Monday, November 21, 2011

AASWOMEN for November 18, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 18, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy

2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual

3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!

4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour

5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker

6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley

7. Jobs at Georgia State University

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter


1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

I recently tried to explain to several colleagues why victims of sexual harassment in astronomy (and academia in general) are reluctant to come forward and file a complaint, even when the process itself appears to be straightforward. I'm not sure I was particularly successful, but it was only about a month or so later when allegations of sexual harassment against presidential candidate Herman Cain appeared in Politico. We now know the names of two of his alleged victims, and Cain and his supporters have fallen back on an effective strategy: blame the victim. Personal finances, court records, and employment histories become fair game in a smear campaign to tarnish the reputation of the accusers. Add to that the threat of reporters interviewing high school classmates, disgruntled neighbors, and former co-workers looking for any dirt that will grab headlines. What about old boyfriends/girlfriends or ex-husbands/ex-wives looking for their 15 minutes of fame? There is nothing like a juicy sexual tidbit to destroy a victim's reputation in the court of public opinion!

Even honest, hard-working, ethical individuals would have a hard time standing up to such scrutiny. And just in case you think that Republicans might have a lock on the blame-the-victim strategy, remember Paula Jones; Democrats can be just as bad.

How do these political accounts translate to the academic world? Victims of sexual harassment almost always say that they don't want to make trouble. They are rarely out for revenge; they just want the problem to go away. They want to be treated like everyone else. They want a level playing field. They want their reputation to be based on their science, period. They don't want to be known as the "troublemaker" or the "whistleblower." Add to this the standard stresses facing anyone in academia - writing a thesis, finding a job, bringing in money - and the academic anxieties become just as great as the political pressures.

Speaking through her lawyer, one of the Cain accusers said that although she wanted to restore her reputation, she did not want to become another Anita Hill and let the controversy take over her life. She decided not to come forward. Honestly, can you blame her?

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2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual
From: Sheryl Bruff [bruff_at_stsci.edu]

[The 28 October issue of the AASWOMEN newsletter included a request for advice from an anonymous individual who wanted to know what to do when unwanted sexual behavior was closer to assault than to harassment. Every situation is different, but we got some great general advice from Sheryl Bruff, Branch Chief of Human Resources at Space Telescope - Eds.]

My heart goes out to this person who has been affected by this kind of deplorable behavior. When Bernice Durand and I spoke at the last AAS, it was clear from the questions that we got from the audience that the issue is pervasive and many feel their campuses are unresponsive. The issue noted by the person you reference raises a good point. There is a serious emotional trauma that accompanies harassment and it lingers, much in the same manner as PTSD. It can undermine confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and a number of other things - like careers. Nagging questions about what you could have, should have or would have done linger. Secrets are crippling to the human psyche and maintain unwanted power over individuals.

My recommendation remains as it did at the last AAS meeting. It is important to tell SOMEONE. Whether a friend, colleague, mentor, advisor, therapist, someone you trust. It is important to get this issue out in the light of day so it can be examined and evaluated and the victim has an opportunity to put the responsibility where it belongs - on the perpetrator - and not to shoulder it her/himself. It is also important for the rest of us who work with these people or know these people, to be intolerant - and I do mean intolerant - of permitting these kinds of experiences to continue, whether in academia or anywhere else. It is vital for all of us to speak up and speak out to perpetrators, victims, administrators, colleagues, etc. We need to ensure that unresponsive campuses understand that their lack of response is not acceptable. One of the reasons that these kinds of things continue is that right-minded people are often afraid to speak up. They assume others will. They ration alize away a need to respond. We cannot assume anyone else will shoulder the burden. We must all understand our individual responsibility to act. Without this, nothing will change. The victims of harassment are not in position to change the environment. It is those of us who watch on the sidelines.

The one area where I will disagree is about not seeking the help of a therapist because s/he may not understand academia. Although there are definitely challenging parameters that are common to academic/research/science careers, the experience is not as unique as you think. Concerns about reputation, future opportunity, careers being short-cut or compromised by speaking up are actually common in all disciplines and industries. Granted, academia/research/science is a smaller community, so the risks may seem more grave, but they are not dissimilar. Therefore, ways to cope or deal discovered in other industries, as well as academia, can be valuable.

I don't know about a hotline, because it is difficult to set up and staff. There may be other social media models (blogs) that might be able to permit discussion about the impacts of these situations, as long as identities (both perpetrators and victims) were protected. There may be some professionals in the field interested in monitoring discussions with the hope of trying to share insights, best practices, past experience, etc. I would be willing to do my share.

