Interview: Many Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

Women of colour sit in a meting room. Above them is the title: Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

I was interviewed by Buzzfeed, about a new study by Professor Kate Clancy and colleagues, showing women of colour scientists are more likely to experience race and gender harassment. Women of colour scientists are also excessively critiqued for being either too feminine or masculine enough, they have their physical abilities questioned, and they are more likely to miss professional opportunities like conferences, fieldwork, classes and meetings because their workplaces are unsafe. My comments from the interview:

“The study really reinforces a lot of what the literature already tells us — that women of colour are more likely to experience multiple forms of harassment and feel more acutely the impact of a hostile work environment in the sciences,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News.

Although this isn’t the first study to show evidence of the “double bind” of racial- and gender-based harassment, some critics continue to deny that the effect is real.

“A lot of the pushback that we see in the individual scientific communities —astronomy or any other science — is that scientists want data,” Zevallos said. “And even though there’s a plethora of data, it’s like they need to see more data for themselves.”

Continue reading Interview: Many Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 15 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism.

The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination. The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund, while academics like Stephen Jay Gould showed that The Bell Curve obscured data.

Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people. […]

Harris’s characterizations of Murray’s critics are a projection of the push back he feels he’s unfairly faced. “You were one of the canaries in the coal mines,” Harris tells Murray. Having previously dismissed Murray, Harris now feels an affinity due to facing rebuke for racism (while continuing to espouse similar views).

The atheist movement has changed. Once the almost-exclusive domain of White men, calls for equality have challenged conversations, as diverse groups of women and minorities seek a more inclusive vision for atheism. It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.

Read more on The Humanist.

We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong and because it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyone's intelligence. Prof Stephen Jay Gould
We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve. – Prof Stephen Jay Gould

Better Leadership through Diversity: A Case Study of the March for Science

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 08 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

The best way to redress the inequities in science is through structural reform. This means reviewing policy through an evidence-based process. A more productive approach to diversity focuses on responsibilities of leaders to enhance measurable results. In other words, for science to make the most of everyone’s talents, leaders must “walk the talk,” modelling best practice and promoting accountability for themselves and other managers.

A vision for social change that eliminates existing inequalities must incorporate the leadership, professional expertise, and lived experiences of minorities from diverse backgrounds. Without decision-making power to shape the strategy and planning of any event, program, or organization, minorities remain on the margins. Subsequently, lacking the active representation of humanity, the full benefits of science and social justice endeavors will be limited in influence and impact.

Read more on The Humanist.

Crowd listens to speeches at the March for Science in Sydney
Science will never reach its full potential if large segments of the population are locked out from participating in, and shaping, its future.

Media Interviews on March for Science

Protesters at a rally in a park, in Sydney

I have recently given a few media interviews on my analysis of equity, inclusion and accessibility and March for Science. I was interviewed about my articles on the problems with the march and the science of diversity, as well as the anti-diversity discourse by march supporters. Below, I briefly discuss issues emerging from the media interviews I’ve done with STAT News, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, Wired, and Living Lab Radio. Continue reading Media Interviews on March for Science

Making the Most of Diversity Lessons from March for Science Australia

March for Science protesters at Martins Place, Sydney

My latest article is now on Women’s Policy Action Tank (first published 24 April 2017). Below is an excerpt.

Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallosprovides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing. 

The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.

We start with the backwards logic. The march began without diversity in mind. The diversity statements by the global march came only after various mistakes and in response to critique from underrepresented scientists. Locally, there is no publicised diversity statement in the first instance, let alone a detailed strategy for equity, inclusion and access.

Extensive, longitudinal research shows that diversity statements and policies alone do not lead to greater diversity in the workplace. In fact, individual programs, whether it’s mentoring women or one-off training, do little to advance (only some) White women’s individual careers, and many programs have little effect on women of colour and other minorities. This is because programs are designed to “fix” individuals, without committing to changing the system.

Diversity is effective, and pays dividends in productivity, where equity, inclusion and accessibility are at the core of leadership and organisational practice. For an organisation to realise the full potential of diversity, leaders must not only model behavioural changes, but also lead proactive planning, evaluation and targeted solutions to transform their workplace culture. Superimposing a diversity statement on the existing structure allows only a few individuals to succeed while White men’s dominance remains unperturbed.

