The Second Job: An Introduction on Why STEM Is Losing Its Disabled Scientists.

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Image description: White disabled person icon on blue background, with person leaning forward. Gold science beaker as wheelchair wheel.

For our June Diversity JC discussion, we focused on #DisabledandSTEM, looking at research from Dr. Kate Sang on the experience of disabled scientists in the UK, and Working Life piece on her experience in the US by Jesse Shanahan. We were also thrilled to have both Kate (@katesang) and Jesse (@Enceladosaurus) join us for the discussion.

First, we discussed some semantics, which are important:

 

It is also important to remember that “disabled” pertains to a very large and diverse group:

 

And yet it is clear STEM fields are losing disabled scientists:

 

Our conversation quickly noted why this is, and the range of challenges disabled scientists in STEM face (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and their impact:

 

Barriers included physical access to not only areas for research…

… but also for support:

 

There is also the real financial cost that comes with having a disability – and let’s consider that on a graduate student budget.

 

The barriers and challenges go far beyond physical access and financial cost, as well.

 

…and this does not even get into the way in which disabled people are treated by health care professionals when they seek support and care:

 

One of the most important and poignant points in our discussion was how these challenges and barriers, in ways unlike any other experience, can force disabled scientists to make heartbreaking decisions between their science – and their health and lives.

For many, if not most, of us, science is where our heart and soul is – it is what we love to do. The idea of being forced to abandon our science is a hard one to even fathom – but it is a reality for many of our disabled peers, especially if they are without resources and support, at the institution, state, and federal level.

The importance of that support was also touched on in a recent New York Times op-ed on by Alice Wong (@SFdirewolf) , where the loss of support forced a major change in her career path. How may bright, creative, and curious minds are we losing before they even get started in STEM?

To avoid losing talented disabled scientists, there are tangible steps institutions can take to be more supportive and welcoming for disabled scientists, ensuring they can flourish in their fields.

 

Certainly, some institutions already have policies in place to support disabled scientists, but it is important to note that simply having policies on the books is not enough.

In addition, what resources, protections, and support are available may not be visible:

They may also require scientists to disclose their disabilities, which inofitself is a major challenge…

The stigma around disability means many people do choose to hide their disability if and when they can. This can limit visibility and access to support – but given how we treat disability in STEM, it’s up to institutions and the able-bodied community to ensure spaces are safe and resources are accessible. It’s on us to make change.

To these ends, there are many things able-bodied scientists can do:

Part of this is taking the time for serious self-reflection

… and it’s critical to remember we have a lot to learn, and we will need training…

 

But – what also stood out from our discussion was how much making science more accessible can help scientists and science:

 

This was our first conversation that focused on disability, and we hope to focus on additional and more specific aspects of disability and STEM in the future. Please let us know topics and research of particular interest to you!

Also make sure to check out conversations happening under #DisabledandSTEM, and follow scientists tweeting there…

[These convos happen Fridays at 8pm EST, tagged under #EnceladosaurusQA!]

… and mare sure your twitter is accessible!

 

Thank you to everyone who joined and followed our #DisabledandSTEM discussion, and special thank you to Kate Sang and Jesse Shanahan! We look forward to more in the future!

Emily (@dremilysklein)
Dr. PMS (@doctor_PMS)
Ian Street (@IHStreet)

2015 in Review, Emily’s edition: Advice from #DiversityJC

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I’ve spend some time thinking about what to write for my Year in Review – rereading posts and recaps for inspiration. In 2015, the Diversity Journal Club explored the intersection of diversity and vaccine refusal, technology in the classrooms, peer review, workaholism, and student evaluations. We talked about the mental toll of science, and under-acknowledged reasons minority students may still avoid some disciplines. We discussed #TimHunt, #DecolonizeSTEM, #AddMaleAuthorGate, and #distractinglysexy.


In sum, we covered a lot of ground in 2015.


