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Violating the Modesty Norm: Women in STEM June 13, 2013

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Meet Dr. Jessi Smith, a psychological scientist and professor at Montana State University. Dr. Smith’s work focuses on the psychological components and phenomena that impact motivation and achievement. As an expert on factors that impact women in STEM fields, the RAISE Project spoke with Dr. Smith to get some possible answers about what holds some women back. Since 1973, women have obtained 42% of all degrees awarded in STEM fields. This is a glaring difference from the STEM workforce with only 27% of women comprising these jobs.  A jessi smithcloser look reveals that women are paid-less and receive far less recognition for equivalent work as compared to men.

Women also tend to shy away from awards and other platforms that may increase the recognition of women in science. So, what gives? Could this be a case of reinforcing the glass ceiling?

According to Dr. Smith, women feel uncomfortable self-promoting. It goes against the modesty norm. For example, when women are asked to write a letter describing their strengths it tends to downplay accomplishments and successes. These types of “cover letters” are often required for employment and awards so women are unconsciously placing themselves at a disadvantage. In fact, most letters of reference written for women tend to focus on personality over accomplishments. The opposite has been found for males.

Self-promoting is uncomfortable and leads to unpleasant feelings for most women. Violating the modesty norm is salient to women and when women self promote, there is a backlash; people tend not to like them, think of them as narcissistic, or believe they must be hard to work with. So, what can we do?

Dr. Smith conducted a study on women and self-promotion. Participants (women) were asked to write a letter in order to compete for an imaginary award. Half of the participants were seated in a room that contained a big black box that supposedly made noises that caused anxiety. The other half were seated in a quiet room. The purpose of the box was to give participants something to blame when they felt uncomfortable, so when the women began to write their letters they could attribute these uncomfortable feelings to the black box and not to themselves. Results revealed that participants in the black box condition wrote higher quality letters. The opposite was found for the participants who wrote their essays in the quiet room. These results suggest that the cognitive dissonance (i.e. uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that happen when we violate a norm) that occurs as a function of self-promotion directly influences how women present themselves.

Later, Dr. Smith took the essays written by the women in these groups and gave them to a new batch of participants and asked them to rate them in terms of how much award money they would assign to each letter (0-$5000). Women who were in the black box condition were given a significantly greater amount than the women in the quiet room condition.

Now that we know the impact of cognitive dissonance related to violating the modesty norm, perhaps we can overcome it!

Self-promotion can pay off for females in STEM fields. The NSF and NIH currently fund Dr. Smith’s research to the tune of approximately $5 million. She is certainly a scientist to watch. You can check out some of her fascinating work here: http://www.montana.edu/wwwpy/smith.htm

“Bumping Bodies or Beautiful Minds?” – Charlene Sayo May 31, 2013

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Not only do women receive less pay and recognition than their male peers in STEM fields, they are also held to a higher standard for physical appearance. Thoughts? Read all about it here

Female Scientist Award May 20, 2013

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Carnegie Science Center established the Emerging Female Scientist Award to recognize the work of a female leader whose cutting-edge work inspires change in math, science, or technology. When asked about this award the institution indicated that female scientists are not self-nominating or being nominated for many of the other prestigious Carnegie science awards. Read about it here

Why Gender Equality Has Stalled February 20, 2013

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Fabulous article on the realities of compromise:

“This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.”

Read the full article here. 

 

Technology Can Help Us Live Longer January 31, 2013

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Health care and tech–a brilliant team. Once controlled by the healthcare industry, medical technology is moving into the hands of patients. Can we use the tech to make healthier choices, or do we rely on professionals to light a fire under us?

Florence Haseltine knows her stuff. Founding the Society for Women’s Health Research and co-directing the RAISE project, she’s been around the world in medicine and tech both–great article.

Read the original HuffPost article here. 

The world around us is changing minute by minute, and the way and how we communicate have markedly changed. Medicine is just part of the world that requires communication. Medicine is increasingly falling under the influence of new technologies to remind individuals when to take treatments, or when it’s time to monitor one’s vitals. The health care industry has become a technology-rich environment. The human-technology interface is rich for medical exploration, especially to combat some of the challenges that cause Americans — more than their peer nations — to have worse health, as highlighted by a number of recent news stories that discuss a report published by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. Technology supporting behavior change, resulting in healthier diets or in better management of chronic diseases, is just one area under trial and current exploration. The possibilities of what technology can do are endless.

