Broadening Participation in Science and Engineering: Social and Intellectual Diversity

At this panel discussion, we will discuss how cultural values shape what research questions are asked and how research is conducted. Science and engineering have long been portrayed as merely merit-based domains, or, as historians of science have called it, a ‘culture of no culture’. The demographic within these fields is commonly viewed as unrelated to the quality of knowledge produced, and therefore only a concern in so far as funding agencies mandate it to be. Drawing on specific examples we will examine how research questions change depending on who is asking them, teasing apart the complex relations between research agendas and the socio-cultural identities of scientists and engineers. Investigating these questions will contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity within STEM fields. Furthermore, a shared examination of the experiences of inclusion and exclusion will help develop a better grasp of how to pursue social equity within science and engineering fields. Finally, it will also produce insights about what kind of knowledge is produced and for whom.

Moderator:

Ruth Müller a postdoctoral research fellow at the Research Policy Group, Lund University, Sweden and lecturer in Gender Studies, Biology & Science-Technology-Society, at the University of Vienna, focuses her research on the relations between research policy, institutional frameworks and scientific work practices, currently in the fields of climate science and epigenetics. Müller is interested in critical reflection of contemporary academic work practices and social movements in this area, such as the slow science movement. Dr. Ruth Müller joins UC Santa Cruz for a second Visiting Scholarship with the Science & Justice Research Center.

Panelists:

Faye Crosby, Provost of Cowell College, Chair of Council of Provosts, and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UCSC specializes in social justice. Her research interests looks at the relation between objective (i.e., consensual) and subjective reality; she has looked at individual attitudes in the context of social change and stability. Crosby's current work investigates the bases of people's reactions to affirmative action and has launched a new series of studies on how people can undertake non-revolutionary changes in rules that come to be revealed as unfair. She is also examining other ways, such as mentoring, of enhancing the peaceful evolution of work organizations.

Barbara Gee, has 35 years of experience in the computer industry, where she has held leadership positions in all functional areas. She has worked for HP, Silicon Graphics, TiVo, and other well known tech companies. In addition, Barb has served in leadership roles in the non-profit sector (including Huckleberry Youth Programs), and prior to joining the Anita Borg Institute was the Executive Officer of Human Resources for the Oakland Unified School District. She has also served on the San Mateo County Commission on the Status of Women, the Board of Global Exchange, and is an Advisory Board member of the STEM Academy at McClymonds High School in Oakland California. Barb currently serves as the Vice President of Programs for ABI, where she oversees the execution and development of programs focused on increasing the participation of women in technical roles, with the belief that when the inventors of technology mirror those who use it, society gains. Barb received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley, and her Masters in Management at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T.

Joan Haran, a Research Fellow at Cesagene (Cardiff Centre for Ethical and Social Aspects of Genomics and Epigenetics) at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences whose research revolves around gender, representation and technoscience. She is particularly interested in the policing of boundaries between science fact and science fiction. Haran has a BA (Hons) in Literature and History from North Staffordshire Polytechnic, an MA (Dist) in Gender, Society and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Sociology from Warwick University. She co-authored the monograph Human Cloning in the Media: From science fiction to science practice (Routledge 2008) which drew together media, cultural, and feminist technoscience studies preoccupations and methodologies to document the symbolic and material labor of making genomics in the media.

Melissa Jurica, Associate Professor of MCD Biology at UCSC oversees the Jurica Lab, a research lab at UCSC working to understand the structural and functional analysis of spliceosomes a tiny molecular machine found in all human cells, as it plays a critical role in how our genes encode for an organism as unique and complex as a human being. She has recently become the director of the UCSC Initiative to Maximize Student Development program, which supports both undergraduate and graduate students in an effort to increase diversity in biomedical research.

Thanks to Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) for facilitating the following recordings of the event:

Broadening Participation Video: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Engineering 2, Room 599 |  May 14, 2014

"Broadening Participation in Science and Engineering: Social and Intellectual Diversity"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
14 May 2014
Rapporteur Report by Lizzy Hare
At this Science & Justice Working Group Event, Lund University postdoctoral research
fellow Ruth Müller moderated a discussion about how diversity within the STEM fields might be
expanded. Panelists Fay Crosby (Provost of Cowell College, and Distinguished Professor of
Psychology at UCSC), Barbara Gee (Vice President of Programs at the Anita Borg Institute for
Women and Technology), Joan Haran (Research Fellow at the Cardiff Centre for Ethical and
Social Aspects of Genomics and Epigenetics at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences), and
Melissa Jurica (Associate Professor of MCD Biology at UCSC) shared their experiences and
specific examples of inclusion and exclusion within the STEM fields. Science & Justice
Research Center Director Jenny Reardon welcomed participants and the audience, adding that
the topic has been appearing more frequently in recent news media, and that she’s interested in
the rise of this concern during a time when there doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress being made
towards equity and inclusion.

