October 3rd, 2011

pazu: jack you up

Diversity Fail: It's Angry (in the British sense) Letter O'Clock!

It's 2011. I'm seriously annoyed that I even felt compelled to write this letter. When I was a child, I'm pretty sure I was promised a world free from gender and race inequality by the time I was an adult. Why is it not here? Dammit, why am I still trapped in a world run by a bunch of white dudes who can't see what the problem is because they have everything they want?

No wonder escapist media is so popular.

To whom it may concern:

Recently, my partner brought home The Little Big Book of Metrology, an accessible and appealing piece of outreach material produced by the National Physical Laboratory about the history and development of measuring units, from a conference. I was delighted, until I had finished reading it and realised that something was bothering me.

I went through it again and carefully counted up the number of scientist and engineers portrayed in The Little Big Book. Of the 15 photos containing humans in the book, three contained identifiably female humans. Of those three, one showed a woman in the background at a tea party, one was of the women’s hockey team and only the last showed a female scientist or engineer at work - helping a male colleague.

I then counted up the cartoon portrayals of humans in The Little Big Book. Here, I think, there is no rationale for not portraying a balance between the sexes. Here again, however, I found that of the 18 cartoons showing humans, 17 contained male humans and three contained female humans. Of those three, one was actually measuring something (the length of a queue of male humans), one was of a mixed group looking at a candle and one was of a woman shopping.*

It also concerned me that the photographs did not seem to contain any persons of colour. Amongst the cartoons, there was only one portrayal, in the group looking at the candle.

I do not feel that this is a balance of images that will engender inspiration among women to work in the field of metrology, or indeed in science and engineering generally. I realise that historical photographic material cannot be edited to contain women or persons of colour when it does not. However, I can’t help feeling that more of an effort could have been made to portray an equal gender balance and more diversity in modern science and engineering. If the ratio is indeed still so skewed at NPL, it risks projecting an image that is unlikely to appeal to any persons who are not both male and white.

I hope that future published materials from NPL will endeavour to portray a more diverse working culture, for the sake of female scientists and engineers everywhere.


Dr [personal profile] nanila (a female person of colour and a scientist working as an engineer)
[real name and work address will be supplied, of course.]

* I was seriously pissed off when I saw this, but I’m not sure how to express this without being dismissed as strident...?

I plan to send this to the NPL Communications and PR office. Does anyone have other suggestions? I have a complete list of the page numbers for the statistics on photographs & cartoons - should I append that?