Brainy Quote of the Day

Friday, July 28, 2017

Workplace Bias...

The Women in Astronomy IV conference was held in Austin, Texas, following the American Astronomical Society meeting in June. Credit: J. Hellerman, NRAO/AUI/NSF
Topics: Astronomy, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

Unfortunately, even in STEM fields you primarily run into two types of individuals: assholes and servants.

The assholes are driven and cutthroat. They'll promote in industry and likely discover a few things of wide commercial use. They also don't lend much in light of human interactions as to its efficacy (meeting a few, you'd rather NOT). A few of them being selfish and self-serving become Ayn Rand wealthy (their patron saint), feeling their callousness and viciousness rewarded.

The servants title is not meant as a pejorative: they are both "in the world and of the world" and look at ways for their love of STEM to be spread beyond themselves to improve it - a kind of tech evangelism. Many are active in outside organizations* that share that passion. Unlike the former, you won't feel soiled after meeting us, and you might want to contact us again.

I'd seen this guy (before his self-destructed demise) in specials on the Science Channel:

One of the biggest names in astronomy resigned his professorship at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday over the fallout from a damning investigation into his conduct with female students. The news demonstrates that not even star scholars enjoy impunity when it comes to sexual harassment, but in the end it was Geoff Marcy’s fellow scientists -- not the Berkeley administration -- who forced him out. Source: Inside Higher Education

What I'm about to describe I call the "Jedi mind trick": the best way to keep a particular group out of a STEM field and keep it predominately privileged is to make conditions uncomfortable for others the majority consider "outside." One direct way is propositioning for a date or physical contact without consent. A few snide remarks (e.g. under the breath into their collar - "black lives matter" when the conversation was on a work-related technical problem - they shrink when challenged with simply "what did you mean by that?"); quiet when someone walks in a room (for no reason), an overly aggressive challenge to the results of an experiment or research proposal can make anyone doubt their ability to complete the dream of a PhD.

It is ironic that feelings that I've experienced now has data behind it, and workplace bias extends to an area society has deemed too "Spock-like" to have systemic issues. Over time, you develop coping mechanisms and support systems* outside of your work that makes it more endurable. One of the things you realize quickly as a person of color is the world is full of assholes. Love what you do, take DEEP breaths and power through the bullshit. Most importantly, above all: DON'T QUIT. That's what they want you to do.

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.” Margaret Atwood, "The Handmaid's Tale."

Further inaction on bias can only be seen clearly under one glaring banner: cowardice.


Christina Richey is not a crier. But she went home and sobbed when she saw the results of an online survey she had co-organized on workplace harassment. For the astrophysicist and past chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, the data put numbers on the stories she’d been hearing for years. And the numbers revealed that harassment in her field was even more prevalent than she had realized.

“I’d heard about issues, mostly gender based, and also race based,” says Richey. But, she adds, the members and leaders of the astronomy and planetary science community would often brush off the stories as anecdotal. That led her and colleagues to run an online survey in early 2015—months before the Geoffrey Marcy harassment scandal broke. Their results appear in the July issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

In their survey, the researchers posed 39 questions about verbal and physical harassment, including sexual harassment and comments about ability, masculinity, femininity, race, and religion. Volunteers reported their observations and experiences from the preceding five years. A total of 474 people took part in the survey. The researchers analyzed the responses by gender, race, and career stage.

A whopping 88% of respondents reported hearing negative language from peers, and about 52% had heard such language from their supervisors. Some 39% reported experiencing verbal harassment, and 9% said they had been physically harassed. “It doesn’t have to be directed at you,” Richey says. “Just hearing comments can be isolating.”

White women and women of color experienced verbal harassment related to gender nearly equally (43% and 44%, respectively). In addition, 35% of women of color experienced verbal harassment related to their race. The report says women of color are at “double jeopardy” for harassment.

Both white women and women of color reported higher frequencies (about 13% and 18%, respectively) than did men of skipping classes, meetings, fieldwork, or other professional events because of feeling unsafe. Men of color (6%) skipped such events for that reason more often than did white men (1%).

Widespread harassment reported in astronomer survey, Toni Felder, Physics Today

*Related links:

National Science Foundation: Science and Engineering Doctorates
National Society of Black Engineers
National Society of Black Physicists
National Society of Hispanic Physicists
Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
Society of Women Engineers
Women In Science and Engineering

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