Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Houston, we have an image problem

I was at a novelty store a few months ago, and came across a board game called "The Mad Professor Science Kit". I noted that the mad science professor looks nothing like me at all.

I've written a lot about how journalists and artists and other media people need to get the memo about what professors and scientists look like, in order to help change images in the minds of the younger generation. 

Alas, we still have a ways to go. Here is my unscientific analysis.

Method: Clip Art Google Image search, Screenshot of page 1 of results.

Term 1: professor

Results: 8% owl, 92% male, 0% female. Only one person who may be of asian or latino descent. (Note: Page 2 has a whopping two female professors - wowie! And one person of color.) 

Term 2: scientist

Results: 80% male, 20% female. No owls. One person of color. Page two has owls, and a few more women.

Term 3: engineer

Results: Of 19 humans and gendered characters (Mickey Mouse), 90% male, 10% female. No people of color.

Term 4: "computer scientist"

Results: Of the three humans, 33% are women! And it's Grace Hopper, baby! No people of color, though we do have a link to "African Americans in Science and Technology", which is nice. An a Pi symbol, cat, Connect 4, and some cool geek pride T-shirts. 

"Software engineer" and "programmer" do not yield very positive results, but I am pleased to say "computer programmer" yields several women, including a woman of color and this awesome coloring book page: 

I know it seems like a silly thing, clipart, but a heck of a lot of people use it when preparing presentations.

Any artists out there want to start a revolution? Or maybe work on an NSF proposal? I think this would be a great STEM education thing. And easy as anything to do. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Kudos to Margo Seltzer

Margo Seltzer, fellow FCS, profesor at Harvard, and well known in the CS blogosphere, was featured in a great article in Txchnologist about women in CS. You can read the article here.

I love just about everything about the article, in particular Margo's comments on polo shirts:
Txch: The computer science community may not be able to control the way programmers are portrayed in the press, but it can at least control the image it projects. What are the big things they shouldn’t do if they want women to apply?

MS: Here’s my favorite. I was chatting with a group of university reps from a very large high-tech company. The reps were both men and women, and they were bemoaning the fact that they found it very difficult to attract women programmers. I looked at them and I said to one of the women, “Are the company shirts you’re wearing men’s polos or women’s polos?” She said, “Oh, it’s a men’s polo shirt.” I said, “Why? Why don’t you buy women’s polo shirts? They would fit better.” And she says, “Well, there aren’t very many of us and it would cost more.”

Now, this is a multi-billion-dollar corporation. I looked at them and I said, “I run a company of 25 people, and you know what? We buy men’s and women’s polo shirts. You’re sending a message that says men are the norm and women are second-class citizens, so we have to put up with what they give us.” I’m sure not many women look at the polo shirts and say, “This isn’t for me,” but I still think it sends a very strong subliminal message.

The other data point is—look at the big annual events that these companies hold for all their customers. How many of the featured speakers are women? The answer goes from zero to one, amidst twenty or thirty speakers. You see this over and over. I think it sends a message that says, “We’re a guys’ company.” There are little things that a company could do to send a message that says, “We’re gender agnostic. We actually hire both boys and girls.”
And her comments on how sexism is less of a big deal to companies than racism:
Txch: Does it behoove companies to narrow the gender gap?

MS: In the same way that we would not tolerate an environment that was blatantly racist. That would not be tolerated in any company in America. And yet we have these pockets in cultures of companies that really are very hostile towards women. People don’t seem to find that nearly as offensive.
I believe I've written about this topic before, where it's strangely acceptable to be sexist and ableist, but not racist. We really need to work on that if we have any hope of making progress.

In any case, kudos to Margo. Go read the article and check out her blog!