#STEM Inclusion at #bps19

The Biophysical Society meeting is less than a month away, and I am excited to share that I will be running a session at the meeting entitled Nurturing a More Inclusive STEM Enterprise by Understanding our Biases (abstract below).

This workshop will take place on Tuesday, March 5 from 1:15 to 2:45 at the Baltimore Convention Center. You must be registered for the meeting to attend this session. We will include a play-act scene of a classroom and are hoping to get an awesome discussion on how we can all be better, more inclusive scientists. #WeCanAllBeAllies

Here’s the Abstract:

We are all biased. Google’s PeopleAnalytics suggests that we as people can only consciously process about one millionth of the information that we receive at any moment. Instead, we rely heavily on our unconscious reasoning abilities to make decisions. Even though we scientists are trained to be objective and evidence based, we, too, use cognitive shortcuts in our every day interactions. This means we rely on our expectation biases, e.g. what we think we think about categories of people, things, situations. This behavior leads to unconscious errors in decision making that leads to discrimination in science against people who do not meet the stereotypical description of what a scientist looks like. This session will approach the phenomenon of unconscious bias as a science problem by examining the data in this area and by discussing tools that we can all use to nurture a more inclusive scientific enterprise. Attendees are encouraged to learn about their own biases by completing the Project Implicit Gender-Science IAT, Race IAT and Sexuality IAT tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.



handsoffix-benefits&opportunitiesTitle IX is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. Title IX was instituted almost 50 years ago to protect equal access to education.

As most of you know the way that Universities handle sexual misconduct has improved in the last decade.  Universities can use trauma-informed practices and put into effect policies that are better for all parties.  In November of 2017 Secretary of Education Betsy Devos withdrew the Title IX guidelines issued during the Obama administration that allowed for much of this reform.

This has the potential to take our universities back a number of steps.   Individuals and collectives have until Tuesday, January 29 to comment on her proposed regressive changes.  Advocates encourage as many people as possible to comment on these regulations.  Many organizations have posted instructions on how to do this.   The direct link to submit your comment is here:


Please take ten minutes to do this! For those of us with no extra time (ummm, that would be all of us), the following sites distill down the issues in succinct text and provide a pre-formatted comment form.

There is a a website here that suggests comments.  It has templates for letters and some data. The hastag is #HandsOffIX

The AAUW has an explanation and petition here. http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50796/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=25579

The UVa Women’s Center page on the subject is here. http://womenscenter.virginia.edu/2019/01/who-me-commenting-proposed-title-ix-regulations

The STEM Pipeline has gushing leaks as a consequence (mostly) of discrimination by a plethora of putdowns

Death by a thousand little cuts is a modern metaphor for a slow process in which a multitude of small – seemingly inconsequential (but bad) – things happen that ultimately culminate in the destruction of whomever was suffering the events. Like all sayings, there is truth behind it: historically, the phrase refers to a form of Chinese torture in which death – literally – was the outcome for a victim who was slowly tortured by being subjected to the process having their skin sliced. Pretty gruesome, huh?

An analogous figure of speech can be constructed for the collective effects of gender harassment in the STEM community: discrimination by a thousand little acts of bias (in the form of putdowns, either conscious or unconscious), which has culminated in a loss of STEM talent. As I point out in all my talks on equity in STEM, so much of the discussion has been concerned with blaming women for dropping out of the STEM pipeline (they choose to leave; it coincides with childbearing years; they don’t want to “work hard”; women don’t “lean in”, etc.). Yet, aside from an increasing discussion on family friendly policies at the institutional level, comparatively few studies have been focused on the pipeline itself.

This is quite perplexing to me because, when my kitchen sink leaks, I don’t actually blame the water.  Of course I am upset that water is dripping out, especially if it gets on the floor and makes a big mess, but even if that happens I immediately understand even without thinking about it that the dripping water is a pipeline issue at its core, not a water issue. It is the pipeline that has failed: it corroded; the gasket got old and dry; roots grew in it; etc. Whatever the cause, the water leaks. To remedy this situation, I call a plumber, who examines the pipes, identifies the weak point(s) and then remedies the situation by fixing the pipe.

This evidence-based process is what we continue to need in STEM: Let’s stop blaming the women who leave and instead conduct a serious examination of the pipeline so that we can identify the underlying causes for failure. Only then will we be able to fix it.

