Tag Archives: STEM

Women and Girls at the Intersection of Innovation and Opportunity webcast May 21, 2014

The webcast, Women and Girls at the Intersection of Innovation and Opportunity, takies place at 2 pm EDT (11 am PDT). I find the information about access to the webcast confusing in this EIC network May 21, 2014 announcement,

Live Webcast on EICnetwork.tv’s Science Engineering & Technology Channel from TV  [emphasis mine]
Worldwide Studios Near Washington D.C.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 2 PM ET

The Manufacturing Institute and EICnetwork.tv are kicking off the summer with a special webcast focusing on Women and Girls in STEM + the Arts. The webcast will be hosted on Wednesday, May 21st, live from the EICnetwork.tv studio in Chantilly, VA at 2pm ET, with a studio audience of students from the greater DC/VA area. It will be made available for later viewing immediately following the live event. [emphasis mine]

Featured panelists include Harris IT Services Director of Human Resources, Patricia Munchel; Harris IT Services Line of Business Lead & Program Manager for Health and Human Services/Clinical Research Support, Elena Byrley; Director of Communications at The Manufacturing Institute (a division of the National Association of Manufacturing), AJ Jorgenson; Brittney Exline, the youngest African-American female computer engineer in the US, and female leadership from Lockheed Martin’s space division.

This is an incredible opportunity to support excellent Internet TV program content reaching a wide audience of students, educators, policy leaders, academia, news media, mentors, entertainment writers, and executives who support initiatives in STEM + the Arts.

Perhaps the writer meant that if you don’t catch the live webcast, you can view it later?

I have found out more about EIC (Entertainment Industries Council) and its various projects, from the About page (Note: Links have been removed),

The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. (EIC) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 by leaders in the entertainment industry to provide information, awareness and understanding of major health and social issues among the entertainment industries and to audiences at large.

EIC represents the entertainment industry’s best examples of accurately depicting health and social issues onscreen in feature films, TV and music videos, in music and within the pages of comic books. A look at our Board of Directors and Trustees will reveal the entertainment industry’s commitment to incorporating science-based information into storylines to make them as believable–and beneficial to the viewer–as possible, and to heighten entertainment value.

EIC not only represents the best creative works that come out of Hollywood, New York and beyond; we take an active role in helping entertainment creators maximize the realistic attributes of health and social issues in their productions. EIC provides educational services and resources, including First Draft™ briefings and consultations, publications that spotlight specific health issues, Generation Next™ film school briefings and fellowships, and much, much more.

EIC also produces the PRISM Awards™, EDGE Awards™ and other recognition programs that serve to recognize and reinforce our industry’s hard work and great accomplishments in depicting health and social issues realistically, but also in an entertaining way. It is our belief that the majority of Americans–and people all over the world–are most receptive to information when it is provided in an easily digestible way. with today’s health and social issues, substance abuse and addiction, gun violence, mental illness, depression, suicide, bipolar disorder and HIV/AIDS, constantly rising cancer rates and so many more, making a difference through entertainment is a powerful tool to reach millions of people. EIC is the link between the science and the entertainment, and enables communication between scientists and the creative community, and facilitates communication from them to the public.

EIC educates, serves as a resource to, and recognizes the incredible writers, directors, producers, performers and others who are committed to making a difference through their art.

I also looked at the Board of Directors list and found a familiar sounding name, Michele Lee (from her EIC Board of Directors biography page),

A founding Board Director of the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., this thriving star of Broadway, film and television has diversified since completing her nine year stint as Karen McKenzie on Knot”s Landing. Now an accomplished filmmaker, she was the first woman to ever write, produce, direct and star in a movie for television. A 1998 recipient of the Larry Stewart Leadership and Inspiration Award, she has long served as the “voice of EIC” – a passion which continues in her role on the PRISM Awards Honorary Committee.

Congratulations Ms. Lee on reinventing yourself.

About GoldiBlox, the Beastie Boys, girls in science, and intellectual property

This story about GoldiBlox, was supposed to be a ‘feel good’ piece about the company, girls,  and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)—but that was last week. At this point (Nov. 26, 2013), we can add a squabble over intellectual property (copyright) to the mix.