Ruth introduced the discussion with a reminder that issues of inclusion have always been
a part of scientific knowledge production. In the early days of the experimental sciences,
scientists distinguished themselves by portraying themselves as the “modest witness” who could
transcend the body to make observations of the world that were not occluded or biased by the
researcher’s perspective. Crucial to the operation of these laboratories were those whose
contributions could not be counted as objective science, due to their non-white, non-male, nonbourgeois
bodies. When multiple others began to demand access, many of those who were most
successful embodied the “neutral” characteristics of white, male, bourgeois science as best they
could, effectively creating a science that could claim inclusion while still ignoring the
contributions of other ways of life. Müller asks us if it is perhaps time for science to accept that
it only allows in a select few, and that the traits that are seen as necessary for a good scientist
exclude a number of potentially excellent thinkers and scholars.

Faye Crosby began her contribution by explaining that she believes strongly in the value
of positivism, and that she believes this value is exclusive of gender. In her experience, there has
often been a pretense of using standards of merit, yet non-scientific values are able to creep in.
She used a social psychology study on affirmative action as an example. In that experiment,
white male subjects were asked to review applications for a single prize. They received
information about a person of color, or a white person. In half of the situations the persons of
color had low test scores but excellent letters of recommendation, while in the other group, it was
reversed. The reviewers showed a clear preference for white candidates, and justified it either
with the letters of recommendation or the test scores, depending on the case. Either way, they
claimed to be fair and unbiased in their decision making process. Faye used this example
because she wants to make the case that we should not change the way we do science to make it
more “feminine”, but rather, we should make it more scientific and make sure that the same rules
apply all over. This will require taking notice of all of the small structural factors that make it
easy to continue to enact practices that keep women down.

Barbara Gee discussed her work at the Anita Borg institute, and emphasized how the
institute uses scientific research to support the goal of the foundation. That research has helped
them to show that including women technicians and engineers in the research and design of a
product is both good social practice and good business practice, because it has been shown to
boost sales and yield more successful products. The Institute has had some success in fostering
relationships between women in computing and inspiring confidence, but they are still working
on how to change the culture within companies. Gee said that this is especially difficult because
so much of the problem lies in unconscious biases.

Melissa Jurica echoed many of the same sentiments that Crosby and Gee had shared with
the Working Group. Jurica explained that in her experience much of the problem lies in the
values that scientists are expected to share and to cultivate. These values might not promote
minority representation in science, and may even actively work to discourage it. She mentioned
aggression, self-promotion and skepticism in particular. For her, self-doubt is a form of
skepticism that she thinks might ultimately be beneficial to science, but it tends not to be valued
in laboratory settings. Because these values are seen as being neutral, it is hard for scientists to
recognize that privileging these values often means privileging certain kinds of people. Like
Faye, she encouraged the Working Group participants to utilize implicit bias tests as a way to
help people understand where their own prejudices may lie. In closing, Jurica also expressed
some frustration that women scientists are asked to participate in panels about diversity, but that
such talks often end up preaching to the converted, as it is too easy for those in majority
positions to ignore them. It is worth mentioning that in a full room, there were only two men who
were not directly affiliated with the Science & Justice Research Center.

Joan Haran brought the conversation outside of the context of the lab by discussing the
representation of women scientists in the media. Why, she asked, are women scientists in the
media so highly stereotyped? At the same time, she reminded us that realistic representations of
women scientists might not be desirable either. Fewer than 13% of professional scientists are
women, so if representations were accurate, their voices would be heard even less frequently.
But if representations of women scientists shift towards being aspirational, perhaps the better
move would actually be to disentangle the categories in the first place, and make space for
representations of scientists who happen to be women, or women who happen to be scientists.

One of the main concerns voiced during the discussion period was why there are fewer
women Computer Science undergraduates in the US now than there were in 1988, which was the
peak. Some seem to think that this could be because men present themselves as more confident
and self-assured, which leads women to believe that they are behind. Ruth asked if this might be
because we have myths about what science is as an activity, and that means that we tend to deemphasize
the importance of group effort in advancing scientific knowledge. Lauren asked the
panelists what could be done to make women more confident, and Faye responded by saying that
she does not want women to become as confident as men, but rather, she wants men to become
as humble as women. Melissa reminded us that all of these issues become more problematic
when there is a large gap in the gender divide in the workplace.

The matter of care and caretaking was also addressed in the discussion period. Melissa
attributes her ability to be successful as a scientist in part to her spouse who is willing to stay at
home. This caused others to wonder about the invisible labor of caretaking that has allowed
male scientists to be successful over the years.

In going forward, the Working Group is optimistic that the knowledge about gender gaps
and inequalities in science will be useful in making changes in the future, but there still seems to
be some concern around how to enact change in academic and private institutions.

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