Reflecting on all of this, I’m reminded how much I’ve enjoyed our conversations, how fired up I’ve gotten about some of the things I’ve read – and how much I’ve learned, from the reading and from the community of people who engaged with us on this range of topics. These conversations weren’t abstract – they were personal. We aimed for tangible ways forward. This, for me, was and is one of the most important things this community can do. For my 2015 Diversity Journal Club Review, I return to the advice that’s been shared:

  1. Be prepared: Know that discussions of diversity, social justice, mental health, etc, can be uncomfortable and can devolve into confrontation. Don’t let that stop you – but do find and think and discuss ways to address tough situations ahead of time. Also learn how to be a good ally. Learn to listen, learn it’s ok to be wrong and to be comfortable with someone else’s anger, and learn to be open to being educated – but also know where the lines are and what behavior or ideas aren’t ok.
  2. Develop safe spaces and community: On topics from mental health to raising kids to addressing bias, a running theme for me was the importance of safe spaces and of community. We need safe spaces to talk about these issues, as they will likely always be uncomfortable at best. We also need a community to support us –of people like us, of informed and committed allies. We can develop these by speaking out on issues from diversity to work-life balance. Even if you are unsure how to move forward on them or feel uninformed, you can still ask questions of your institution: What is being done about diversity? How do we address work-life balance? What are we doing to prevent racism, sexism, sexual assault? Are there resources to bring in professionals to train staff – if not, why not?
  3. Maintain those safe spaces and community: Once established, these do need consistent engagement to thrive. Attend meetings or workshops on diversity or work-life balance, speak up and out about the importance of these issues. Address sexists, racist, homophobic, or other biased language and jokes. Come out of the closet. This is especially critical if you are tenured and established, and/or in a position of leadership. Often, those of us earlier in our careers feel less safe speaking out – we need examples from those higher up. There’s more on addressing comments at the end of this recap.
  4. Be self-aware and introspective: For me, this is something I do for myself consistently. I know I still have much to learn, and I will never understand the experience of others – but I can be a good ally. I can listen, I can learn from others, I can reflect on what is said to me, and on my internal reactions to situations and interactions.
  5. Walk the walk: If you care about diversity, social justice, mental health, work-life balance – really any of the topics we’ve touched on – don’t just talk about them. Again and again, the fact is those most affected by these issues often take on more of the responsibility for them – even though it is often undervalued or even de-valued. It adds to workloads that are already very demanding. Take on some of that – even if it feels scary or you feel unprepared. You can do this work, too. You need to do this work, too.
  6. Get help and find support: If you feel unprepared to address any of these issues, talk to someone: your friends, your family, faculty members and on-campus groups, centers and activist groups. Read the excellent literature and research out there, including blogs and online resources. And finally, be ok with being wrong; it’s better to say something and be educated. More on this in our recap here.
  7. Learn to listen & amplify underrepresented voices: Be a good ally by learning to let others share their experience, their views, and what should be done. Listen when they say there’s a problem, don’t assume that because you haven’t experienced it it doesn’t exist. When you’ve listened, don’t then take those words as your own. Amplify that voice, that message.
  8. Be a good mentor and role model – and encourage and spotlight other mentors and role models: One of the major issues around diversity that I have heard over and over is the lack of not only good mentors, but good role models. As a white person, the importance of seeing other people who look like you, doing something you could be doing, had to be explained to me. I had people that looked like me in most careers that sounded cool my entire life. More on mentors and role models here.

 

In addition to this advice, as I look forward to another year, I find myself thinking… what new topics can there be? Will we remain fresh and relevant? From race to gender to work-life balance and back again… haven’t we talked about everything?


The answer, of course, is yes. Unfortunately, there will be another Tim Hunt or Geoff Marcy , and I won’t be surprised to hear from the #GasLightingDuo again. We didn’t even get to Antonin Scalia. And there will be new ways the community will find to demonstrate how important diversity, in all its forms, is for not only critical for scientists, but for science.


Here’s to those new discussions, those new explorations of diversity and what it means to be a balanced scientist in STEM. And, as always, here’s to you, #DiversityJC contributors. I so look forward to the next things I will learn from all of you.


Here’s to 2016.

Quietly advocating for Diversity.

Thanks to all who’ve filled out our survey, we’re leaving it open for awhile longer so you can still give us feedback.

We’re back after a brief hiatus! On August 24 at 2pm, we’ll talk about effective communication strategies for helping improve diversity and highlight whether or not visibility campaigns are sufficient to increase diversity or is there more that is required to achieve a robust state of diversity?

A few weeks ago, #ILookLikeAnEngineer became a trending topic on Twitter. It all started with some disparaging remarks made about software engineer Isis Anchalee, who was featured in a recruiting ad for the company she works for in the bay area.

The whole story is here. I quote from it below.

