Issue of July 16, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. Importance of Gender Balance at Conferences
From: Gretchen Harris [glharris_at_astro.uwaterloo.ca]
[The 25 June 2010 issue of AASWOMEN was a special edition on the low percentages of women invited speakers at astronomy meetings - Eds.]
My reaction to the many contributions was very positive. I am glad to see such a dialogue beginning, and hope it continues to good results. I have two points to make - one to reinforce some of the previous discussion and the second to add something I didn't see.
1) I am very much in favour of providing meeting guidelines which ask organizers (IN ADVANCE) to think about the range of invited presenters. I think this should be a standard. Regardless of the % of women or other "groups" our profession would wish to see represented at meetings, I sense that most agree we can do better - whatever that is. But, without "encouragement" of some sort, people will most likely do what they have always done. The patterns of choosing invited speakers are really habits. LOCs choose speakers in a way that is often what they have seen or done before. So, I think the simplest and best thing to do right now is have the AAS set up meeting guidelines (for not just the national meetings) which address the points which have already been raised as an "industry standard".
2) A more subtle element I did not see in the comments is: we tend to choose speakers because we have heard them somewhere before and think they are good. So... if women are underrepresented overall, this underrepresentation will be perpetuated by the experience of LOC organizers. Their memories will select people they have heard before. Stupid as it sounds "we won't have more women until we have more women." It is a cycle that is not easily broken and undoubtedly requires directed effort. LOCs need to be challenged - I think that if they are, the "flavour" will change.Back to top.
2. Talking Points on the Larry Summers Issues: Trucks vs. Dolls
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
Larry Summers made his controversial remarks on women in science at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jan. 14 2005. His topic was, "the issue of women's representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions." His remarks got him into hot water at Harvard, but recent articles in the NYT by John Tierney have dredged up these notorious comments. The full transcript of Summers' speech can be found here:
I decided to explore one of these issues (or at least one at a time): Trucks vs. Dolls. Here's what Summers said:
" . . . I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something. And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize. There are two other hypotheses that are all over. One is socialization. Somehow little girls are all socialized towards nursing and little boys are socialized towards building bridges. No doubt there is some truth in that . . . "
Here's my take on this issue: If girls prefer dolls and boys prefer trucks, is this really an innate difference? How could one tell? Sociology studies show us at infant boys and girls are treated differently, just based on the color of their rompers. Researchers (Will, Self and Datan 1976, "Maternal behavior and perceived sex of infant," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 46 (1), 135) observed young mothers interacting with six-month-old babies, Beth and Adam. Beth was described as "sweet" and got dolls to play with. Adam was called a "strong boy" and got trains to play with. The study reported that "Beth" and "Adam" were actually the same child, but dressed in different cloths. Young children get pressure (subtle and not so subtle) to behave along gender lines not only from their families, but also from their peers.
What parent of fraternal twins has ever done the truly objective study - dressing their infant son and daughter identically and hoodwinking all the world into thinking that both babies are the same gender? Only then could we eliminate Nurture as the source of the "girls prefer dolls; boys prefer trucks" hypothesis.
Even after this work, we are left with the much bigger question: What does a truck preference have to do with being a good scientist?Back to top.
3. SATs and PhDs
From: Hannan_at_Women_in_Astronomy_Blog, July 13, 2010
Back to top.
4. Mediating Bullying in Academic Workplaces
From: Lou Strolger [louis.strolger_at_wku.edu]
Peter Schmidt wrote an article entitled, "Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in Taming Faculty Bullies" for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.
What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies' victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.
Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention, broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.
Read more at:Back to top.
5. Startup Boot Camp Illustrates Dearth of Women in Tech
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
Scott Duke Harris published an article in Mercury News illustrating the dearth of women in tech.
When I first met Jessica Mah, I wasn't sure what to think.
Here she was, a 17-year-old girl schmoozing at a TechCrunch gathering a few years ago, talking about startups and the Web. She mentioned a successful Web-hosting service she started at age 13 back home in New York. Not long after we met, sponsors of the Next Web Conference in Europe flew her out to address the confab - a teenage symbol of The Future.
Clearly she was precocious. I just wasn't sure if Jessica Mah was for real.
"I wasn't sure myself," she told me the other day with a small grin. "In fact, I'm still not."
Actually, Mah has never been more credible. At 20, no longer blessed or burdened with the "teen prodigy" label, she bears the bona fides of a computer science degree from UC Berkeley and funding from Y Combinator, the much-admired startup incubator in Mountain View. She is co-founder and CEO of inDinero, a Web-based money-management service for small business that has attracted more than 2,000 users since the site debuted July 2.
"Even though we're doing pretty well, I still wonder: Is this a bubble or am I really capable?" she said. "Am I a good entrepreneur or is this a good market?"
Today, I have another notion about my initial skepticism: Gender profiling. If this had been a geek named Jesse, not Jessica, maybe I'd be wondering if this kid might be the next Zuckerberg, instead of wondering whether to take him seriously.
Read more at:Back to top.
6. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
[Please remember to replace "_at_" in the below e-mail addresses.]
To submit to AASWOMEN: send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org. All material sent to that address will be posted unless you tell us otherwise (including your email address).
To subscribe or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN go to
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If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.orgBack to top.
7. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.Back to top.