GoldiBlox, a company that makes engineering toys for girls (previously mentioned in my Dec. 6, 2012 posting) has produced an advertisement that has been attracting a lot of interest on the internet including this Nov. 19, 2013 story by Katy Waldman for Slate (Note: Links have been removed),

This is a stupendously awesome commercial from a toy company called GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. (For a long look at the Gordian knot that is women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields,  … . Sterling wants to light girls’ inventive spark early, supplementing the usual diet of glittery princess products with construction toys “from a female perspective.”

We love this video because it subverts a bunch of dumb gender stereotypes—all to the strains of a repurposed Beastie Boys song. [emphasis mine] In it, a trio of smart girls could not be less impressed by the flouncing beauty queens in the commercial they’re watching. So they use a motley collection of toys and household items (including a magenta feather boa and a pink plastic tea set) to assemble a huge Rube Goldberg machine. …

Here’s the video (no longer available with Beastie Boys parody song as of Nov. 27, 2013; I have placed the latest version at the end of this posting),,

You can find GoldieBlox here.

Things have turned a little since Waldman’s rapturous story. The Beastie Boys do not want their music to be used in advertisements, of any kind. From Christina Chaey’s Nov. 25, 2013 article for Fast Company,

Beastie Boys members Mike D and Ad-Rock, who survive the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, have issued the following open letter addressed to GoldieBlox:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

Chaey’s article goes on to document responses from other musicians about this incident and notes that GoldiBlox has not commented.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnic, also has a Nov. 25, 2013 article on the topic where he notes that neither party has filed suit  (at least, not yet),

Now, it is true that some in the press have mistakenly stated that the Beastie Boys sued GoldieBlox, and that’s clearly not the case. GoldieBlox filed for declaratory judgment, which is a fairly standard move after someone claims that you violated their rights. It’s not a lawsuit seeking money — just to declare that the use is fair use. While the Beastie Boys say they made no threat or demand, the lawsuit notes that their letter (which still has not been revealed in full) made a direct claim that the video was copyright infringement, and also that this was a “big problem” that has a “very significant impact.”

As Masnick goes on to mention (Note: A link has been removed),

.. in fact, that in Adam Yauch’s  [deceased band member] will, it explicitly stated that none of their music was ever to be used in advertising. And, from the Beastie Boys’ open letter, it appears that was their main concern.

But, here’s the thing: as principled as Yauch was about this, and as admirable as it may be for him and the band to not want their music appearing in advertisements that does not matter under the law. If the use is considered fair use, then it can be used. Period. There is no clause in fair use law that says “except if someone’s will says otherwise.” The very point of fair use is that you don’t need permission and you don’t need a license.

Sometimes (often) the resolution to these disagreements has more to do with whomever can best afford legal costs and less to do with points of law, even if they are in your favour. From Masnick’s article,

I’ve spoken to a bunch of copyright lawyers about this, and almost all of them agree that this is likely fair use (with some arguing that it’s a totally clear-cut case). Some have argued that because it’s an advertisement for a company that precludes any possibility of fair use, but that’s absolutely not true. Plenty of commercial efforts have been considered fair use, and, in fact, many of the folks who rely the most on fair use are large media companies who are using things in a commercial context.

It’s nice when the good guys are clearly distinguishable from the bad guys but it appears this may not entirely be the case with GoldiBlox, which apparently believes it can grant licences to link to their website, as per Mike Masnick’s Nov. 26, 2013 Techdirt posting on the topic (Note: Links have been removed),

… as noted in Jeff Roberts’ coverage of the case over at Gigaom, it appears that Goldieblox might want to take a closer look at their own terms of service, which makes some absolutely ridiculous and laughable claims about how you can’t link to their website …

… Because just as you don’t need a license to create a parody song, you don’t need a license to link to someone’s website.

I do hope things work out with regard to the parody song and as for licencing links to their website, that’s just silly.  One final note, Canadians do not have ‘fair use’ provisions under the law, we have ‘fair dealing’ and that is a little different. From the Wikipedia essay on Fair Dealing (Note: Links have been removed),

Fair dealing is a statutory exception to copyright infringement. It is a defence, with the burden of proof upon the defendant.