Diversity is just one of many important STEM issues in Australia, and one that should not take a backseat role to other pressing science issues. In fact, diversity undercuts all STEM policy matters. For example, Indigenous science is vital to addressing climate change and developing sustainable practices, as well as being indispensable to health initiatives, technology R&D, and other STEM ventures. Scientific potential will never be met unless Indigenous Australians lead STEM programs and activities, moving away from a deficit model to one of self-determination and empowerment in STEM. This includes activities like the March for Science. Imagine how an event that aspires to be a critical moment of change in STEM would have looked like with 60,000 years of ATSI wisdom leading its strategy!

Read more on Women’s Policy Action Tank.

March for Science crowd at Martins Place Sydney
Diversity is a quintessential tool in science

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse_HEADER

This article was first published on DiverseScholar, on 27 March 2017.

Given the high profile of the Women’s March against the Trump Administration on January 21, 2017, the March for Science (MfS) seeks to rally against the science policy changes, funding cuts, gag orders, and the administrative overhaul of science organisations by the Trump Government.

The March for Science is scheduled to occur globally on April 22 in over 400 cities. The aims and functions of the march have been drastically altered in the first two months of its existence, especially as the organisers began to receive critique from the scientific community regarding diversity issues. By setting up the march as being “not political” and by reproducing various problems of gender inequality, racism and other forms of exclusion, the march organisers have inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse, which has been subsequently adopted by a vocal majority of the MfS supporter base.

In sociology, the concept of discourse describes how language comes to convey and justify dominant ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. Discourses are built around the social identities, values, interests, and power of dominant groups. This means that the stories we tell about “why things are the way they are,” reinforce the status quo, and thus justify the reasoning, policies, and practices of groups that already have institutional control.

The idea that White men are the taken-for-granted norm of what it means to be a scientist is learned early in school, and then reinforced throughout education, career progression, prestigious prizes, and the publication and funding systems. Institutional mechanisms in science serve to reinforce a discourse that naturalises White men’s dominance in science.

My article on DiverseScholar shows how the MfS organisers have come to reproduce the existing discourse of science, by normalising the interests of scientists who are White and from majority backgrounds. I present an analysis on public reactions to the third (of four) MfS diversity statements that reflect this position.

I analysed 354 comments and over 3,300 reactions to the MfS diversity statement. There were two broad response types to the March for Science diversity statement on the public Facebook page: comments were either discouraging or encouraging of the MfS diversity statement.

The discouraging comments fell into four sub-groups: people who felt that diversity was either politicising or dividing the practice of science; and those who felt that diversity was depreciating or distracting from the goals of the march more specifically.

The encouraging comments included individuals who felt uniquely positioned to be informing others about why diversity is important to the march, and supporters who thought that diversity is enhancing science more generally.

Discourses reflect the history, culture, identity, and politics of those in power. To make the MfS truly inclusive, the organisers need to think more strategically about how to manage misconceptions about science. They will also need to be more proactive in promoting a new discourse about the march.

Read more on DiverseScholar.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

March for Science

This article was first published on Latino Rebels on 14 March 2017.

Inspired by the impact of the Women’s March, March for Science (MfS) emerged from a series of social media conversations. The ScienceMarchDC Twitter account was set up on January 24, and a Facebook page three days later. Their follower base ballooned from a couple of hundred people to thousands. At the time of writing, the Twitter account has 337,000 followers, the public Facebook page has more than 393,000 likes, and the private Facebook community has over 840,000 members. There are currently 360 satellite marches being organized in various American states and in many cities around the world.

The MfS organizers go to great pains to separate science from politics, and science from scientists, as if practice and policies are independent from practitioners. For example co-chair and biology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jonathan Berman says: “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Another co-chair, science writer Dr Caroline Weinberg, recently told The Chronicle: “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These sentiments strangely echo other highly publicized opposition to the march, and are being replicated in some of the local marches. The idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. These notions privilege the status quo in science, by centring the politics, identities and values of White scientists, especially White cisgender, able-bodied men, who are less affected by changes to the aforementioned social policies.

The topic of diversity has dominated online conversations between many scientists across different nations who are interested in making MfS inclusive.

Even as the movement gained swift momentum, the leadership and mission were unclear in one key area: diversity.

Discussions over the march are important not just due to the planned demonstration. The debates matter because they reflect broader issues of diversity in science.

