AAS Committee on the Status of Women 
Issue of July 16, 2010	
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Importance of Gender Balance at Conferences

2. Talking Points on the Larry Summers Issues: Trucks vs. Dolls

3. SATs and PhDs 

4. Mediating Bullying in Academic Workplaces

5. Startup Boot Camp Illustrates Dearth of Women in Tech

6. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

7. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

1. Importance of Gender Balance at Conferences
From: Gretchen Harris [glharris_at_astro.uwaterloo.ca]

[The 25 June 2010 issue of AASWOMEN was a special edition on the low percentages
of women invited speakers at astronomy meetings - Eds.] 

My reaction to the many contributions was very positive. I am glad to see such a
dialogue beginning, and hope it continues to good results. I have two points to
make - one to reinforce some of the previous discussion and the second to add
something I didn't see.

1) I am very much in favour of providing meeting guidelines which ask organizers
(IN ADVANCE) to think about the range of invited presenters. I think this should
be a standard. Regardless of the % of women or other "groups" our profession
would wish to see represented at meetings, I sense that most agree we can do
better - whatever that is. But, without "encouragement" of some sort, people
will most likely do what they have always done. The patterns of choosing invited
speakers are really habits. LOCs choose speakers in a way that is often what
they have seen or done before. So, I think the simplest and best thing to do
right now is have the AAS set up meeting guidelines (for not just the national
meetings) which address the points which have already been raised as an
"industry standard".

2) A more subtle element I did not see in the comments is: we tend to choose
speakers because we have heard them somewhere before and think they are good.
So... if women are underrepresented overall, this underrepresentation will be
perpetuated by the experience of LOC organizers. Their memories will select
people they have heard before. Stupid as it sounds "we won't have more women
until we have more women." It is a cycle that is not easily broken and
undoubtedly requires directed effort. LOCs need to be challenged - I think that
if they are, the "flavour" will change.

2. Talking Points on the Larry Summers Issues: Trucks vs. Dolls
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Larry Summers made his controversial remarks on women in science at the National
Bureau of Economic Research, Jan. 14 2005. His topic was, "the issue of women's
representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top
universities and research institutions." His remarks got him into hot water at
Harvard, but recent articles in the NYT by John Tierney have dredged up these
notorious comments. The full transcript of Summers' speech can be found here:


I decided to explore one of these issues (or at least one at a time): Trucks vs.
Dolls. Here's what Summers said:

" . . . I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who
were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to
each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something.
And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize. There are
two other hypotheses that are all over. One is socialization. Somehow little
girls are all socialized towards nursing and little boys are socialized towards
building bridges. No doubt there is some truth in that . . . "

Here's my take on this issue: If girls prefer dolls and boys prefer trucks, is
this really an innate difference? How could one tell? Sociology studies show us
at infant boys and girls are treated differently, just based on the color of
their rompers. Researchers (Will, Self and Datan 1976, "Maternal behavior and
perceived sex of infant," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 46 (1), 135)
observed young mothers interacting with six-month-old babies, Beth and Adam.
Beth was described as "sweet" and got dolls to play with. Adam was called a
"strong boy" and got trains to play with. The study reported that "Beth" and
"Adam" were actually the same child, but dressed in different clothes. Young
children get pressure (subtle and not so subtle) to behave along gender lines
not only from their families, but also from their peers.

What parent of fraternal twins has ever done the truly objective study -
dressing their infant son and daughter identically and hoodwinking all the world
into thinking that both babies are the same gender? Only then could we eliminate
Nurture as the source of the "girls prefer dolls; boys prefer trucks"

Even after this work, we are left with the much bigger question: What does a
truck preference have to do with being a good scientist?

3. SATs and PhDs 
From: Hannan_at_Women_in_Astronomy_Blog, July 13, 2010

For better or for worse, the Tierney articles got me thinking: is it really true
that those with SAT math scores at the 99.9 percentile level are that much more
likely to get a doctorate in science or to win tenure at a top university than
those at the 99.1 level, as Tierney claims? My gut feeling, from having
interacted with hundreds of PhD astronomers, including myself, is that it isn't
true. Heck, I doubt the scores themselves are even that accurate. Also, while I
can see that math scores are important for achieving in science, verbal scores
are surely very important also. After all, the way scientists communicate our
ideas to each other is through talks and papers, both of which surely involve
good verbal and communications skills. In which case, shouldn't girls' superior
verbal scores balance things out?

So, if I were to conduct a thoroughly non-scientific internet survey on PhDs in
astronomy and your SAT scores (if you can remember them) to analyze Tierney's
thoroughly non-scientific claim, would you participate? If there's sufficient
interest, I'll go and figure out how to set up a survey.

4. Mediating Bullying in Academic Workplaces
From: Lou Strolger [louis.strolger_at_wku.edu]

Peter Schmidt wrote an article entitled, "Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in
Taming Faculty Bullies" for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they
must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to
give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or
arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.

What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for
bullies' victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.

Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention,
broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of
unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such
disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace
abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution
plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to
use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not
necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.

Read more at:


5. Startup Boot Camp Illustrates Dearth of Women in Tech
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Scott Duke Harris published an article in Mercury News illustrating the dearth
of women in tech.

When I first met Jessica Mah, I wasn't sure what to think. 

Here she was, a 17-year-old girl schmoozing at a TechCrunch gathering a few
years ago, talking about startups and the Web. She mentioned a successful
Web-hosting service she started at age 13 back home in New York. Not long after
we met, sponsors of the Next Web Conference in Europe flew her out to address
the confab - a teenage symbol of The Future. 

Clearly she was precocious. I just wasn't sure if Jessica Mah was for real. 

"I wasn't sure myself," she told me the other day with a small grin. "In fact,
I'm still not." 

Actually, Mah has never been more credible. At 20, no longer blessed or burdened
with the "teen prodigy" label, she bears the bona fides of a computer science
degree from UC Berkeley and funding from Y Combinator, the much-admired startup
incubator in Mountain View. She is co-founder and CEO of inDinero, a Web-based
money-management service for small business that has attracted more than 2,000
users since the site debuted July 2. 

"Even though we're doing pretty well, I still wonder: Is this a bubble or am I
really capable?" she said. "Am I a good entrepreneur or is this a good market?"

Today, I have another notion about my initial skepticism: Gender profiling. If
this had been a geek named Jesse, not Jessica, maybe I'd be wondering if this
kid might be the next Zuckerberg, instead of wondering whether to take him

Read more at:


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7. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

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