There is new hope. Continuing with my broken kitchen faucet metaphor, the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine have recently played the role of a diagnostic plumber through a report they published this past June on Sexual Harassment in Academia. Their essential diagnosis is that the STEM pipeline is a hostile place for women. And although this NAS report has a dominant focus on the experiences of white women, their bottom line assessment of the STEM enterprise as a horror house for women (my words, not theirs) is most likely also true (and probably worse) for women of color, under-represented minorities and gender and sexual minorities.

Let’s pause and consider some facts from the NAS document:

  • Six out of ten women have experienced harassment in STEM, second only to the military.
  • Most harassment is gender harassment and does not rise to the legal definitions that necessarily fall under the purview of Title IX. In their iceberg image, gender harassment is “below the legal water line”.
  • Mostly, harassment is “put-downs” of women.
  • Institutional culture is the major determinant of the prevalence of harassment.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 4.05.14 PMThese facts (and more) in the NAS report define why the STEM pipeline leaks of women are not a trickling drip, drip, drip, but rather a gushing exodus.

Women leave because of a deep-seated institutional culture that tolerates tiny little acts of discrimination mediated by a plethora of putdowns that happen day-in and day-out. Altogether these send the message that women’s contributions, opinions or competencies are not valued as much as men’s are. And as a woman or any other member of the “out group”, it takes great fortitude and dedication to stay in a job/career/environment that incessantly makes a statement that you do not belong.

Plugging the leaky pipeline is a big, multi-scale problem, and to their credit, the NAS has come up with 15 broad recommendations that cover everything from new laws and policies to a re-envisioning of graduate training to a raised awareness of personal interactions. As an active member of the STEM field, I particularly gravitate towards recommendation #15, which indirectly points out, as the cliché goes, “we have met the enemy, and s/he is us”. This realization is at the same time intimidating and empowering because it means that we, alone, possess the ability to build a better pipeline. Because, as I wrote over at the Biophysical Society blog

We – the current practitioners – are the so-called STEM pipeline. We are the core structural elements of academia. We are the lives and souls of universities and research centers. The institutional transformation we so urgently need is not the metamorphosis of a nameless, faceless entity that is someone else’s problem. Rather, our institutions are composed of people: presidents, provosts, deans, faculty, staff, and students. We the people must develop the resolve to solve this problem. Any change must come from within us. We all need to plug the leaks in our STEM pipeline through our actions and words each and every day. All of us at all levels, collectively and individually, have a responsibility to create and nurture inclusion throughout the scientific enterprise.

Let’s stop the leaks in the pipeline. Inclusive excellence depends on it. The next generation is counting on us.

#WeMustBeBetter #WeMustDoBetter #LetsDoThisWork #WeCanAllBeAllies


Reactions from the student newspaper on our WWS event covering the NASEM report on sexual harassment in academia

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 8.20.49 AMAnne-Elizabeth and I were pleased that the Johns Hopkins News-Letter covered our Where We Stand event last week. This is the student newspaper, and it is always interesting to hear how the students react. You can read about it here:



Happening Today: Where We Stand

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.42.23 PMLater today I will co-lead the second of a series of discussions on the findings and recommendations of the NAS report on sexual and gender harassment in the STEMM fields. I hope you will come tonight to learn more about this important study and to help craft solutions to this pipeline leak. In the meantime, I leave you with one of the most important pieces of data in the report: 58% of women faculty and staff have experienced one kind or another of sexual harassment! Fifty-eight percent!

It’s no wonder women leave.

Where We Stand is tonight, Oct 25 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Mudd UTL Atrium

#WeMustDoBetter #WeMustBeBetter

#BystanderIntervention at Oberlin

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.21.31 PMIn early October, I was hosted by the Department of Chemistry at Oberlin College for a #science seminar on the chaperones that I study (which play hot potato with outer membrane proteins in the bacterial periplasm).  As part of the visit, I did a second session later that evening on #BystanderIntervention. This workshop is an interactive, socratic type discussion that takes apart a scene that is (by design) a little over the top with implicit bias, microaggression, and gender stereotypes. It’s really fun to do, and the thing I like the most about it is the diversity of opinions from the audience. While there are common themes that arise, everyone views a scene from their own place. This makes this session a learning experience for the entire group, me included! And afterwards, I was stunned when a URM woman came up to me and said she came to the session because she wanted to see with her own eyes “a real actual scientist committed to diversity and inclusion”. What an honor to fill that role!