Should I ever learn of the outcome of this GoldiBlox/Beastie Boys conflict I will provide an update.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013: GoldiBlox has changed the soundtrack for their video as per the Nov. 27, 2013 article by Kit Eaton for Fast Company,

The company explains it has replaced the video and is ready to quash its lawsuit “as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from [the band’s] legal team.”

Eaton has more quotes from the letter written by the GoldiBlox team in his article. For the curious, I have the latest version of the commercial here,

I don’t think the new music is as effective but if I remember the video properly, they’ve made some changes and I like those.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013 (2): I can’t believe I’m adding material to this posting for the second time today. Ah well. Katy Waldman over at Slate has weighed in for the second time with a Nov. 27, 2013 article discussing the Beastie Boys situation briefly while focussing primarily on whether or not the company actually does produce toys that encourage girls in their engineering and science efforts. It seems the consensus, such as it is, would be: not really. Not having played with the toys myself, I have no worthwhile opinion to offer on the topic but you might want to check Waldman’s article to see what more informed folks have to say.

Mary Elizabetth Williams in her Nov. 27, 2013 article for Salon.com seems more supportive of the Beastie Boys’ position than the Mike Masnick at Techdirt. She’s also quite critical of GoldieBlox’s open letter mentioned in today’s first ETA. I agree with many of her criticisms.

Hopefully, this will be it for this story.

Alberta’s (Canada) science education gets shout-out from UK’s (United Kingdom) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss

On July 11, 2013 Elizabeth Truss, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education (H/T Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind), spoke at an International Student Science Fair and cited Alberta’s science education and high performance, along with Singapore’s, in her speech,

So at primary, we want children to get a really solid foundation in the basics of scientific knowledge and language, backed up by more and higher quality practical work and experiments – building on the approaches to science education in high-performing jurisdictions like Singapore and Alberta.

Obviously, Truss is making a case for science and technology education as preparation for the future in a speech that amongst other things emphasizes “non-artificial intelligence,”

As the future comes hurtling towards us, the most important resource any country can boast is not physical, nor technological – but human.

Every leap forward, every flash of insight, relies not on infrastructure, capital or regulatory regimes – important as they are.

But on people. On their brains, their knowledge and their determination to succeed.

On the schoolchildren and students of today – the innovators of tomorrow.

We don’t know yet precisely what skills will be needed in the future.

But as technology transforms the working world – and jobs polarise between the low-skilled and the very high-skilled, highly-educated – we know that the value of high-level skills is growing.

The 21st century will need people who are equally comfortable manipulating numbers, words and lines of computer code; who have the skills and the knowledge to understand both foreign languages and mathematical equations. Rounded individuals who can analyse and think logically, who have mastered both arts and sciences.

Never mind Bitcoin, education is the currency of the future.

International evidence has proved that countries with successful education systems grow more quickly.

Given Truss is speaking at an International Student(s) Science Fair (this is the only site [ ISSF 2012] that seemed to fit the description), it does seem like she’s speaking to the ‘converted’. Students at an international science fair have shown a fair degree of interest and commitment and this speech while inspiring doesn’t address one of the major problems described in a rather interesting UK research project on children’s science attitudes. From my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

In that 2012 posting, I also featured a US project where researchers developed an intervention for stimulating more adolescent interest in science and technology studies by focusing on the adolescent students’ parents.

Both the UK’s ASPIRES project and the US project suggest getting children to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has more to do with family and social culture than is often recognized.

Adding a somewhat ironic wrinkle to this discussion is a finding from a study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy program that 20% of all jobs in the US—not 4%-5% of jobs as claimed by the US National Science Foundation—could be described as STEM jobs. From the June 10, 2013 article for Fast Company by Ariel Schwartz,

…, STEM jobs aren’t limited to workers with advanced degrees–50% don’t even require a bachelor’s degree. Many of the more blue-collar STEM jobs are in fields like construction, plant and system operation, and repair (telecommunications equipment, aircraft, computer, office machine, etc.).

The irony is that family members who think that science careers are for other ‘smart and exceptional’ people may themselves have a STEM-based job/career. You can find the Brookings Institute report here. It should be noted this report The Hidden STEM Economy) has a unique definition of STEM, from the Schwartz article,

The Institute explains in a press release: “Previous studies classified workers as STEM only if they worked in a small number of professional occupations, but the Brookings definition classifies occupations according to the level of knowledge in STEM fields that workers need to perform their jobs. As a result, many nonprofessional jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, and mining industries could be considered STEM jobs.”

