Women pursuing careers in male dominated industries: How will it change?

In line with our argument that feminism is being enacted on the smaller screener, we want to take a moment to appreciate a current series, Masters of Sex. The series is based on the story of Doctors Masters and Johnson, the scientists who pioneered reseach into human sexual response. Set in the 50s and 60s, the series does not attempt to hide the sexism of the time, especially as it deals with sexuality itself. Full of incredible female characters, Virginia Johnson leads the pack as a woman who begins as a secretary in a teaching hospital, slowly working her way up to student, research assistant and ultimately a doctor herself.

In her journey, the sexism ingrained in education is shown time and time again, before she even reaches a professional level where if anything, it worsens. The Guardian recently put together an article on the sexism that women have to deal with at an academic level including:

“It’s not just club nights and initiations – female students come up against sexism in the classroom too. Two world-class debaters faced sexist abuse about their appearance and cries of “Get that woman out of my chamber” while participating in a competition at Glasgow University union last year. And another recent NUS report found that female students were experiencing sexism across campus, including venues such as lecture halls and the gym.”

An article in a similar vein was posted earlier this year which looked specifically at women in science. Written in first person by an anonymous academic, she laments

“Women in science face persistent challenges and discrimination. My less experienced male colleagues will attend conferences instead of me. I will be told by my supervisor not to worry about enthusiasm and hard work because in the end, I will leave science for marriage and children.

I have been asked to divulge my relationship status and future maternity plans in interviews. I have even watched my professor refuse to interview astounding female candidates because they have a child. It is completely unacceptable.

This blog started as an investigation into women pursuing careers in male dominated fields, to raise awareness of what they experience and how it can change and I ask again and again, how will it change? Our anonymous academic asks much the same and I flounder without an answer. The fact is, there is no industry that is not male dominated. They may begin with more female students but across the board, men get more attention, more pay and more key roles. I find myself leaning towards radical feminism, yearning for systemic overhaul and change. Whatever we do, a social media campaign will not be at its heart but I hope it points someone or something in the right direction.

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Spotlight on Psychology with Sarah Fernandes

Sarah Fernandes is a second year student doing a double degree in Arts/Science majoring in Media and Psychology respectively. She spoke to us about psychology and how it is often perceived as a soft science, more aligned with feminine temperaments and attitudes, and is often undervalued because of it.

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Ratio of women:men in staff and students? Has this affected the learning environment?
While the female:male student ratio is about 30:70, the teaching ratio is about 60:40. It’s a bit disheartening to see so many female undergraduate students and then an inverse ratio when it comes to teaching staff. It’s notoriously difficult to get into postgrad Psychology due to the sheer number of undergraduates vs. the amount of postgrad places. The fact that the teaching staff ratio isn’t the same as the undergrad ratio suggests that there is some underlying sexism in regards to applying for and succeeding in postgrad positions. There also seems to be more females in the ‘softer’ Psychology subjects, such as social, developmental and health, while subjects looking at perception, cognition, biology and animal learning are generally taught by males.

Do you have a female in your field that has become a mentor?
Not right now, but I do plan on contacting a female lecturer in the near future to discuss possible research assistant work with her next year. Ideally I would love for her to become my mentor because she’s teaching in a similar field that I would like to explore (social psychology)

Do you have a female in the history of your field that serves as inspiration?
Not really. Psychology has been dominated by men for a long time. All the key historical figures are male.

How did you become involved in your field and were you met with any initial resistance from friends/family? How do people you meet now respond?
I picked Psychology because I like science but I’m not great with nitty-gritty technical details involved in chemistry and biology. I thought studying human behaviour sounded really interesting, and it is! A lot of people, especially males, seem really initially impressed when I tell them I’m studying Science, but then seem disappointed when I tell them I’m studying Psychology. A lot of the time I hear “Oh, but that’s not a real science” or “It’s like you’re studying two Arts degrees!”, which is quite frustrating. Psychology involves a lot of rigorous experimental method and statistical analysis, but people perceive it as a ‘girly’ subject.

