"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.