Take for example, car mechanics. Today’s mechanics need to know about computers and fairly complex electronics, such as lithium-ion batteries, in addition to standard mechanics. (BTW, In the late 1980s, I had a coop student job at a school board where even then they trying to integrate electronics and information technology into their trades education programmes.)

If you have the time, I do recommend reading Truss’s speech (by following either the link to Nassif’s website or the direct link to the speech) and/or Schwartz’s article.

Hurry! STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) story competition for Public Radio Exchange

The deadline is Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm EDT (or 8:59 pm PDT). Now that’s out of the way, here are some of the competition details:

PRX [Public Radio Exchange] is looking for proposals to create short-form audio works about compelling stories, controversies, explanations, people, events, and insights about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  We have a total pool of $40,000 made possible by a grant from the Sloan Foundation.

Here’s what they are looking for:

  • Highly creative, original works (we love Radiolab, SciFri, 99% Invisible, etc., but we want to hear YOUR style… don’t try to sound like them!).
  • Story-driven but not necessarily narrative pieces. We want solid science reporting, but not presented in a standard newsy style. If you can make something that keeps a listener enthralled, that’s what we want.
  • Proposals that address under-covered topics.  We are looking at all STEM topics, but we’re especially interested in creative approaches to engineering and math, which don’t get enough radio attention.
  • We will consider works that are already commissioned by another local or national program, but prefer original works. A commissioned work must be at pre-production stage, and must include PRX and Sloan Foundation credits in the body of the program, for all broadcast and digital versions.  The final broadcast version of the piece or segment must be posted to PRX and open to all licensing and opt-in usage by stations and other purchasers.
  • We prefer to work with one point of contact: a single producer OR a single lead producer of a small team. That producer must have final and complete say over story production, edits and the final product and is responsible for delivery of the agreed segment on time and on budget. The audio sample(s) submitted for this application must be by the lead or sole producer.
  • The preferred production length is between 4 and 7 minutes. We will accept limited series as long as the segments are able to stand alone.

While the entries must be English language, anyone from anywhere in the world can submit a proposal. Producers also need need to have or set up an account with PRX. More specifically,

  • PRX will be the exclusive broadcast distributor of the content for two years (or 24 months) after the work is posted to PRX and will retain a nonexclusive perpetual license for digital distribution.  The producer owns the work and can post it on his/her own website, SoundCloud, and other open streaming sites with the proper crediting.  Exclusive means that PRX will be involved in all discussions with broadcast outlets and have final say on all broadcast placement of the piece.
  • All final productions must be in English for U.S. audiences and conform to U.S. professional broadcast standards (technical, legal, and appropriate language).
  • Producers do not need to be a PRX account holders to apply.  However, producers of the selected and funded productions must set up PRX accounts.
  • If selected and funded, producers must upload their completed work to PRX.org to be made available to broadcast stations no later than July 15, 2013.
  • The selected and funded productions must comply with the PRX Terms of Use.
  • There is no implication or agreement to hire, contract, or otherwise engage with the producers outside this competitive process.
  • Producers must include required funding credits (to be provided by PRX) within the body of longer works or as adjacent credits with shorter material.  Credits must also be included on any digital platform.
  • All support funds will be paid in U.S. dollars.
  • The producer is responsible for all rights clearances for any content included in the work.
  • Producers can submit more than one proposal.  Please submit a separate application for each proposed project.
  • Producers outside the U.S. are welcome to apply.  International story proposals are also welcome.

Here’s a partial list of what you need for your submission:

  • A title for your proposed project.
  • A short bio.  If you also have past experience with STEM topics, let us know!  It is NOT required, however.
  • Two links to examples of your previous work with audio (or mp3 files if you do not have links).  You do not need to create files that are specific to your proposal.
  • Contact info for three references (not reference letters).
  • Production budget and breakdown.
  • Summary of the editorial and fact-checking plans; in particular for the STEM information at the core of the work.
  • A Word doc, PDF, or txt file of your project description in 250 words or less.
  • Your Twitter handle and a Twitter-length summary of your proposal (140 characters or less). PRX may choose to share these summaries publicly during the application process (you may opt out).
  • ….