She introduces herself this way:

I doubt that most of you know me. I am a passionate self-taught engineer, extreme introvert, science-nerd, anime-lover, college dropout, hip hop dancer, yoga teacher/hoop-dance teacher, really authentic friend andHUMAN(omg?!). In fact, if you knew me you would probably know that being famous is one of my biggest nightmares; seriously right up there with falling into a porta potty. I keep to myself most of the time and generally prefer when others mind their own business too.

Up to the point where these ads were published, Anchalee was doing her part for diversity in tech just by being an engineer It sounds like she likes her current job well enough and does it well. And though I don’t know her, I imagine she’d have been happy enough to continue working in the tech industry in the Bay Area. Quietly being an engineer.

I didn’t want or ask for any of this attention, but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech I consider that to be at least one win.

After she was inspired to write it due to the reaction to the ad she’s featured in (she’s one of a few of her colleagues photographed, showing off some of the team (I always wondered who people in ads are…and now I know in at least this one case), her challenge to show the diversity present in engineering has really taken off, and underscored the point that scientists and engineers do not look just one way (or even dress one way; the white lab coat is not all that typical in many fields of science, for instance). And just how the current culture fosters unconscious bias:

There is a significant lack of empathy and insight towards recognizing that their “playful/harmless” behavior is responsible for making others inappropriately uncomfortable. This industry’s culture fosters an unconscious lack of sensitivity towards those who do not fit a certain mold.

And what Isis Anchalee is doing with #ILookLikeAnEngineer parallels another story of a quiet person that did a lot to raise awareness of outright bias: Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was an introvert too. A quiet member of her community, serving as a quiet example, and one community members felt deeply connected to (there doesn’t seem to be any other way w/ us introverts). Until she kick-started the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. And suddenly, she was thrust into the spotlight.

Harassment and derogatory remarks/behaviors shouldn’t have to be tolerated by anyone. For whatever reason, Both Parks and Anchalee have stories that resonated beyond their immediate communities. And of course, both had others to help spread and broadcast a similar message, to demonstrate their agreement with them. In some ways, quietly standing in solidarity.

To take one example, women on the traditional academic path are making some progress, though in the upper ranks of academia (Associate & full professor), growth is minimal over the last decade. Visibility campaigns such as Anchalee’s aren’t new, but perhaps they haven’t taken hold or they are not fully sufficient to make real change happen.

A new publication in from the St. Louis Federal Reserve has found that educational attainment and financial stability of traditionally under-represented groups finding that though they can achieve middle class and beyond, it’s a tenuous state and those gains are easily lost, especially during economically challenging times, like recessions, that are hard for them to come back from (NYT story on this report).

And hard funding times may well be at play in the slowness of increasing diversity in STEM fields too. Biases are more entrenched perhaps, and change is slower to come, perhaps due to limited opportunities on the whole. This is one reason increased funding in STEM, if done wisely, could matter a lot.

Which brings us to the discussion questions for this week’s #DiversityJC

  1. Is there such a thing as Quiet advocacy for Diversity? Is just being in the industry and just passively observed, OK?
  2. Does showing STEM workers all look different help improve diversity? Or is it a neutral backdrop to other steps?
  3. What strategies work best for you when talking about diversity? Direct? Quiet?
  4. What situations/scenarios call for quieter activism vs. the louder-speak-up/protest activism?
  5. What are some things that can be done to ensure that education/STEM training lead to resilient & robust careers for underrepresented groups?

Join us this Monday, August 24 at 2pm ET for the discussion!

Ian Street

Emily S. Klein

Doctor_PMS

If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we had a discussion about the importance of addressing outdated comments and attitudes (like this and this). Both had such strong and negative responses – so did that mean we’ve moved on? That they might not really matter?

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Ian (@IHStreet) got us started..

Should we indeed be paying attention to the outdated comments like those of Tim Hunt and Ask Alice? Should we just ignore them, wish they would evolve, or wonder how they didn’t know better? Perhaps we should be able to filter out these wrong opinions, given that it is hard to change, and that they do have deep expertise in some areas (Nobel prize = expertise). But…

Indeed. It can be difficult to filter someone, especially if the comments are not all that blatant. Subtle comments like microaggressions can be hard enough to even identify on their own. When it’s someone you respect and admire, subtle comments can be even more difficult to distinguish and weed out. Moreover, it’s not our responsibility to be someone’s filter – for our own sake or for a larger community, no matter how much you and others respect them. We also discussed this initial idea of it being comments of an “older generation” and if we give them a pass as being from a “different time” (my words). Several took issue with this “older generation” stuff – which is totally correct. Age and generation can mean nothing in these cases, and age is relative. We shouldn’t use age as a blanket clause either, basically. The reason I raised this “older” stuff is because I personally have avoided conversations and used this excuse – I wondered if others had as well, and if there was something to the “well that’s an outdated opinion, it’s not very important, look at the backlash, clearly we’ve come far from there, from that time.

