Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A recipe for culture change

If you could design your ideal workplace, what would it look like?  If you are reading this blog, chances are that your description includes more than a high salary and state of the art facilities and includes being valued for your ability and treated fairly and respectfully by others.

Recently I served on a visiting committee that privately interviewed every staff and faculty member of an academic department.  If I had to design my ideal workplace, I could not have come up with a more satisfied group.  Everyone loves their job and feels welcomed and respected.  Inclusion, diversity, and excellence are seamlessly interwoven.  My ideal workplace would look a lot like that.

During the past two years I was given the gift of time (about 18 months) to study my university in depth to make recommendations for advancing a respectful and caring community.  The result is a report currently under discussion by faculty, staff, postdocs, students and alumni.  Some of the recommendations, such as universal unconscious bias training, would, I believe, be quite impactful if they spread widely.  That particular recommendation is based on groundbreaking work done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Google.

Business guru Peter Drucker is said to have remarked, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  What he meant is that the unwritten rules of how people interact and what they feel is normal for their organization will make it difficult to implement organizational change unless the tacit assumptions are spoken aloud.

Shifting a culture requires that it first be understood.  Efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion often are hindered by culture.  What if we made culture part of the solution instead of part of the problem?

That is the approach I followed in writing this report.  It's not the usual one.  But isn't that what researchers do?  We experiment and innovate.  When empathy is added to this equation, we have the ingredients for culture change.  Submit your recipes!  And let's use culture to our advantage.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Future Directions in the Work-Family Equation

An NPR blog by Maanvi Singh introduced me to an interesting article about gender equality in the workplace and home.  It is by David Pedulla and Sarah Th├ębaud, faculty members at UT Austin and UC Santa Barbara, respectively.  The article is titled "Can We Finish the Revolution?  Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint" and published this year in the American Sociological Review.

The authors performed a survey to address the question of how much gender-specific workplace cultures and policies determine the roles that men and women play in their households.  Even when couples have gender-equality ideals, workplace constraints may force them to adopt traditional roles of men as the earner and women as the caregiver.  The motivation for the study is to understand why the gender revolution has "stalled".  More women are in the workforce, but are still highly underrepresented tin top positions.   Examples given are that women make up only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 3% of members of Congress.

The study was of young unmarried women and men aged 18 to 32.  The participants were asked their preference for traditional roles (man - primary earner, woman - primary caregiver) vs egalitarian roles.  They were asked to choose between these options under the two assumptions of unsupportive and supportive workplace policies for dual-earner, dual-caregiver arrangements.  One of the primary results is shown in the table here that I made from the data presented.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Leadership and the Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Women of different personality types
In the wake of Kelly Korrick’s post, Becoming a Leader, and my own interest, On Leadership, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test. I know several colleagues, family members, and supervisors who have taken the test as part of their management training. The test is available free on-line. I took this version, which is comprised of 60 yes/no questions. I’ve seen other variations, but they are all similar and take only a few minutes. The final results give you a series of letters indicating your personality types as well as the strength in each of the following categories:
•Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I),
•Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N),
•Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
•Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)
I don’t need a test to tell me that I am Introverted (I), but it also told me the strength of this characteristic. The Extravert-Introvert dimension is a continuum:

Extravert [100% - - - 0% - - - 100%] Introvert

I was reasonably, but not overwhelmingly, introverted.
Sensing-Intuition preference represents the method by which one perceives information: Sensing (S) means an individual mainly relies on concrete, actual information. Intuition (N) means a person relies upon their conception about things based on their understanding of the world.
Thinking-Feeling preference indicates the way an individual processes information. Thinking (T) preference means an individual makes decisions based on logical reasoning. Feeling (F) preference means that an individual's base for decisions is mainly feelings and emotions.
Judging-Perceiving preference in more complex and involves both incoming and outgoing information. It is important to understand that Judging (J) is not the same as “judgmental,” which was my own first (incorrect) impression of its meaning.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Choosing the Best

And so the committee met to choose between the two finalists.

“It's easy!” announced Professor Tist. “The letter from Dr. Darlon states plainly that she is the best exolonomist of her generation!”

“No, no!” rebutted Professor Tast. “You are not an expert in her subfield like me. Darlon doesn’t really think she is the best, he was just being supportive of a young scientist."

“He was?” asked Tist.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Postdoc Parenting Work-Life Balance

There's a koan in academia for when is the best time to have a kid:
No time is the right time, all times are equally good (bad?)
My husband is also a postdoc. We have a 9 month old. This is a glass half full kind of post, about how we've taken advantage of the flexible hours, the autonomy, and a few supportive policies to pursue parenting and work on our own(-ish) terms. 

The short of it is that at least one of us was home with our daughter full time until she turned 4 months old and at least one of us continues to be home with her four days a week. Here's how we do it:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rising Stargirls: Girls of All Colors Learning, Exploring, and Discovering

Aomawa Shields (Photo Credit: Martin Cox)

Today's guest blogger is Aomawa Shields. Aomawa is an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow and UC President’s Postdoctoral Program Fellow in the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy and CfA. She studies the climate and habitability of extrasolar planets in multiple-planet systems. She was recently named a 2015 TED Fellow. Aomawa also has an MFA in Acting from UCLA, and uses her theater background to communicate science to the public in engaging, innovative ways.   
My primary goal as a scientist is to find the next planet where life exists. I also have another goal, which sometimes feels even more important: To nurture young life on this planet, by encouraging young girls of color to look beyond social and media perceptions of what a scientist is, has been, or isn’t, and to see themselves as potential scientists – especially astronomers.
Given that kids from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences often stop pursuing their interest in STEM fields long before they enter college, due to a lack of self-confidence and few role models who look like them (Weir 2007), there is a critical need for an innovative approach to astronomy education that targets young girls from underrepresented groups at an early age.
I knew I wanted the E/PO component to my NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship proposal to involve some sort of interactive astronomy workshop for young middle-school girls of color. Middle school is often the age where girls start to place a significant amount of focus on their physical appearance, and shift the focus away from their mental aptitude and accomplishments (Gurian 2012). As a result, feelings of low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence begin to take root (Rakow 2009; Gurian 2012).

Monday, February 2, 2015

The State of the Universe

Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson
of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
cordially invite you to attend: 

The State of the Universe: 
A lunch briefing on new discoveries
and the importance of diversity in the astronomical sciences

12:00 – 1:00 PM on February 5, 2015
2325 Rayburn House Office Building 
RSVP by February 3rd @ 

For the second consecutive year, the AAS in partnership with the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, bring you The State of the Universe, a briefing on the astronomical sciences. Our speakers will highlight exciting new discoveries and provide first-hand perspectives on the power of astronomy as a gateway science and the importance of bringing a broad and diverse set of viewpoints to bear on exciting scientific challenges. Through inspirational imagery and elegant descriptions of our universe, the astronomical sciences draw millions of students to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, preparing them for a wide range of careers in many sectors of the economy that support our nation's prosperity.