspired by my colleague Giovanna’s post about the Science Hall of Fame and their all male Top 10, I want to introduce you to a fantastic Canadian not-for-profit organization, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). Perhaps you’ve heard of them, maybe you’re even a member, and if that’s the case, bravo!

SCWIST has a clear aim and it’s to “support and promote the education of girls and women through programs and activities that [they] develop in partnership with the community…boost the numbers, retention and status of women in the workplace by facilitating networking, mentoring and advocating woman-friendly policies [and] highlight opportunities, achievements and positive messages for and about women in the field. [They] do this by raising public awareness and guiding policy implementation.”

SCWIST has been around since 1981. 31 years ago, there’s no question that SCWIST’s influence would have been greatly needed. The times, yes, they’ve changed (how much they’ve changed is somewhat debatable of course), so if you’re wondering why SCWIST soldiers on, they’ve anticipated this question and provided some excellent answers:

  • Out-dated assumptions persist about women as leaders in science and technology. Men continue to dominate senior leadership positions within these areas, despite the equal ability of their female colleagues

  • There are growing numbers of highly-trained women who have immigrated to Canada who do not work in their chosen fields. Our IWIS program provides support to these women

  • SCWIST grows with the new realities: we support and promote women in their education and career choices

  • As part of our ms infinity program we delight in encouraging girls to imagine science, engineering and technology as part of their future

So, hats off to SCWIST, and to all the girls and women pursuing an education or excelling at a career in science and technology!

Oh, and as an aside, while I was perusing SCWIST’s blog I found the most recent post very interesting. It’s a thoughtful and nuanced piece, wherein the author reacts to the backlash on the blogosphere and Twitterverse, after the European Commission developed and distributed, what turned out to be, a very controversial video as part of their campaign to encourage more girls to pursue STEM careers. If you’re so inclined, watch the video (it’s actually quite hilarious), read the post, and discuss!

Image from Indiana University’s website