So perhaps it’s not just me who has used this as an excuse?

So maybe I wasn’t the only one. But it is still an excuse. It also brought up an important point:

 

In the end, we’d more or less agreed age really wasn’t the issue, and learning was a two-way street. We also agreed that, no matter your age, these comments and attitudes do need to be addressed.

Yet these teachable moments can be really challenging.

In addition, as Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) pointed out, change can be tough and painful – and may not be worth our ATP. It may actually be problematic for us, especially as early career scientists, let alone draining. Ian (@IHStreet) reminded us you can’t be sure who is willing to change or be open to the discussion at the onset. On the other hand, as Ruthie (@ruthiepbirger) pointed out, initiating the conversation can be a good litmus test for how ingrained the attitude is, and how open the person is to further dialogue. But back to the first hand, Benjamin Carr (@BenjaminHCCarr) said some people are actively resistant to change.

And, yeah, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) noted, people in leadership and power positions are often people of privilege. As others agreed, they are also the ones with the most control. Over us, over our careers…

I understand these challenges. I know it’s scary. I still think it’s critical. We have to say something. We can’t allow these comments to go unchallenged even when we don’t have twitter ready to back us up. Why? Because other people beyond you are listening. Because if they say it to you, they have said it to others. Because those others might be students, early career scientists, just getting their bearings. They may think statements like that are ok, or are hurt and demeaned by them. When we fail to speak up, we allow those statements to enforce especially unconscious biases and stereotypes of some, and allow others to have their self-worth undermined.

 

 

In addition, some listening don’t realize these comments, or their larger experiences, are due to bias and stereotypes and are not personal. Without someone speaking up or calling out, these can be internalized.

So how to go about addressing comments? Moreover, SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux) questioned whether correcting someone would really change their mind – which begs the question if you can engage them in further dialogue beyond just the correction. Will they be open to it? Are you be prepared? Perhaps a gentle nudge, as Ian (@IHStreet) suggested, or offering your perspective on the comment, as V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) recommended. Ian (@IHStreet) further noted it’s likely easier if they know you personally, and I agree. I’ve had the most luck with heart-to-heart conversations. In addition, or if you don’t have a personal relationship to draw on, ask people questions, try not to just tell , find out what they think is behind what they’ve said or done. And remember what you learned in elementary school: use “I” statements. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also made a great suggestion:

It can be frustrating, especially as we do end up being the ones careful of our words. As Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd) said, for some reason, people can respond really negatively to something as simple and true as “I’m offended by that“, and Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) reminded us about gaslighting and that we’ll like hear “you’re being too sensitive.” So be prepared. We also talked briefly about the need for a safe space to voice our thoughts – but how this isn’t always available. Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) and I agreed that we can actually make spaces safer – when we feel comfortable, we should more apt to speak up about diversity, or share our own (like me being out as bi, even though I present as straight) to make spaces safer for others. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also noted that they are often taken more seriously when talking about racism, whereas they feel less comfortable talking about sexism. This likely has to do with when you have the privilege in a situation, so take advantage of that. If you don’t feel like you can speak about a subject, like racism if you’re white, simply ask questions about it – what your institution is doing – and raise other voices up to speak. We can also spend a little more time being introspective, and thinking about advice and feedback we get and how we take it. About how the feedback you’d give to would feel (do unto others…). And we should encourage others to do the same…

We still need support in speaking out. We still need a community to back us. It will always be scary, and you never know the impact or backlash that may come of it – there’s a reason we haven’t made as much progress and we should: paradigms are entrenched (that’s why they’re paradigms), old biases die hard. You never know when someone will take offense. We should think carefully about how we address these issues.

I think perhaps a real key is bringing up diversity well before it is a personal issue. Find out if your institution has a diversity statement, and if not why not. Initiate discussions around diversity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Talk to leadership about opening up these dialogues, or even bringing in speakers or doing workshops. You certainly don’t need an incident to start this dialogue – look to the increasing body of literature on this as a problem (some here on this blog), or the many, many incidents in the news these days (oh where to start… #BlackLivesMatter, on campus sexual assault..).

