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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Diversity Fail: It's Angry (in the British sense) Letter O'Clock! [20111003|14:28]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[the weather today is |the status quo can bite me]

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?

[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2011-10-03 14:00 (UTC)
I would throw in an example of how such things as you suggest actually work. For example, and I know this is a fictional show, but Mae Jemison (sp?), a US astronaut, was inspired by Urhura on the original Star Trek show.
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[User Picture]From: anthrokeight
2011-10-03 14:03 (UTC)
Oooohhh.... good one.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-03 14:29 (UTC)
Great idea, thank you! I'll have to think about where to add that in. Possibly just before the last sentence.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-04 10:44 (UTC)
OK, here's what I've put at the end of the last full paragraph (just before "I hope that..."):

Positive depictions of minority groups in traditionally under-represented fields of work are essential to their aspirations, even if they are fictional. For example, US astronaut Mae Jemison cites the role of Uhura, the black female commander in the TV series Star Trek, as a strong influence on her decision to pursue a career in science.
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2011-10-04 13:49 (UTC)
Sounds good!

The other article I thought you might like, that I just read yesterday, was this one, that talks about how Harvey Mudd, a college in California, has been focusing on women in computer science.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-04 19:30 (UTC)
That's awesome - a beam of hope! Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: anthrokeight
2011-10-03 14:02 (UTC)
I think the point is made about the shopping when you mention that it is happening- if they don't get it any mention of it may make them think STRIDENT. It should be clear what the problem is and that it may upset a woman scientist.

Append the stats. The scrupulous accuracy is good, and the implied comment about Women in Measuring makes the accuracy read as if it is delivered with a cocked Eyebrow of Disapproval. Snee hee heee.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-03 14:27 (UTC)
The consensus here and on DW seems to be that I should leave it as it is. I am inclined to agree. Especially since I'm writing to British people. ;)

Oho, I hadn't even thought about the irony of sending scrupulously accurate statistics as a response to a book about making measurements! Appended they shall be.
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[User Picture]From: pax_athena
2011-10-03 20:16 (UTC)
Append the statistics. OK, I would append the statistics here in Germany, I'm not sure how things work in UK.

But the very fact that such a letter is necessary makes me rage. And makes me terribly sad at the same time.

Anyway, I might move the sentence "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." further up, into the first paragraph. Not in this form of course, but the main statement should be there. I think there are enough people (and how sad this makes me!) who will not realize what you are aiming at before they really read the sentence, so it should come earlier. But that's only my opinion, of course.
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[User Picture]From: bryangb
2011-10-04 12:30 (UTC)
And "engender inspiration among women" should probably be "inspire women"!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-04 19:26 (UTC)
The only thing that worried me about your suggestion is that it doesn't fit with the narrative I used to build up to the message. I couldn't figure out a way to fit in easily, so I compromised by putting this as the subject line of the e-mail: "Concerns about diversity in published NPL material".
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[User Picture]From: shamroq
2011-10-04 04:05 (UTC)
Would it kill you to just be a bit darker?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-04 08:49 (UTC)

I was, however, considering attaching a photo of a pair of crumpled panties, captioned with, "These are my knickers. In a twist. It's your fault."
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[User Picture]From: minirth
2011-10-04 21:15 (UTC)
You are so awesome.

More and more, the raging lack of diversity around me drives me up the fucking wall. Most of TV, movies, positions of authority... it's all white male white male white male. I'm giving "Prime Suspect" a try, and I swear I don't think I've seen a single non-white cop, and only 1 woman!

So, I just wanted to say, colour is beautiful! Fight the power!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-05 12:40 (UTC)
Thank you. Doing my best!

On the TV front: I think this might be why I like NCIS. I know the boss is a white male, but he's so un-godlike and the female characters have so much airtime that it doesn't bother me as much as it would otherwise.
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[User Picture]From: enterlinemedia
2011-10-05 01:19 (UTC)
I like the bit about a bunch of white dudes.

I hope they change the way race and gender are represented. TV shows are still slowly changing the course where I can only think of one show I watch that has a non-white female lead (NIKITA) and another show that has a black cast member in authority (FRINGE). Most of the Western media is slanted towards whites. I like seeing variety in the pictures and media because it more accurately reflects the world at large.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-05 12:44 (UTC)
Nikita features Maggie Q. *hearteyes*

doccy and tyrell recommended Fringe to me recently. Your mention of it is too much of a coincidence to pass up. I'm going to have to watch this show!
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[User Picture]From: feylike
2011-10-05 22:09 (UTC)
that's a great letter. i admire your use of your awesome writing skills for great justice! as an antidote for frustrations with inequality, might i suggest the upcoming Ada Lovelace Day?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-06 15:20 (UTC)
Great idea! I shall endeavour to write a journal entry about my undergraduate research supervisor on the train this evening.
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[User Picture]From: sadira42
2011-10-10 23:21 (UTC)
Go you! Great letter.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2011-10-11 09:19 (UTC)
Thank you. I'm feeling kind of down about it right now, though, because it's been a week since I sent it and I've had no response. Not even an acknowledgment. :/
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