Go here to apply.

For anyone who’s curious about PRX, here’s some information from their home page,

Public Radio Exchange is an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.

Good luck!

When twice as much (algebra) is good for you

“We find positive and substantial longer-run impacts of double-dose algebra on college entrance exam scores, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates, suggesting that the policy had significant benefits that were not easily observable in the first couple of years of its existence,” wrote the article’s authors.

The Mar. 21, 2013 news release on EurekAlert which includes the preceding quote recounts an extraordinary story about an approach to teaching algebra that was not enthusiastically adopted at first but first some reason administrators and teachers persisted with it. Chelsey Leu’s Mar. 21, 2013 article (which originated the news release) for UChicago (University of Chicago) News (Note: Links have been removed),

Martin Gartzman sat in his dentist’s waiting room last fall when he read a study in Education Next that nearly brought him to tears.

A decade ago, in his former position as chief math and science officer for Chicago Public Schools [CPS], Gartzman spearheaded an attempt to decrease ninth-grade algebra failure rates, an issue he calls “an incredibly vexing problem.” His idea was to provide extra time for struggling students by having them take two consecutive periods of algebra.

In high schools, ninth-grade algebra is typically the class with the highest failure rate. This presents a barrier to graduation, because high schools usually require three to four years of math to graduate.

Students have about a 20 percent chance of passing the next math level if they don’t first pass algebra, Gartzman said, versus 80 percent for those who do pass. The data are clear: If students fail ninth-grade algebra, the likelihood of passing later years of math, and ultimately of graduating, is slim

Gartzman’s work to decrease algebra failure rates at CPS was motivated by a study of Melissa Roderick, the Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor at UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration. The study emphasized the importance of keeping students academically on track in their freshman year to increase the graduation rate.

Some administrators and teachers resisted the new policy. Teachers called these sessions “double-period hell” because they gathered, in one class, the most unmotivated students who had the biggest problems with math.

Principals and counselors sometimes saw the double periods as punishment for the students, depriving them of courses they may have enjoyed taking and replacing them with courses they disliked.

It seemed to Gartzman that double-period students were learning more math, though he had no supporting data. He gauged students’ progress by class grades, not by standardized tests. The CPS educators had no way of fully assessing their double-period idea. All they knew was that failure rates didn’t budge.

Unfortunately, Leu does not explain why the administrators and teachers continued with the program but it’s a good thing they did (Note: Links have been removed),

“Double-dosing had an immediate impact on student performance in algebra, increasing the proportion of students earning at least a B by 9.4 percentage points, or more than 65 percent,” noted the Education Next article. Although ninth-grade algebra passing rates remained mostly unaffected, “The mean GPA across all math courses taken after freshman year increased by 0.14 grade points on a 4.0 scale.”

They also found significantly increased graduation rates. The researchers concluded on an encouraging note: “Although the intervention was not particularly effective for the average affected student, the fact that it improved high school graduation and college enrollment rates for even a subset of low-performing and at-risk students is extraordinarily promising when targeted at the appropriate students.” [emphasis mine]

Gartzman recalled that reading the article “was mind-blowing for me. I had no idea that the researchers were continuing to study these kids.”

The study had followed a set of students from eighth grade through graduation, while Gartzman’s team could only follow them for a year after the program began. The improvements appeared five years after launching double-dose algebra, hiding them from the CPS team, which had focused on short-term student performance. [emphasis mine]

Gartzman stressed the importance of education policy research. “Nomi and Allensworth did some really sophisticated modeling that only researchers could do, that school districts really can’t do. It validates school districts all over the country who had been investing in double-period strategies.”

I’m not sure I understand the numbers very well (maybe I need a double-dose of numbers). The 9.4% increase for students earning a B sounds good but a mean increase of 0.14 in grade points doesn’t sound as impressive. As for the bit about the program being “not particularly effective for the average affected student,” what kind of student is helped by this program? As for the improvements being seen five years after the program launch. does this mean that students in the program showed improvement five years later (in first year university) or that researchers weren’t able to effectively measure any impact in the grade nine classroom until five years after the program began?

Regardless, it seems there is an improvement and having suffered through my share algebra classes, I applaud the educators for finding a way to help some students, if not all.

Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2)

The material in the executive summary for Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, which was released on Nov. 21, 2012 by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is developed throughout the report. (Part 1 of my commentary is here.)

The passage about the economic importance of diversity supported by a quote from University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera hearkens back to the executive summary,

From an economic perspective, the underrepresentation of female researchers in academia raises many potential problems, not least the effects of a labour pool that operates at considerably less than full capacity. University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera noted:

“I think our society isn’t balanced if we don’t have the contribution of both genders, in addition to people of different ethnic origins and different racial backgrounds. We all know that diversity is a strength. That’s what you see in nature. So why would we rob ourselves of ensuring that we have it?” (in Smith, 2011).

U.S. researchers Hong and Page (2004) found that diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups, even when the homogeneous groups are composed of the most talented problem solvers. They attribute this to the notion that individuals in homogeneous groups often think in similar ways, whereas diverse groups approach problems from multiple perspectives (Hong & Page, 2004). Considering that varied groups are “invariably more creative, innovative and productive” than homogeneous groups, the argument for encouraging women to be active in decision-making groups is similar to that for minority populations in general (Calnan & Valiquette, 2010). Similarly, the European Commission’s Expert Group on Structural Change (2011) analyzed a number of studies indicating that group creativity is fed by gender balance,25 and collective intelligence is positively correlated with the proportion of women in a group.26 As the McKinsey (2008) Report Women Matter 2 pointed out, since half of the talent pool is made up of women, it makes economic and social sense to bring the best minds of both sexes together to address the challenges that face society. (p. 60/1 PDF; p. 30/1 print)

One  of the more interesting aspects of this report is how the panel broke down the categories,

For the Panel’s analyses, fields of study were organized into three large categories: humanities, social sciences, and education (HSE); life sciences (LS); and physical sciences, computer science, mathematics and engineering (PCEM).31 The HSE, PCEM and LS categories are somewhat different from the categories commonly used in other reports, such as the well-known science, technology, engineering and mathematics classification (STEM);32 however, the Panel decided that the former classification was best suited to the Canadian context. For example, HSE, LS, and PCEM reflect the priorities of the three major Canadian granting agencies (SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC). Considering the Tri-Council’s high level of involvement in funding available to researchers, it is logical to use a uniquely Canadian framework to define disciplines at the aggregate level. (pp. 68/9 PDF; pp. 38/9 print)

This categorization is not one I’ve seen before and I find it quite intriguing and compelling. Already noted in part 1 of my commentary is that the arts have no place in this report even though they are mentioned as an area of excellence in the State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report released by the CCA in Sept. 2012.

The section following the description of the research categories is filled with data about salaries over time and across various fields of interest. Briefly, women have not done as well as men historically. While the gaps have narrowed in some ways, there is still a disparity today. There’s also a discussion about the difficulty of comparing numbers over time.

Given that women entered the academic sphere in serious numbers during the 1960s and each successive wave has dealt with different social imperatives, e.g. the drive to encourage women to study the science and mathematics in particular doesn’t gain momentum until decades after the 1960s. When a career timeframe (someone who entered an undergraduate programme in 2000 may have just finished their PhD in 2011 and, if lucky, would have started their career in the last 1.5 years) is added to this data, it becomes clear that we won’t understand the impact of higher enrollment and higher numbers of graduates for some years to come. From report,

The Panel recognizes that time is needed to see whether the higher numbers of women in the student population will translate into correspondingly higher numbers in tenure track or tenured positions. However, the Panel also questioned whether those changes would occur as quickly as one could expect considering the growth of female students among the general student population. Published by CAUT (2011), new appointment data on full-time university teachers38 from Statistics Canada and UCASS indicate that of the 2,361 new appointments in 2008–2009, 57.7 per cent were men, and 42.3 per cent were women. While this represents an increase from 2001–2002, when 62.7 per cent of the 2,634 new appointees were men and 37.3 per cent were women (CAUT, 2005), parity in new hires has not yet been achieved.39 (pp. 80/1 PDF; pp. 50/1 print)

Canada is not alone,

The higher one looks in university ranks, the fewer women are present in comparison to men. This trend is not unique to Canada. In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that found in other economically advanced nations including the U.S., and to the average profile seen in European Union (EU) countries. For example, in both Canada and the EU, women held slightly over 40 per cent of grade C45 research positions [approximately assistant professor level] and about 18 per cent of grade A46 positions [the highest research level] (Figure 3.8) in 2007 (Cacace, 2009).47 This global similarity reinforces the systemic nature of the under representation of women in academia. (p. 85 PDF; p. 55 print) Note:  The descriptions of grade C and grade A were taken from the footnotes.)