If you could give one piece of advice to men in the field, what would it be?
Not necessarily to men in the field (they’re generally pretty good), but don’t call out women on doing Psychology because “they like to talk” or “they like counselling their friends”. Psychology is a robust field of study that encompasses so much more than just listening to people’s feelings.

If you could give one piece of advice to women in/seeking to pursue a career in the field, what would it be?
Don’t be disheartened by the kinds of comments I just mentioned. Push through and don’t let anyone pigeonhole you into getting into certain areas within Psychology just because you’re a woman.

GamerGate: The wrap up

GamerGate (sometimes hashtagged) is a campaign which claimed to call for a review of ethics in gaming journalism but in reality, caused the threatening and harassment of a number of women. The threats began with Zoe Quinn, who was first brought into strife when an ex-boyfriend posted inflammatory and false information on his blog. You can read the full run down of what GamerGate entailed in this in-depth article by Forbes.

The take away from the debacle however can be seen as two opinions being pitted against one another, one far more violently than the other. That the gaming industry and its consumers are sexist, and that they aren’t. It should come as no surprise that the violent side is the one arguing that video games and their players are not sexist. Is there a definitive answer to the truth of the matter?

Whether you’re a gamer or not, chances are you’ve come across Anita Sarkeesian or, as she’s better known on the net, Feminist Frequency. In the last week, Sarkeesian has had to cancel a talk at Utah State University as she was threatened with violence from anonymous posters. She’s previously received bomb threats, rape threats and death threats due to the content of her vlogs which exposes sexism in video games and the industry which creates them.

Her blogs are well worth the watch, comprehensively researched, written and edited. Next time you’re considering watching a movie, instead watch a couple of her videos; you may learn a thing or two. Time and time agains she has proven that mainstream gaming is sexist. On why her videos provoked such a response, she stated:

There’s a toxicity within gaming culture, and also in tech culture, that drives this misogynist hatred, this reactionary backlash against women who have anything to say, especially those who have critiques or who are feminists. There’s this huge drive to silence us, and if they can’t silence us, they try to discredit us in an effort to push us out.

This experience has been the effect of GamerGate. Where women were seen as a threat, they are instead discredited (the guise of ethical journalism) then threatened and harassed.

Spotlight on Film with Jamie Livingstone

Jamie Livingstone is a current Theatre and Film Studies student, who made the movie from a Law degree four years ago. For her, film making is a labour of love and passion. As an ardent feminist, her taste in film making and viewing have always been geared towards women’s stories and her experiences in both theatre and film have not always reflected a landscape of gender equality. We spoke to her about her experiences in education, internships and productions.

What would you estimate the ratio of men:women in your courses are?
For my theatre major I would guess maybe 1:3, theatre is a female dominated degree but for film I would guess it is more even, maybe even more male dominated.

Have you had any standout examples of being treated differently for being a woman?
Being told if I want to succeed as a director/ filmmaker I need to dress more “butch”. Having actors ignore my direction, only to follow it when it was retold to them by a techie (a man). The generally low amount of women that are working in this field.

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If you could give one piece of advice to men in the field, what would it be?
Our gender shouldn’t colour the way our input is received. My good idea is a good idea – not a good idea for a girl (something a man actually said to me).

If you could give one piece of advice to women in/seeking to pursue a career in the field, what would it be?
Fuck ’em.
People are going to try to tell you how to conform, what to do, what to say and what to make but fuck them.
If you want to make an action film do it.
If you want to write a play that centres on a romance do that.
You shouldn’t be forced into a certain way of creating because of your gender.

If you’re interested in feminism in the film landscape, you can’t go past Melissa Silverstein and her work on Huffington Post as well as her own blog, Women and Hollywood – for all your feminist film criticism, check out Bitch Flicks!

Spotlight on Game Studies with Mahli-Ann Butt

Following Gamergate, we spoke to Mahl-Ann Butt, an arts student at UNSW who studies Philosophy and has recently become interested and involved in Game Studies, a field she says has been wonderfully open and welcoming. We’ll have a follow up post on Gamergate up very soon, so keep an eye out!

