Where are all the geek chicks?
I saw this excellent article in a redirect from the NSF newsletter (also some interesting comments on the NSF Advance program to increase women in science and engineering).
Basically, it is another look at the low numbers of women entering STEM professions, followed by a few inspiring stories. [At least the stories are inspiring, but for inspiring stories I would really recommend "She's such a geek" which I think some of you contributed to :)]
I am getting really tired of the sad stories about how women don't want to go into STEM, and how the environment is really unsupportive, and the calls for change that never comes. Last week I represented R1U at the Society for Women Engineers national meeting. One of the good things about this meeting was that I attended with two other young women faculty. Unfortunately, one of them has struggled and the tales of her difficulties were a little disheartening to me. I am in a field which has good (well, relatively) historical #s of women. She is not. My department could not be more supportive. I am included in large multi-PI proposals, my outgoing proposals are read by at least 2-3 faculty in the department, I have established collaborations with my colleagues, my department is quick to nominate me for young investigator awards, and my chair is flexible and fair. I have had great mentorship. She, on the other hand, has not, and has been left to float in a sea of uncertainty. I think mentorship does go a long way toward solving some of the problems. But, there is no easy answer here.
I think that the problem with women and STEM is really one of culture, and until we get more women involved in the upper echelons it will persist. I've said before that it can be unnerving to walk into a seminar and realize that you are one of maybe a handful of women out of say a hundred people in a room. I think that it is also in the way that we talk to each other. One of the problems that my friend cited and that I have also experienced is that sometimes men (and yes I am generalizing here) seem to be motivated by negative feedback, whereas women can be devastated by it. I remember many afternoons spent in male advisors office where I regaled him with tales of how poorly our experiments were working. Rather than a reassuring pat on the back, I got sort of griped out about how I needed to spend more time in the lab, definitely not a motivating moment.
But most importantly in all this discussion, is that I am tired of hearing about it, and instead want to see some change. Maybe we could have a month of inspiring, how things have gone really well for me as a women in STEM stories? Perhaps an inspiring women in STEM carnival?