The difference is most striking when comparing C grade (assistant professor) to A grade (full professor) positions and their gendering,

The percentage of women at the Grade B level is generally lower than at the Grade C level, with the exception of Sweden (47 per cent) (please see also Figures A2.3 and A2.4 in Appendix 2). Finland also boasts a comparatively higher percentage of women at this rank, at 49 per cent. However, the greatest difference in women’s representation is noticeable between the ranks of associate professor and full professor. Again, there is some variation across countries (e.g., Finland at 23 per cent; Canada at 18 per cent; Germany at 12 per cent), which indicates that some nations have farther to go to achieve gender parity in research than others. In general though, the relatively low proportion of women at the full professor level suggests that the glass ceiling remains intact in Canada as well as in several comparator countries. (p. 87 PDF; p. 57 print) [emphasis mine]

In an earlier section of the report, there was discussion of  the impact that maternity, which forces an interruption, has on a career.  There was also discussion of the impact that stereotypes have,

The effects of stereotypes are cumulative. The desire for peer acceptance plus the influence of stereotypes make it difficult for anyone to escape powerful “cultural messages” (Etzkowitz et al., 2000). This is one of the reasons why gendered trends emerge in girls’ and boys’ choices and, combined with the lack of policy change, a reason why it is still difficult for women to advance in some university departments. Later on in the life course, these messages can make it harder for women’s professional experience to be valued in academia, as evidenced by findings that demonstrate that curricula vitae are evaluated differently based on whether the applicant’s name is male or female (Steinpreis et al., 1999), or that blind auditions increase the chances that women musicians will be hired in orchestras … (p. 95 PDF; p. 65 print)

What I find fascinating about stereotypes is that since we are all exposed to them, we are all inclined to discriminate along those stereotypical lines.  For example, I wrote about some research into wages for graduate students in a Sept. 24, 2012 posting where I pointed out that a female graduate student was better off seeking employment with a male professor, despite the fact that she would still be offered less money than her male counterpart,

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

The researchers did not mention this aspect of the disparity in their news release nor (to my knowledge) was it mentioned in any of the subsequent coverage, other than on my blog.

Nowhere in this CCA report is there any hint that women discriminate against women. One is left with the impression, intentional or not, that discrimination against women will disappear once there are more women at higher levels in the worlds of academe and science. Given the one piece of research I’ve cited and much anecdotal evidence, I think that assumption should be tested.

Leaving aside which gender is ‘doing what to whom’, gender bias at home and at school has a great impact on who enters which field,

In sum, home and school environments, sociocultural attitudes, and beliefs regarding gender roles and the value of education affect gender differences in academic choice and performance. Self-confidence, test scores, and ultimately post-secondary and career choices are often by-products of these factors (UNESCO, 2007). The lack of women in science and engineering — and the lack of men in education studies and humanities — could be a result of gender bias during childhood and teen socialization (Vallès Peris & Caprile Elola-Olaso, 2009). (p. 97 PDF; p. 67 print) [emphasis mine]

I realize this report is focused on gender issues in the sciences, nonetheless, I find it striking there is no mention of social class (at home and at school) with regard to the impact that has on aspirations to a research career and, for that matter, any impact social class might have on gender roles.

Also, there is no substantive mention of age as a factor, which seems odd, since women are more likely to interrupt their careers for childbearing and childrearing purposes. This interruption means they are going to be older when they re-enter the workforce and an older woman is still perceived quite differently than an older man, irrespective of career accomplishments.

The Nov. 21, 2012 news release from the CCA summarizes the conclusions in this fashion,

“There is no single solution to remedy the underrepresentation of women in the highest ranks of academic research careers. The issue itself is a multifaceted one that is affected by social, cultural, economic, institutional, and political factors and contexts”, commented Panel Chair Dr. Lorna R. Marsden. “There has been significant progress in the representation of women in the academy since the 1970s, and there is much to be celebrated. However, as evidenced by the wide variation in women’s representation by discipline and rank, there are still challenges to overcome.”