Much is promised and much is justified on the basis it will improve our health and cost us less. For decades, the use of medical technology has been controlled by the medical profession, but with the expansion of personal mobile devices, it is moving into patients’ hands. In this shifting scenario, it has been said that medicine is now more influenced by smart enabled technologies than by pharmaceuticals. As evidence mounts that innovations such as smart devices can improve the health and care of an individual, more resources must be focused on their development and integration into the health care system.

The assumption is that technology will increasing integrate smart devices into the overall care of the patient. But as Alan Kay said in 1971, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Verizon is determined to invent that future and help technology become more useable. To do so, the Verizon Foundation is reaching out to innovative healthcare providers and organizations to collaboratively build programs enabling them to integrate the use of technology to advance and improve health care. Recently, Verizon has been working with the Society for the Advancement of Women’s Health Research to bring health care to women in underserved areas. Since women frequently are the caregivers for their families while neglecting their own care, it seemed prudent to focus our joint effort on improving their care. If the women are comfortable using the smart devices, the families will follow. Every single person involved in this effort, and every health care provider who tries a new approach, is adding to the knowledge foundation we desperately need to incorporate the new mobile technologies into the medical world and help people manage their own health. The community expects mobile devices to improve health and we demand it.

For more by Florence P. Haseltine, Ph.D., M.D., click here.

For more health living health news, click here.

Engineering and Mini-Golf January 4, 2013

Posted by The Raise Project in Award Winners.
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What is better than a museum with a mini-golf course inside it? Answer: that museum recognizing an awesome society with a prestigious award. The National Building Museum has honored the Society of Women Engineers with its Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology. The vote was unanimous. Go, SWE!

read the original (longer version) here.

The National Building Museum will award Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology to Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which was chosen by jury in recognition of 60+ years of giving women engineers unique place and voice within engineering industry. Prize will be presented on February 5, 2013 in Washington, D.C., where SWE’s Betty Shanahan will deliver “Diversity Fueling Innovation” lecture and discuss ways to promote under-represented populations in STEM professions.

Wom-aceda-medic-eosis! Translation: Burnout. December 5, 2012

Posted by The Raise Project in Career, Women in Science.
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First: Ohmigosh, wordpress is snowing! Squee!!

Second: On to real business. Do you, like our subject, get tired of being a woman in academic medicine? Longer hours for less recognition, a dismal rate of awards and prizes.. or is that just the nature of the field?

Read the original here. 

By Pauline Chen, M.D.

I recently learned that a doctor friend had seriously considered quitting her job at her medical school to go into private practice. As long as I have known her, she has talked about her love for teaching new doctors and conducting research while still caring for patients. Nonetheless, I wasn’t surprised to hear the reason she wanted to leave.

“I got tired of being a woman in academic medicine,” she said.

She recounted how, much more than her male colleagues, she would be assigned to work during major holidays, cover for others’ absences and sit on administrative committees that took time away from the research required to advance her career. When she spoke to her chairman about the discrepancies, he listened — but never responded to her repeated requests for a raise or more support.

What surprised me, however, was what finally persuaded her to stay. When she described her situation to some male colleagues, they listened attentively, then began relaying their frustrations with how little support they got from superiors.

“It’s hard being a woman here, but I concluded it’s not that great for anyone else either,” she said.

Sadly, her assessment seems to be correct, according to a recent study on the experiences of women and men working in medical schools.

Academic medical centers — institutions that have as their primary mission the training of new doctors, medical research and comprehensive clinical care – have long played a crucial role in how medicine is practiced in the United States. While historically most doctors were men, medical schools began broadening their admissions policies a little over a generation ago, so that women soon made up anywhere from a third to half of all students and trainees and an increasing percentage of the professors.

But in 2000, a landmark national survey of those working in these institutions revealed that gender bias was widespread. More than half of the women professors surveyed reported being discriminated against or sexually harassed, even as most of their male colleagues believed that such disparities in their institutions did not exist. Other studies found that women faculty members continued to make less money than their male peers, were promoted more slowly and even fared worse in academia’s most revered expression of meritocracy, the peer-review process.