Read more on Latino Rebels.

March for Science Can_t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

Science Inequality in the News: Avoiding Dangerous Gender Narratives in STEM

Two women and one man in a pharmacy

This article was first published in DiverseScholar, on 31 December 2014.

Throughout 2014, there were a couple of notable media controversies involving the reporting of social science research on gender. There have also been a range of other science publishing problems that have demonstrated the gender problems within science. These two trends are linked to media narratives and public confusion about issues of gender and science. One of the most recent media wrangles arises from The New York Times Op-Ed by psychologists Professor Wendy Williams and Professor Stephen Ceci (Williams & Ceci 2014). I have covered the methodological flaws of the study on which the Op-Ed was based (Zevallos 2014a). The study is headed by Ceci and, in addition to Williams, their research team also includes two economists. In this three-part series of articles for DiverseScholar, I provide supplementary analysis challenging the gender assumptions of their study. Specifically, I show how the study’s conclusions conflict with broader social science research on inequality within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

In this first article, I will show how social science research can be used to serve an agenda that undermines gender diversity. I use sociology to show the issues arising when the media and some researchers, such as Ceci and William’s team, draw on an individual narrative to explain gender inequality. In the second article, I will discuss why the media and the public enjoy discussing studies on “sex differences,” and how the appetite for simplistic explanations of gender entrench pre-existing gender biases. In the final article, I discuss why social scientists have to be extra careful when we write about gender in popular press, and how we can better support gender diversity in science.

I am focusing my analysis on cultural discussions of cisgender, as this was the (problematic) de facto focus of Ceci and colleagues, given that they only talked about “men” and “women.” Cisgender describes men and women whose gender identity aligns with their ascribed sex (the biology and bodies they were born into). This means I am not predominantly writing about transgender, intersex and other genders; but, I signal here that this is a narrow conception of gender.

The concept of sex is distinct from gender. Sex describes biological differences between men and women; but, gender looks at how culture influences the myriad of ways that these differences are perceived. Gender is more fluid than two binary categories of male and female (Zevallos 2014b). Explanations that draw on sex rather than gender, such as Ceci and colleagues’ study, implicitly rely on a biological narrative, by saying girls and boys are “naturally” attracted to different tasks and that they make different choices because they’re male or female. Herein lays the biggest problem with the communication of gender to the masses, especially via the media. Simplistic explanations win out, while the complexity of gender inequality is swept under a narrative of individual women’s choices. Let’s explore these issues by delving deeper into the biases in the study by Ceci and his team.

Continue reading at DiverseScholar.

Woman scientist using microscope

 

Sociology of Gender and Diversity in Science

Sociology for Gender and Diversity in Science by Zuleyka Zevallos

Over the past couple of months, I have been using sociology to show how everyday experiences of sexism and racism feed into the educational and career trajectories of women and minorities in various disciplines within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Here I include summaries of my writing from recent times, which show how social policy can dramatically impact on women’s educational outcomes. I’ve also covered how childhood socialisation impacts on girls’ transition from school to university. Experiences in higher education are also gendered, that is, culture shapes how women and men think about what happens to them at university. We see this clearly in relationships with thesis supervisors and informal socialising, as well as in more formal processes in administration. I’ve also highlighted some progress in diversity, namely the appointment of a lesbian technology expert, Megan Smith, who now holds a key role with the American government. Despite this achievement, various controversies in STEM related to social media use by scientists, research on women and high profile science events signify that despite strides forward, women and minorities are still the targets of inequality and marginalisation.

Sociology for Gender and Diversity in Science

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Sociology for Diversity

Diversity has been an ongoing theme of my research, since I conducted my Honours and PhD theses and my subsequent research on migration, intercultural communication and how gender affects industrial practices. Lately I’ve been working on diversity issues in science and business. This includes how social science can be used to improve management of multicultural workplaces, and how gender diversity is important to the Internet. There is a lack of diversity in sociology that also needs attention. Our traditions still privilege the knowledge of White researchers from Europe and North America (more on this another time), but we also have a narrow academic vision of what it means to practice sociology. Similarly other sciences are structured around the skills and knowledge of White middle class men. Here’s an overview of my recent writing on these issues.

Sociology for Diversity
Sociology for Diversity

Continue reading Sociology for Diversity