The Expert Panel developed a baseline of information regarding the statistical profile of women researchers in Canada. The major findings from the statistical profile are:

  •       In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that of other economically advanced nations.
  •       Women’s progress in Canadian universities is uneven and dependent on discipline and rank.
  •        The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women in comparison to men.

The Panel also identified key factors that affect the multiple career paths of women. These factors start early in life with stereotypes that define roles and expectations, followed by a lack of knowledge about requisites for potential career paths, and a lack of role models and mentors. These issues, combined with a rigid tenure track structure, challenges associated with the paid work-family life balance, and the importance of increased support and coordination amongst governments and institutions need to be examined if Canada is going to achieve a greater gender balance within academia.

There’s a lot of admire in this report. As noted in part 1 of this commentary, I particularly appreciate the inclusion of personal narrative (life-writing) with the usual literature surveys and data analyses; the discussion around the importance of innovation regarding the economy and the reference to research showing that innovation is enhanced by the inclusion of marginalized groups; and the way in which values fundamental to Canadian society were emphasized.

The photograph on the front cover was a misstep. The most serious criticism I have of this assessment is the failure to recognize that simply having more women in leadership positions will not necessarily address gender equity issues. Stereotypes about women and gender run deep in both men and women and that needs to be recognized and dealt with. I am also disappointed that they failed to mention in the conclusion the impact that leadership has on gender equity and the necessity of giving leaders a reason (carrot and/or stick) to care about it.

I cannot comment on the makeup of the expert panel as I’m largely unfamiliar with the individuals, other than to say that as expected, this panel was largely composed of women.

I recommend reading the report as I learned a lot from it not least that there are many science organizations in this country that I’d not heard of or encountered previously. One final appreciation, I thought deconstructing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to create HSE (humanities, social sciences, and education), LS (life sciences), and PCEM (physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics) so the designations more clearly reflected Canadian science funding realities was brilliant.

Engineering toys for girls

Ariel Schwartz in her Dec. 6, 2012 article for Fast Company’s Co-Design website describes three engineering toys, two of which are explicitly designed for girls while the other one is of interest to any child who might want to build a robot. From the article (Note: I have removed links),

Devised by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, GoldieBlox is a brand new series of construction toys and books for girls that focuses on a young blond girl named Goldie who lives in what Sterling described to us as a “crazy engineering house,” chock full of moving parts and gears.

A triad of women who studied mechanical engineering, neuroscience, and electrical engineering created Roominate, a modular hacker dollhouse that comes with connectable circuits. Alice Brooks, one of the designers, told Co.Design: “We started with a toy that girls already love, and added educational components that make the toy even more engaging.”

Slightly older girls (11 and up) might enjoy the $199 Hummingbird robotics kit, created by BirdBrain Technologies (a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University). The kit comes with four sub-kits: a light and vibration set with 10 multi-colored LEDs and two vibration motors; a control set that comes with an auxiliary motor power supply, a USB cable, and a screwdriver; a motion that includes DC motors and servos; and a sensing kit that contains sound, temperature, distance, light sensors along with a rotary knob; basically, anything you would need to build the robot of your dreams. [emphases mine]

You won’t be able to get GoldieBlox in time for Christmas as it doesn’t ship until April 2013. By the way, GoldieBlox was a successful Kickstarter project raising over $285,000 when the goal was $150,000. Here’s an image from their campaign,

GoldieBlox (image from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls)

You can find GoldieBlox here and you will find that a little more culture diversity is being introduced.

Roominate looks like great fun and you can get that kit in time for Christmas, assuming they don’t run out of stock,

“A cooling fan that I wired myself!”

And then there’s this,

“A spinning dog for my pet shop!”

There’s one more picture from the home page and I must say I heartily agree with the sentiments,

“Every airport needs a cupcake shop and an aquarium!”

Personally, I’m particularly interested in the robotics kit from BirdBrain Technologies. Schwartz notes in her article that a group of eighth graders used the kit to build a scene from Carl Sandberg’s poem Sand. Here’s a video from inventor (it’s geeky),