I was also interviewed by the school newspaper.

#WeCanBeBetter #WeMustDoBetter

What are your favorite tips for being a better #bystander?

Discussion on Sexual Harassment in STEM

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 9.59.45 PMThe Women Faculty Forum is hosting a special reception this Thursday to discuss the recommendations of the recently published National Academies report on Sexual Harassment in Academic Science, Engineering and Medicine. The NAS study identifies institutional culture as one of the key determinants of sexual and gender harassment. 

This  Where We Stand event will happen this Thursday, October 25, from 5:30-7pm in Mudd Atrium, hosted by the Women Faculty Forum at Homewood (WFF@H, formerly the Committee on the Status of Women). There will be good food and good company, and children are welcome (we’ll have toys and coloring pages there).
We’ll have multiple tables set up, each focusing on a different recommendation. After Dean Toscano’s introduction, I will present an overview of the report with a commentary on intersectionality—which any understanding of academic culture must clearly reckon with—and then we will arrive at the heart of the event: themed tables where participants will discuss concrete ways that Johns Hopkins can activate these recommendations across the Homewood campus, across all disciplines.
Various resources will be on the table to inform your discussions: a copy of the NAS report (2018); the Vision 2020 report (2006); Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion (2016); Report on Faculty Composition (2016); Report Card on Vision 2020 (2017); and others.
On behalf of the WFF, we very much hope you can join the discussion.  Finally, we invite you to follow our blog and/or twitter (@wffhop).


Happening Today: How are you heard by others?

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 9.00.06 AM

Photo from: https://kashmirreader.com/2017/12/20/perception-matters/

Consider attending the professional development workshop I’m running this afternoon on the topic of Communication. This will take place in the Mudd UTL Atrium from 5-7 PM.

Workshop Details & Description

Kid friendly: We have toddler legos and coloring supplies.

Workshop on Apr 26: How Are You Heard By Others? Aggressive, Assertive or Passive?

I like to keep most things on this website grounded in the research and data on gender issues in male dominated environments and less on the anecdotal side. Certainly the stories we could all tell are important – and most of us have more than a few doozies! But equally important is the dialogue that we can create in our communities by knowing the data, which is the main goal of my efforts here.

I’m going to make an exception to this rule with this post because I’m really excited about an upcoming workshop we’re having on perceptions of talk by women (more on that below).

I am direct. I didn’t understand this for a long time because I grew up in Texas, and people there are, well, direct. So I fit in.

Having a natural tendency to be direct has its advantages. It is important in the classroom to be clear and unambiguous in teaching, assignments and expectations. A straightforward prose in a grant application leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader, which is usually good. And directness on grant review meetings and in writing grant reviews provides the applicant with clear feedback so they are not wondering what the reviewer means when reading their comments. Program officers from national agencies have commended me for this skill. I can’t tell you how much this means to me, especially after a wrenching panel meeting.

Social norms are a little different on the east coast, where I’ve been for the past couple of decades. My impression is that people here are generally less direct in their communication and do not always value frank talk. I am older, too, and hopefully wiser and also now understand that being direct conflicts with my gender stereotype. People look to women to be kind and nice and nurturing. I think I am all those things, too, but my sugar-coating skills are a constant work in progress.

In a pedagogical setting, the perception of an assertive, direct woman can lead to disappointment in a student because said professor is not meeting the “nurturing” stereotypical expectations. This affects teaching evaluations. While comments on a male professor may include how brilliant he is, a different B-word definitely shows up on teaching evaluations for women professors. I am not making this up, and this bias makes it harder for WomenInSTEM to do their jobs.

So, are you perceived as aggressive, passive, or assertive? And does this perception match your desired image?

Illysa Izenberg is going to address this topic in a workshop on Thursday April 26, 2018 at 5 PM in the Mudd UTL. In this workshop, you’ll learn the difference between assertive and aggressive and practice declarative speech that fits your individual style without overcompensating or changing who you are.

In keeping with tradition, Pizza will be served. To make sure I order enough, please send me a quick email if you think you may come so I can get a head count. Karen dot Fleming at JHU dot edu.