Some researchers attributed the persistent issue to a “pipeline problem,” insufficient numbers of senior level women in medicine, particularly in certain specialties like surgery. Other experts postulated that women were more sensitive to unfair treatment because they tended to be more relationship-oriented than their male colleagues. Still others offered up what amounted to a tautological zinger: by choosing not to leave academic medicine, women simply had more opportunities to experience harassment.

The latest study, conducted as part of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine and published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine, offers another reason for women’s discontent in academic medical centers: the organizational culture, or the norms of behavior and implicit values of these institutions. And it’s not just women who are feeling demoralized.

The researchers administered a 20-minute questionnaire to over 2,000 faculty members at more than 25 academic medical centers and asked if their work energized them, if they felt ignored or invisible, if they felt pressure to be more aggressive or compromise their values and if their institution promoted altruistic and public service values.

As in earlier studies, more women than men felt marginalized and discriminated against, despite being as ambitious and engaged in work as their male colleagues. Many of the women also described a lack of trust in their institutions or little confidence that the discrimination they were experiencing would ever be addressed.

But both women and men expressed similarly negative feelings about a lack of support from their institutions for their work. And the men were just as likely as the women to feel what experts have termed “moral distress,” a sense of being trapped and forced to compromise on what one believes is right or just.

“We have this dehumanizing organizational culture in academic medicine that doesn’t allow people to realize their potential or be as vital and productive as they can be,” said the lead author, Dr. Linda H. Pololi, a senior scientist at Brandeis University who is also the director of the initiative. “It’s hard to ignore the far-reaching consequences of a work environment that has trouble modeling compassion and care.”

Based on this study and their earlier work, Dr. Pololi and her initiative collaborators have begun offering mentoring programs for faculty members, both female and male, at a handful of medical schools around the country. The program involves reading, writing and regular group exercises and discussions aimed at developing leadership skills and promoting a more open environment. In the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, a preliminary survey has shown that the mentoring program, which has just begun its third year at the school, has already helped to increase the degree of trust among faculty members.

While it remains to be seen whether these changes will endure, it has become clearer that men, as well as women, stand to benefit from any improvement. “It is shocking that the situation for women in academic medicine hasn’t changed that much in the last 10 years,” Dr. Pololi said. “But it’s not always easy to notice the quality of an organization’s culture.”

She added: “That culture is like the air we breathe or the water that fish swim in. It has the potential, for better or worse, to affect everybody in the same way.”

Techie-in-Chief: But I don’t wanna be a token! November 19, 2012

Posted by The Raise Project in Career, Women in Science.
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Nobody wants to be the token. It is nice to see a familiar-looking face at your workplace. Is this common desire for homogeneity stunting women who kinda, sorta, maybe are interested in tech fields?

Read the Original Here. 

In fact, the whole article is a light read but fairly lengthy, so you should prob just head on over to Computerworld.

Should There Be Affirmative Action for Women in STEM? October 9, 2012

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Hold the (male-designed) phone!

A new Yale study has revealed that there is a pervasive and unconscious bias on university campuses that favors male science students over their female counterparts. The result is fewer women in scientific professions.

What to do, what to do? Quotas? Points? Read on….

Let’s Call It ‘Affirmative Effort’

Nancy Hopkins

Nancy Hopkins is a biology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Updated September 30, 2012, 7:01 PM

Affirmative action has come to describe two very different types of efforts. One involves lowering standards to achieve diversity. The other does not lower standards, but rather involves taking action to overcome discrimination, including unconscious bias. This type – I’ll call it “affirmative effort,” is essential in providing a level playing field for women who aspire to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field careers. I can’t think of another way to confront the unconscious bias recently described in the Yale study.

Unconscious bias, which results in the undervaluation of women and their work, was discovered by psychologists more than 20 years ago. Numerous studies have documented its negative impact on women’s advancement in STEM fields. About 15 years ago universities began to address the problem, particularly at the faculty level, by using more rigorous data-driven approaches to assess merit in hiring, promotion, and compensation.

This “affirmative effort” has been highly successful, increasing the number of women faculty in STEM fields and ensuring equity. It has been less successful in eliminating the underlying problem, namely unconscious bias in the minds of both male and female faculty members, who continue to marginalize and undervalue women and their work in STEM fields.