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Besides being involved with academic Game Studies circles, Mahli-Ann works at EB Games and runs a video game blog. Her experience at EB Games. On working there, she says “I still have people asking me if I play games and what games I play, unlike where that fact is assumed with the men. There are also some (rare) occasions where people don’t want to be served by me or not trust my advice because of being female. Unfortunately, there are also cases of stalking and sexual harassment stories I’ve heard from nearly every other female EB employee I’ve come across. Currently, EB Games NSW only has 30% female employees (others states are about 40%). The company has recently started taking steps to change this by starting female employee meetings to come up with solutions to problems of diversity and making sure the safeguards against sexual harassment are known by the employees.”

On her personal concerns for the gaming industry’s attitudes to women, she says, “Videogames have an incredible potency to teach a vast variety of skills. The oppression of women in gaming (which in turns discourages women to participate) is therefore denying women from the skills and positive experiences gained from videogames. Furthermore, like in any sort of creative medium, a diversity of voices brings new ideas and perspectives which enrich the industry with innovation.”

What are people’s initial reactions to you being interested in Game Studies?

A lot of my friends were originally unsure of Game Studies – mostly because they didn’t know what it was. Most people won’t understand the value of studying videogames critically, but it’s the same sort of reproach that comes with any unconventional profession (funnily enough, I’m also a Philosophy major and musician).

How have you found the gender balance in teaching staff?

The academics I’ve met are wholeheartedly committed to creating a more inclusive environment. Surprisingly, being a female gamer in academia might actually – for once – be beneficial. So far, the support I’ve already been given has been immensely generous. Out of all the communities in gaming, I’ve found scholars and critics to be the strongest voices for women equality.

What advice can you give to men interested in gaming?

It’s obvious that the sexism and misogyny in gaming needs to end, but indifference is also perpetuating the problem. Women’s opinions are often dismissed in gaming and you can make a world of difference just by speaking up and standing up when you see uncool things happening.

What advice can you give to women interested in pursuing a career in gaming?

It’s pretty hard to deny that gaming is still very much a boys club, but more and more gamers want to change this. Gaming professions are starved for women. While the community is still in limbo between resistance and inclusion, the movement is beginning to tip towards the latter. When you’re feeling rejected and tired of the struggle of the sexes in gaming, remember that you’re not alone and that there are people out there who do want you to be part of this community. Just keep in there and come find us!

Spotlight on medicine with Anonymous

We recently caught up with a female medicine student, currently in her second year, and spoke about her experiences in pursuing a career in a male dominated industry. She explained that while her degree was had a fairly even count of men and women, she’d had a number of sexist incidents. She’s decided to stay anonymous but here are her reponses:

Have you experienced any sexist attitudes or behaviours in your degree?

There have only been a couple of times that I’ve experienced anything really problematic – one was when a male student wolf whistled while watching a video of a woman describing her experiences of feeling extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed while having hot flushes due to menopause and having to remove her clothes to deal with the severity of the symptoms. I thought it showed a blatant disrespect of female patients and thought it was completely inappropriate to sexualise a patient experiencing distress like that. Incidents like that don’t happen often, but when they do there doesn’t seem to be any criticism or consequences.

There have also been instances of male students sexualising and objectifying female students and women in general – e.g. ‘rating’ women on their appearance and creating criteria to do so – which was posted on Facebook. Again, although many people have privately expressed how objectifying and horrible they found it, there was no consequences or even criticism given to the group who participated as far as I know.

There have also been more subtle incidents. I often notice that, for example, when describing the role of a medical professional in general (e.g. neurologist) people will use either gender neutral or male pronouns – never female. It reveals our expectation for these positions to be male and subtly reinforces the idea that they should be.

Do you have a female in the history of your field that serves as inspiration?

There isn’t really one particular female that serves as inspiration to me – rather all the women who were involved in and extremely successful in the medical field before it was accepted. Today the medical field in Australia seems to me relatively accepting and supportive of women, but in the past it was far from accepting, yet there were still women who followed their passions, dealt with the challenges and proved themselves extremely intelligent and capable even without the same education as men in the field. Medical school is hard enough now – it gives me strength to think there were women who did it, and did it well when they also had to deal with resentment and hostility and being possibly the only woman in their entire cohort.

