Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pipeline Problem (I): Patriarchy doesn't have the balls; women have the heart; and the 1% keeps rolling in the cash.

Please regard the next few posts as an open letter to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Advance Program and a personal case study from a panoramic view that distance and time allow.

I'll be addressing the Pipeline Problem: Academia's difficulties in recruiting and retaining women, particularly in the STEM fields.

The Pipeline Problem is a question of considerable shared interest: For myself, from an historical perspective; for NSF and universities, as evidenced by the grant dollars awarded to study the problem and the continued commitment to diversity; and also for industry, technology and politics because the obstacles in those environments are very similar in terms of biases, harassment, pay gaps, promotions and retention.

I'll have some actionable recommendations before I'm done. I'll also point to some issues that I doubt universities can resolve without more concerted changes across our society.

Moreover, until the problems of sexist biases, sexual harrassment, pay gaps and promotions are resolved, the stratification of effects in terms of the socio-economic class hierarchy are little more than window dressing and lip service to gender and racial equality. It represents an enormous waste of resources and effort on the part of people, families, communities, and education systems. It's a shame that academia and its supporters haven't done a better job investigating and resolving the problem given science's commitment to ethics.

I'm writing, in part, in response to the recently published study by Williams and Ceci (2015) and related commentary (e.g., Lehmann, 2015). The conclusion reached by Williams and Ceci (2014), namely that sexism is not present in academia, is flat out wrong precisely because the variables they use to control their data sets are the variables in which gender and racial bias are most operational. Gender and racial biases held by all genders collude with other causes and thus typically escape detection.*

The good news is that having served on hiring committees, as well as having been offered a tenure-track appointment at each university I interviewed, university departments are making efforts to bring women and minorities into the ranks. Those efforts shouldn't curtailed, at least not until the numbers are substantially more representative of the diversity in awarded degrees.

The efforts made in hiring, however, are where the good news ends. Women are still navigating the razor's edge of a double or, more truthfully, triple standard that men rarely, if ever, have to face. (That men have little experience facing a similar triple standard is perhaps to the detriment of all). The razor's edge of the triple standard by which women are explicitly and implicitly judged by students, as well as male and female faculty and colleagues include: productivity, femininity and nuturing. I would further argue that conflation of the latter two variables has been at least one source of confusion in addressing the Pipeline Problem.

The conclusion of Williams and Ceci that women are choosing family over career is an ad hominem and/or ad feminam argument since (a) most men in academics have families, in other words the issue of marriage and family is never used to evaluate the careers and characters of men; (b) women entering graduate school have decided in favor of careers; and (c) in today's economic environment most women are employed and the statistics in business and technology aren't much, if at all, better as the recent statistics gathered by the PEW Research Center suggest.

From Wikipedia: an Ironic illustration showing Sutherland Highlander wearing exaggerated Feather bonnet observing "By Jove, what extraordinary headgear you women do wear!"

In future posts I'll address the various ways academia fails to adequately provide women with the resources they need to survive the obstacles they encounter on the tenure track. The raw data are much more discouraging than the doctored numbers of Williams and Ceci would lead us to believe. For example, a recent study by Jane Junn at the University of Southern California found that only 55% of women and minorities were promoted, in constrast to 92% of white males. (Scroll to the top of the link to see data from other countries.) Dismal results of this nature also point to the method by which the illusion of equality on campuses is maintained as discussed in: Ivy League Stiffs its Female Profs. If you look at any given STEM department's webpage, the majority of the women's faces you'll see are staff, lecturers, adjuncts, researchers and assistant professors. Finally, I feel obliged to mention one more point, a statistic I haven't seen discussed, and that is the proportion of those fully tenured women that have reached their position without either (a) a spouse appointed at the same university or (b) former mentors appointed at the same university. Both of these categories of women are swimming with the current by virtue of support other women don't have. (I am not at all against spousal hiring programs, I highly recommend them, but the fact that other women don't have access to the various types of support spousal hiring provides needs to be recognized.) In short:


*Update 1.06.16: See Zuleyka Zevallos's critique of Williams and Ceci in The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEM.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

For the Rights of Women

One group of people that's been taken advantage of for longer than African-Americans and Indians in our country and the world is Women. Regardless of race, women have been enslaved and exploited since our species began. 

Even today, whatever rights women have gained since they wised-up while championing the rights of African-Americans, a woman's worth is still often judged by whether or not she's physically worthy of man's attention. Patience, ingenuity, intelligence, wit, creativity and the ability to challenge and debate alternate views are characteristics that can be as much of a liability as a strength. 

After living four years in an isolated monastic-like setting, it might be understandable that I am disturbed by the high degree of sexism in marketing, which undoubtedly has been normalized in the perceptions and cognition of many. Its nearly impossible to escape the sexism present in news and the entertainment industry whether the propaganda being fed to society relates to romantic love or the exaggerated sexist image of what an ideal woman should look and act like. 

With the above in mind it should not be surprising that I find yesterday's decision by Amnesty International to decriminalize sex work disturbing. Amnesty, care and compassion for victims, yes; decriminalization, no. Let me ask Amnesty International this: How do we now as a society define “pimping”? Can not our entire capitalisitic society, not to mention the GOP, or prostitutes themselves be declared guilty?

In my view, decriminalization is an endorsement of slavery. Decriminalization will likely lead to an increase in sexist biases, dismissiveness of the concerns and views of women, and disrespect for women's true potential. Speaking for myself that seems to be the antithesis of compassion and is in contradiction to the values I've lived my life by and the sacrifices I've made believing in and fighting for the equality for women.  

I am aware that other women may disagree with my views as result of conditioning or normalization to a different set of cultural standards and values. To them let me say that its not that I wish harsher conditions on anyone, what I wish for all is a recognition of and respect for their full potential and worth. What I support is a society that is more respectful of relationship at the level of community, friendship and family regardless of race or gender. 

There is not a single human being that has not been harmed by the disregard and disrespect of relationship due to the stresses inherent in our capitalistic society. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Black Lives Matter: Death is not an Opinion

I'm not talking about the Great Death, Great Doubt of Zen koans, though I've commented on death in reference to koan introspection in the past.

I'm talking biological death -- the measurable fact of when the opportunity for conversation ceases. Death is irrevocable. Death is not an opinion or a feeling except for those that are still alive.  All the speculations about what happens after death can not change the fact of death. And all the Social Security and Medicare our country has to offer can't reach the person that died, can't replace the promise or potential of the life that was lost.

African-Americans of our country have been waiting for longer than a generation for Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality. The gradual gains made via education and equal opportunity laws rapidly pale when all that effort can be wiped out, undone in an instant, by the overly indignant attitude of a police officer. 

Listen, remembering all the times in your life you wished you would have been heard.

Listen and work to demilitarize the police. Abolish the prison industrial complex. Improve and correct for racial bias in our judicial system and sentencing laws.

You can't talk to a dead person.