I offer to you that if this person feels a need to talk to someone, you can offer my name to contact. I can assure them discretion and confidentiality, but a willing and empathetic ear.

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3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!
From: L. Trouille_at_Women_in_Astronomy_Blog, Nov 8, 2011

As you've probably seen from previous posts and mailings, the CSWA (with input from all of you) has been keeping track of the percentage of conference invited speakers who are women (see http://www.aas.org/cswa/percent.html ).

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Moreno, who is organizing a conference on "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous" (see announcement below). I wanted to highlight here that 76% of the invited speakers for this conference are women (13 women and 4 men).

Jorge explained to me that he is delighted to see so many female astronomers in the list, as well as a few speakers from developing countries. He worries that we are still a long way from gender equality in science, especially in places like his country of origin (Mexico), but he is glad to know that many people are taking steps in the right direction. He feels very lucky to be in this position. He also mentions that he wants to make sure nobody can tell his daughter Camila that she can't pursue a career in science (or in any field she desires).

To read more:

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2011/11/meeting-with-extremely-high-percentage.html

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4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Paul Gorman wrote this article for the Stuff New Zeeland news site:

Christchurch biochemist and ground-breaking free radical researcher Professor Christine Winterbourn is the first woman scientist to be awarded New Zealand's top science and technology honour in its 20-year history.

Winterbourn, who is director of the free radical research group in the pathology department at the University of Otago, Christchurch, received the 2011 Rutherford Medal and $100,000 from the Government at last night's Royal Society of New Zealand research honours event in Wellington.

Winterbourn told The Press she had never experienced any real discrimination in the science lab, but had seen huge changes since the early 1970s.

"We were very much in the minority - when I did my masters [degree] in chemistry in Auckland there were four women and 30 in total, so you were always working in a minority group.

"But it was just a matter for me of knowing what I wanted to do and just doing it, not being hung up by thinking, `I'm a woman in a man's world'."

To read more:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/5981502/First-woman-awarded-science-honour

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5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker
From: Philip Massey [massey_at_lowell.edu]

On November 9-10, 2011, Explore Mars, Inc. presented the Women and Mars Conference in Washington, D.C. Topics discussed at the conference included, "Why are so many women involved in Mars exploration?" and "How can 'Mars women' help to advance STEM education for young women and reach non-traditional audiences?" The conference also featured policy discussions, an astronaut panel, and numerous other topics.

Dr. Penelope Boston is the Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and founder and director of the Cave and Karst Studies Program at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. She gave the summary talk at a conference. What she had to say has a lot of bearing on many women-in-science issues:

http://www.livestream.com/exploremars/video?clipId=pla_05a91dda-2caf-4aab-af31-54f2be3b0324

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6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Wendy Kaufman wrote this story for NPR:

This week thousands of women gathered in Portland, Ore., for the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world's largest technical conference for women and computing. High-tech companies are hiring, but there aren't nearly enough women to meet the demand.

Kate Schmalzried, a graduate student at Stanford, recalls one of her very first classes at the university - Computer Science 106A.

"That was really a good introduction to women in tech - there weren't many women in the class," she says, chuckling. "I distinctly remember being the only girl in my section."

It's no secret that beginning in middle school, young women often lose interest in math and science. So it's not surprising that relatively few women sign up for computer courses in college. When they do, they are often at a disadvantage.

"I remember on the first day, the guy sitting next to me telling me how he had coded a search engine - are you kidding me?" she says. "I'd never coded anything."

Schmalzried was able to catch up, but says by the second semester fewer than half the original women were still in the course.

Indeed, nationwide only about 20 percent of the bachelor's degrees in computer science go to women.

Mark Bregman, the former chief technology officer at Symantec, says it's not nearly enough.

"One of the things that's a barrier to our ability to grow is our ability to hire the best talent," he says. "If we could get more women to go into computer science, we would have more talent to hire from."

To read more:

http://www.npr.org/2011/11/11/142227097/addressing-the-shortage-of-women-in-silicon-valley

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7. Jobs at Georgia State University

Three Faculty Positions in Stellar Astrophysics at Georgia State University:

http://www.chara.gsu.edu/CHARA/jobs.php

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8. How to Submit

To submit an item to the AASWOMEN newsletter, including replies to topics, send email to

aaswomen_at_aas.org .

All material will be posted unless you tell us otherwise, including your email address.

Please remember to replace "_at_" in the e-mail address above.

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9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe

To subscribe or unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter, please fill in the required information at:

http://lists.aas.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/aaswlist .

If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.org

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10. Access to Past Issues

http://www.aas.org/cswa/AASWOMEN.html

Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.

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