How did you become involved in your field and were you met with any initial resistance from friends/family? How do people you meet now respond?

Initially some female medical professionals in my family warned me that it would be extremely hard. They gave me examples of hostility that they had experienced in their careers, but were ultimately supportive. I also experienced many people e.g. staff at my high school who would continuously remind me how hard it was going to be, with many people telling me to ‘consider something else’.

It’s interesting, many people view me differently now. I seemed to have earned the respect of a lot of men who apparently were not so impressed with me before – something I could care less about and do not understand.

If you could give one piece of advice to men in the field, what would it be?

Medicine has such a focus on being scientifically accurate and correct, and yet we still let so many ridiculous gendered ideas and stereotypes permeate our practice. I’d encourage everyone in the medical field to look deeper into the way we view gender and how unscientific and inaccurate societal ideas about gender and sex truly are.

If you could give one piece of advice to women seeking to pursue a career in the field, what would it be?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. No one else knows what you can do. It will be hard, but that’s no reason not to try.

“The tech industry can be really intimidating, not because male developers are necessarily better or more knowledgeable, but because there is a strong feeling that they have no interest in what you have to say.”

Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a speech encouraging women not to ask for pay rises and to instead “have faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along”. One attendee wrote about the immediate reactions at the event where the comments were made saying, “Some saw his comments as an innocent gaffe, while others felt it was a disturbing example of tone-deafness that showed how much further male leaders have to go to truly make diversity a serious priority.”

The comments come at just the right time as Sarah Silverman released a video for a new campaign highlighting the gender wage gap. While the video is specific to the U.S. (and received its own share of backlash for it treatment of trans people), the gap certainly isn’t – the current average pay gap in Australia is 17.1% and asking women to “have faith in the system” that routinely disadvantages them seems dubious at best, pernicious at worst.

After severe backlash, Nadella did apologise for the comments, though it’s difficult to believe that he fully understands the ramifications of his words; ingrained in them is a prejudice that can not be erased with an apology and with his uttering of them, a complicity in the system that he has then tried to deny.

In the same week, several high ranking men in the tech industry have made similarly upsetting remarks from companies including Google, Facebook and GoDaddy – you can read the details here.

If you’re interested in women in tech, be sure to check out this awesome series of portraits and interviews on some industrial strength women forging a paths across the board. Jennifer Collaway, a front-end engineer says:

“The ‘bro culture’ you often think of in relation to the tech industry is very much a real thing, and it has been present in varying degrees of prominence in every experience I’ve had in tech companies, meetups, and forums. I think it’s difficult for women in tech because there’s a level of respect that many men automatically give to other male developers, but for women, you really have to prove yourself before your opinions are considered valid. It can be really intimidating, not because male developers are necessarily better or more knowledgeable, but because there is a strong feeling that they have no interest in what you have to say.”

Spotlight on Chemical Engineering with Zeina Tebbo

Industrial Strength Women caught up with Zeina Tebbo, a current chemical engineering student at UNSW. At 22 years old, Zeina is in her fifth year of a five year degree,going on to a Master’s in biomedical engineering. She shared her experience with us so far and it’s important to note how her identity as a Muslim woman intersects with her experience as a woman.

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What do you think the ratio of men to women in your degree is?
Engineering as a whole there definitely is more males than females however the ratio has definitely increased over the years. I would estimate chemical engineering to be 60:40.

I don’t think having many males in the class has been an educational disadvantage. However it definitely has been a great way of refining my social skills. My competitive edge to prove myself as a leader and equally competent at any task has definitely emerged.