People often ask, “But if a woman is really good enough, can’t she make it on her own? And can’t a conscious effort to help or support women even exacerbate the problem?” Examination of the data on how women have advanced in STEM fields shows that the answer to both questions is “no.” It’s like asking, “But couldn’t a really great runner win an Olympic race even if he had a 10 pound (invisible) weight strapped to his back?” Women make it by overcoming bias but often at a high cost and probably by not advancing to their full potential.

Affirmative action has become a derogatory term used unfairly to disparage women who advance purely on merit. But we cannot let the common misconception that bias no longer exists stop us from using “affirmative effort” to overcome the unconscious bias that still holds many women back.

Mister Doctor, only? October 1, 2012

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Women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, but they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. Great article from NYT highlighting the gap.

Read the Original Here. 

Women Still Missing From Medicine’s Top Ranks

By DANIELLE OFRI, M.D.

The newly renovated suite of offices for our medical department was beautiful — clean, sleek lines that nevertheless incorporated features of the century-old hospital. The chairman of the department had a new office there, as well as all the division chiefs and the main administrators of the department. It was a plum location.

Danielle Ofri, M.D.Joon Park Danielle Ofri, M.D.

But there was one slight logistical problem: The stalls in the otherwise lovely women’s bathroom were narrow, and all the doors opened inward. For the women who carried bags or purses with them, this arrangement was annoying. For me, pregnant at the time, it was the Berlin Wall.

Upon witnessing my daily struggle to wedge myself and my soon-to-be-born offspring into the stall, my female office mates began a petition to reverse the bathroom doors. Admittedly there are more pressing needs in medicine, but the administrators, secretaries and members of the clerical staff rallied to the cause, and eventually victory was achieved just before my son was born. We even had a party to celebrate the now-famed reversal of the doors. All the women from the suite attended.

It was at the party that I noticed that of all the women who worked in that suite of 30-odd offices, I was the only physician; every other woman was administrative. As I mentally surveyed the men who had offices in the suite, all but one were doctors, and all were in the upper echelons of the department.

We certainly had plenty of female doctors on the faculty, but it was striking to me that in the main suite of the department, the gender lines were stark. The men were senior faculty members, and the women, other than me, were administrative.

This phenomenon is well documented. While women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. A recent review in The Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 4 percent of full professors are women. Only 12 percent of department chiefs are women. In the survey, men and women were engaged in their work to a similar degree, and both groups had comparable aspirations for leadership roles.

But over all, women did not feel the same sense of inclusion in the medical world as men did. They were not confident about their ability to be promoted, despite their interest in advancement. These findings do not come as a surprise to most women in medicine.

Is it that the medical world remains biased against women, despite the increasing number of women in the ranks? Or is it, as some have postulated, that the culture of the workplace — built around the needs of men for generations — simply remains that way? Despite trends toward more equitable distribution of family responsibilities and more child care services, women still shoulder more of the family burden. For most people, peak career-building years overlap with peak family-building years.

There is also the idea of “possible selves.” If you see lots of women who are doctors, a teenager can imagine that for herself as a possible life. But if you never see any women leading a department, it’s much harder for a junior faculty member to envision that job as a possibility.

No one I’ve spoken to feels there is much deliberate bias in medicine these days. But the lingering unconscious bias involving the various waves of newcomers — women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians — resonates for many.

Our department has come a long way in the past 10 years. Women are a third of the faculty, though only 12 percent have attained the level of associate or full professor. (For our male counterparts, 30 percent have reached that level.)

There are more female doctors in the office suite now, some of whom are division chiefs. There are female physicians directing the clinics and the residency programs. But on a national level — as reflected in this recent article — most women feel that they aren’t in the inner circles and, more concerning, feel that they aren’t likely to ever get there.

I worry most about what our students and residents draw from this. Do they sense the improvements, even if modest — or do they see a lack of “possible selves” in the upper ranks and direct their energy elsewhere?

The bathroom doors in the women’s room have opened outward for a decade now, so the pregnant staff members at all levels can make their way in. It’s a start, but there’s still a long way to go.


Danielle Ofri is an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine and editor in chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her most recent book is “Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients.”

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