Lynda Hardman

by the guest editor Lynda Hardman

The informatics and mathematics communities suffer from an affliction common to many technical and scientific fields, that fewer than 30% of those who choose to study and continue their profession in the field are women. This leads to a masculine-oriented culture that unwittingly discriminates against women.

While as a discipline we cannot change the culture in which we live, we can at least be aware of it and take appropriate measures. The elephant in the room is “the assumed and indisputable gender neutrality of the practice of science” [1].

Awareness is key. Particularly that we all hold values that are invisible from within the culture in which we operate. These can be seemingly irrelevant attributes, such as height, where, for example, USA presidents are taller than average [2], or voice pitch, where a lower pitch increases your perceived quality as a leader.

While plenty of excellent women are highly active in informatics and mathematics research they are not always as visible as they should be. This can be for various reasons, such as the topics on which they work are not seen as “core”. Whatever the underlying cause, they tend not to be invited to give keynote talks, so that the notion that women are not able to reach the top of their field is perpetuated.

It is no individual's conscious intention that women are discriminated against, so providing unconscious bias training is a very good place to start. A number of large companies, such as Google, Oracle, Bloomberg, Cisco and Facebook, are aware of the necessity to attract and keep women in the field. They spend considerable effort sponsoring events to attract young women and girls and Facebook have even put their unconscious bias training online [3].

Perhaps we will learn that even when gender bias has been removed, we still don't have a minimum level of 30% women in the community. We have to be very aware that this will still tend to a masculine style environment and is likely to push the more feminine values out and will require effort to sustain good gender representation.

I am extremely grateful to our authors for this special section. They took precious time away from their research and teaching activities that contribute to building their academic CV. All too often it is the women, who are few and far between, who spend their time on these activities. Attracting and keeping women is the responsibility of men and women alike. Such activities need to become mainstream in a departmental portfolio and assigned time in the same way as other
responsibilities.

The contributions explain a number of different initiatives from different groups, including ACM-W Europe, Informatics Europe, and Athena SWAN in the UK. Some are actions that management can take, for example Informatics Europe and Athena SWAN, whereas others are more oriented to women themselves, such as ACM-W Europe. The contributions give pointers to best practices that you can implement in your local context. Most measures that can be taken to redress the bias, such as open recruiting and promotion procedures, shared parental responsibilities, will help many men as well. The “fight your way to the top” culture is stressful for both genders.

Europe, however, is a mix of many different cultures where, in some, gender equality is a way of life and, in others, the culture has yet to recognise that there even is a problem that needs to be addressed. Communication across Europe, particularly demonstrable best practices, often from our more northern colleagues, can allow us to share best practices across the continent. If you are interested in becoming more involved with initiatives then please feel free to contact myself or one of the authors of the contributions.

The recently instated Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, presented his gender balanced government on 4th November 2015 [4]. When asked why he felt gender parity was important his reply was, “Because it’s 2015.”

Further reading:
Do it yourself – how biased are you?
https://implicit.harvard.edu

References:
[1] ERCIM News 104 article by Hatzopoulos et al. p.13
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heights_of_presidents _and_presidential_candidates_of_the_United_States
[3] https://managingbias.fb.com/
[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/04/justin-trudeau-gender-parity-because-it-s-2015_n_8474386.html

Please concact:
Lynda Hardman
President Informatics Europe 2016-2017
CWI and University Utrecht, The Netherlands
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Next issue: October 2018
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