Don’t want to start out negative? You don’t need to! There’s also more and more research about how diversity helps us all and why it is critical. You can start talking about diversity as a strength, in terms of so many things from problem solving to attracting new talent. Start there!

No matter your tactic, start before an incident – even if leadership is iffy, I promise you, there is someone, likely many someones, quietly thanking you for your forward thinking. And just imagine the next generation.

Additional links shared by the group included

From Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti): Six Tings You Can Do When People Say Stupid Sexist Shit To You

From Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr): Stories of sexism in science: ‘sorry about all the women in this laboratory’

Thank you to everyone who participated (as usual in no particular order, and please let us know if someone was missed)!

Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger)
SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux)
Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr)
V. Siva (@DrVidSiva
Wandering Scientist (@wandsci)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd)
Cassie (@mosquito_chaser)
Dr. Q (@DrQualls)
Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Until next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)

Social Justice Beyond Safe Borders

Diversity Journal Club!

Thank you to those that were able to join us on Monday 6 April for our discussion of Social Justice Beyond Safe Borders. For me, a really interesting conversation. We had posed this topic in a pretty abstract and open-ended way, mainly because that’s as far as we could get and we wanted to hear from the larger #DiversityJC community.


Although the initial questions were about doing diversity work, doing science, and teaching way beyond your comfort zone, our conversation really demonstrated that what is “safe” really depends, and that it’s a challenge to do this work in realms much closer to home. While these closer boundaries are far less dangerous to our personal safety, they are no less real in terms of keeping people from doing social justice work. For me, this raises the question of how we begin to open up those boundaries and move beyond personal safety nets and comfort zones to make change that we do want to see, but find challenging to get started? We may be well aware of diversity issues in STEM, we may want to help, but we may feel ill-equipped in terms of skills, unsure of our place and how to begin.

Another clear message from the conversation, which may help some of us take that first step, is realizing how much the burden to do this then falls on the minority groups themselves. Part of privilege is being able to ignore biases and abuses because they don’t affect you. Others cannot do this – the consequences are felt directly – and this also means they feel far more responsibility for being active in these concerns. Guilt over not doing something is far more acute. In addition, they are simply expected to sit on committees, to mentor, to help with new hires and searches. They are expected to be the token minority person doing this work. All of this means the burden of making change falls far more squarely on the minority group itself, for both internal and external reasons. And they have no less responsibilities to work and research and grant writing and publishing and friends and family than the rest of us, no more time in a 24-hour day.

To me, understanding this somewhat hidden cost of social justice work is even more impetus to do something. As a human being, I have this responsibility – and it is not lessened because I have white skin. In fact, as someone with substantial privilege, my responsibility are all the more pressing. To get out of my comfort zone, beyond my safety net – to deconstruct this privilege that I can use to keep me isolated from the realities of inequality. It is my responsibility to not let that privilege also allow me to avoid this work, to shift the burden to someone without my privilege who can’t ignore it as I can.


This is challenging, for those of us with privilege who aren’t sure how to begin. Stepping from comfort and safety is difficult and scary. It doesn’t have to be. A few baby steps:

  1. Talk to someone who might have insight: Ask your friends, your families. If you don’t see someone in your immediate circle, campuses are literally the place to go for this. There are faculty who study these things, activist groups and centers who are trying to make change, with or without your help. Seek them out, talk to them, ask what you can do.
  2. Read: There is a ton of excellent literature and research out there – and even more great work in the blogosphere, and while I don’t always suggest the Interwebs as the place to go for education, I have to say it did a great job of educating me.
  3. Learn to listen & amplify: Basically, learn to shut up. Being a good ally is usually not about telling people what you think. Learn to let others share their experience, their views, and what should be done. If they say there’s a problem, don’t assume that because you haven’t experienced it it doesn’t exist. When you’ve listened, don’t then take those words as your own. Amplify that voice, that message by getting it out there.
  4. Be ok with being wrong: It’s ok to screw up, to say the wrong thing. It’s better to say something and be educated. if you say something that angers people, be ok with their anger. It’s likely not at you personally as a bad person. Make clear you want to understand what is wrong and how to correct it.

 


For our complete conversation, check out the good Doctor’s storify of our discussion! Apologies for the rather short recap this week, it’s been busy! We hope you will join us for the next Diversity Journal Club on Monday 20 April at 2pm ET! Watch this space for our next article on mental health in academia!

 

Emily K.