What about teaching staff? Has the representation there been unfair or challenged you at all?
The ratio of teaching stuff has definitely changed. Chemical Engineering has a female head of school which I think is a great way of encouraging further education and leadership amongst females. Also Biomedical Engineering does have several academics who are proving to be pioneers in their field. I think the fact that females are taking a more prominent role in engineering will probably overcome the uneven ratio.
My biggest mentor in the field of engineering definitely has to be Dr Lauren Kark and Dr Mehreen Faruqi. Dr Kark is actually a lecturer at UNSW however she is very innovative, social and great to work with, Dr Faruqi on the other hand although an engineer by trade is also a state MP for the greens. Her role as Multicultural spokesperson and her fight for social justice makes her a very strong character.

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What first made you want to pursue a career in chemical engineering?
During my HSC I had a dream of pursuing medicine. However when I didn’t have enough marks to enter I needed to pursue other possibilities. My maths teacher was an engineer by trade and would I think he would be synonymous with the word inspiration. I remember speaking to him before submitting my application and he reassured me that I would be good engineer.
At the time I thought I would be a shoe in for radiography at USYD however engineering was my fate. At the time my dad though engineering was in the same calibre as a mechanic. I guess the idea came about because every car has an engine and hey engineering would mean I would be repairing car engines. It took a few months to reassure him I will not be repairing cars however he did have a turn around and eventually embraced the idea. People in my community are impressed at my chosen field of study. I am always met with the question, “but is it hard?”, which I often reassure them that it is not as bad as one may think.

Do you have any advice for other female identifying individuals interested in the field?
My biggest suggestion to any female wishing to pursue engineering is Do not be afraid. It isn’t as daunting as one might think and the guys are manageable. Go to class with a strong personality and mindset and it will definitely get you through.

“We need more voices in science, and not those that just say, hey- You look good in that dress today.”

It’s no secret that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a feminist and all round perfect human being. But have you heard him talk about sexism and institutionalised inequality? Now’s your chance! This great article by Feministing has collated a bunch of 24 carat gold moments from the Cosmos superstar. Here’s a hard hitting snippet:

“I’ve never been female. But I have been black my whole life. And so, let me perhaps offer some insight from that perspective, because there are many similar social issues related to access, to equal opportunity that we find in the black community and the community of women in a male dominated — white male dominated — society… My life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know that these forces are real, and I had to survive them to get where I am today. So before we start talking about genetic differences, you’ve got to come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.”

There have been some incredible women in science in Australia and their experiences have been archived by the Australian Academy of Science. Here you will find a small list of Australian, female scientists who have been interviewed on their childhoods, work as well as their academic and professional careers.

On whether science is a place for women, currently practising ecologist, Dr Tracy Gromadzki had this to say:

“Absolutely. For a variety of reasons, science has traditionally been thought of as a male domain, I guess you could say. But over the last few years more and more women have been going into science, doing university honours and even PhDs. That is great, but I think the major problem at the moment is that we tend to get quite a big drop‑out between PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship or finding a job somewhere.”

It appears that science, just like law has a high proportion of female students that does not eventuate into higher positions. Dr Gromadzki goes on to explain this disparity:

“A lot of that drop‑out is probably family-related, because science traditionally has not been an easy discipline to get back into after being out of it for a while. You have to keep publishing your work, you have to be very active in keeping the research going. Nowadays, though, employers and other people are becoming aware of the difficulties for women who have decided to take a break to start a family but then want to get into science again, and ways are being found to facilitate that. It’s definitely going in the right direction.”

So there is hope yet.

If you’re a current science student that is interested in connecting with other women within science in Australia, be sure to check out the Women in Science Enquiry Network who support women working in not only science but engineering and mathematics also.

Last but not least, here’s a rather moving and thoroughly powerful spoken word poem about being the erased voices of women in science by Emilie Graslie:

Spotlight on Law with Amanda K.

Introducing Industrial Strength Women’s first podcast!

We caught up with current Arts/Law student, Amanda K.

Amanda was super prepared for our chat – while it’s well known that there are more female than male identified people studying law – 61.4% of graduates are women – Amanda pointed out that despite there being enough women in the field, simply not enough senior positions are being filled by them – as low as 22%.

We discuss the difficulties in engaging with the industry, from sexist lecturers and academic inspiration to the cold hard stats of representation, as well as some advice for men in the field. So give it a listen and get informed!