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Sexism and Science/Technology - Nick [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Sexism and Science/Technology [Feb. 15th, 2004|06:17 pm]
Given the current shortages of science students, you would think that sexist people and behaviors in the field would be being identified and dealt with. You would also hope that most people would be improving, and becoming open minded. Annoying, it appears not.

Hilary's research group use a specific, quite expensive bit of equipment for most of their work. It's supplied by a specialist US firm, who mostly dominate the UK market for such equipment. It also appears to display some quite amazing sexist behavior in its UK operations. Damning behavior number one - they recently sponsored a conference for their users. Part of this featured a session where company specialists in the different equipment talked to the users about what they were doing, and what problems they were having. Hilary and her (female) supervisor tried to ask about a few problems, and were dismissed with things like "you must've been using it wrong" or "it'll be your own fault". They got the male DPhil student to ask the same questions, and he was listened to and given suggestions on how to fix it. Other women there had similar experiences.

Then, last week, Hilary's supervisor rang up the same company to report yet another problem. She left a message for their tech team, and was called back shortly after. The tech guy asked to speak to Dr *so and so*. Hilary's supervisor replied with "speaking". "No", said the tech guy, "I want to speak to Dr *so and so*, not his secretary".

Perhaps this company's inability to make a product which works properly is linked to their institutional sexism, and doubtless lack of women employees which go with it.

Next up, Hilary has been going to a few computing courses at OUCS (she wants to learn LaTex so she can write papers in it, and that course has a few required courses first). Last week, as she was walking through OUCS and about to go into the teaching room for "Linux for beginners", a male OUCS staff member asked her if she was lost....

In a similar vein, at the Microsoft talk I went to last week, there were perhaps 100 people there. Only one woman attending the talk, though all of the staff responsible for welcoming the guests, signing them , pointing them towards refreshments etc were women.

Incidentally, Hilary is accepting suggestions on what her group should do about their sexist equipment supplier (changing to a different one is currently not an option)

[User Picture]From: itchyfidget
2004-02-15 06:52 pm (UTC)
That's really uncomfortable reading!

Might they get into the habit of calling up with really technical questions, then asking more? Keeping those guys on the hop might be the way to win some respect - but how awful that they have to do this in the first place.

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From: hsenag
2004-02-15 07:50 pm (UTC)
I've already suggested this in person, but I think the obvious thing to do is to write a letter to whatever magazine lots of Physics researchers in the UK are likely to read. Should cause some red faces at said company...
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From: zihuatenejo
2004-02-15 10:46 pm (UTC)
That's awful, I'd sugest writing a letter to the IoP magazine and to the companys MD.

And what on earth is motivating Hillary to put herself through the pain of LaTeX? Is she turning into a geek? ;o)
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From: gagravarr
2004-02-16 09:45 am (UTC)


Simon has a column in the IoP magazine, and is mulling over writing about it

As for the MD, not sure if he'd be the best bet. All male Board of Directors, but they have several women on their Corporate Management committee - VP Human Resources, VP Chief Information Officer and VP Investor Relations + Corporate Communications - which do you think might be the best?

LaTex wise - Hilary wasted nearly a week on her Masters thesis with Word being muppet, and is determined not to suffer again!
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