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)

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Being a better ally: March discussion recap.

If we agree that diversity matters in science, then it’s also important we talk about how to get there. A critical part of that is learning how to be an ally for underrepresented groups – and this was the topic of our March DiversityJC.

What does being an ally really mean? I think a good ally:

  1. Recognizes their own privilege* and takes responsibility for it.
  2. Calls out behavior and issues, speaks up – but never over.
  3. Knows how to listen.
  4. Sees it as a personal responsibility to educate themselves on the issues around the underrepresented group they hope to work with.
  5. Is ok with being wrong, can apologize when that happens, and then move forward.
  6. Knows ‘ally’ is a verb.

In addition, Judy Booth (@BotanoCan) noted a simple way we can act as allies..

…and Ian Street (@IHStreet) reminded us that allies don’t take on that title themselves. It is not a self-proclaimed identity. We can aspire to be allies, we can want to operate in solidarity with, but we don’t get to call ourselves an ally. More on what it means to be an ally available here, here, here, here, and all the resources here.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)  also got to the more nuanced difficulty in identifying situations where we need to call out behavior or language. This can be challenging, as our privilege means those situations don’t affect us and therefore aren’t always visible to us. While it isn’t our ‘fault’ we are less aware, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues and learn to see those situations – either by reading, connecting with others on social media, or talking about them with people in those groups. That is, actually, how having a black friend can make you less racist.

However, it can also be challenging to navigate this if speaking up is difficult for us all by itself, if we’re more introverted. It’s also tough if we’re more junior scientists. Calling out a culture or a senior scientist can have real ramifications. For that reason, we need allies at all institutional levels, who are educated and willing to speak up. In addition, we can think of other ways to act as allies:

Ian also had another idea:

But others disagreed.

Moreover, if we choose to leave a field because it’s not diverse, it’s just as likely another white het/cis person make will take our place – potentially one less educated and ready to enact change. Plus, I really feel the issue is in changing the societal structures within our fields, and the responsibility should be with institutions to 1) recruit deeper applicant pools, and 2) retain and support more diverse employees. If we simply vacate the field, this doesn’t ensure that happens, and it seems (to me) to absolve those institutions of those responsibilities.

What we can do is choose to take our skills and experience to those institutions committed to making change –

 

Finally, it is really vital we know being an ally isn’t going to be warm fuzzies all the time. To be an ally, you also need to understand that you’ll be uncomfortable at times, you will make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Also, people are going to be angry when you move into these spaces – and they often have a right to be. As we know, bias and discrimination can impact not only our personal lives, but also so much of our careers as well, from letters of recommendation to our representation in the field, even in student evaluations. Being aware of the discrimination you face every day, and that it has nothing to do with you skills and talent and everything to do with things you can’t change, is really really frustrating. People get angry.

Another of the most difficult things is that acting in solidarity with does not means there may be LGBTQ+ or POC or women-only spaces that are less welcoming to you, even when you’re an excellent ally. We must understand that, until we are actually in the post-racial, post-patriarchal, post-homophobia, post-etc society, those spaces need to exist, and not  take it personally when we are, for once, excluded.

As an example of how this shouldn’t happen, in the year before I arrived, some female grad students at Princeton decided to have a women in science sleepover, women only. The male grad students were very hurt they weren’t invited, and responded with anger. As a result, at almost every meeting on women in science I attended at Princeton, someone always asked “what about the men?

The reason these spaces are tough is because as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual people, we have been allowed in and felt safe in every space we want to access. When we are first excluded, it can feel hurtful or insulting. We need to learn it is neither, and that other groups feel that way regularly – it’s a white, male, cis/het world, people.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the ally discussion or followed along! Feel free to add thoughts in the comments!

 

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

 

* Important! Privilege means you won’t experience something (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, etc, and how they translate into our daily lives) usually because of something you have no control over – your skin, gender, sexual orientation – but also things you do but should be your choice – your religion or wealth. It does not mean you’ve had it easy, or haven’t experienced discrimination in another way.

 

 

March Topic: Let’s talk being an ally.

Sometimes it’s important to get back to basics.

Talking about diversity in STEM is critical, but it also involves educating yourself – especially if we want that discussion to turn into action. For that reason, our first topic of 2016 was diversity itself (my take two here).

If we want discussion on diversity to make change, in addition to understanding what we mean when we talk about diversity, and that it can be problematic, we also need to understand what it means to be an ally. Because, the thing is, simply saying we want to increase diversity, in all its forms, is not a good enough answer.

 

Anne Bishop defines allies as:

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on.

Nadirah Adeye offers another view:

I, personally, think of allies as people who do the work to examine and question their own privilege. To understand who they are internally, but also how their external appearance or membership in certain groups impacts their societal powers. Being an ally means willing to be uncomfortable, being willing to be wrong (and, unfortunately, doing that ish frequently) and trying again, over and over. It’s not so much about being right as it is about being unwilling to allow wrongs to persist unchallenged.

Again, we aren’t going to talk about studies or journal articles for this Diversity Journal Club twitter chat, but we do want  to explore what ‘ally’ means – are we allies if we talk about diversity? If that’s not enough, do we want to be allies? If so, for whom? And how do we go about that?

A serious mistake is assuming we know how to do this work. Wanting diversity and talking about it aren’t enough – are we non or anti? – but we don’t wake up knowing how to make change. We have to learn that.

To get us thinking, please read up on some of the advice for allies out there in the interwebs. Check the video and links below. Find some resources on your own that speak to you. Have a thought about Ian’s post and his ideas about what he can do. Do we leave STEM if we’re over-represented? Are our abilities to cause change limited? In speaking up, do we silence others, so is it better to stay quiet? How do we know when to speak out, when to listen, and how do we amplify?

 

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

How To Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter To White Folks

6 ways allies still marginalize people of color — and what to do instead

8 Steps to Being a Good Ally [for the LGBTQ community]

Anne Bishop’s website, Becoming an Ally

And Nadirah Adeye’s excellent post Being an Ally versus Being a Nice Person

 

We hope you will join us Friday 18 March at 2pm ET on twitter under #DiversityJC!

Emily
Doctor PMS
Ian Street

PS: The DiversityJC now has a newsletter that you can subscribe to. It will come out once a month and include the post introducing that month’s discussion topic, other blog posts we write as well as other diversity relevant links from around the web. Link to subscribe is here.

#DiversityJC discussions on Twitter happen the 3rd week of each month on Fridays from 2-3pm ET.