Archive for August, 2009

Where do I connect with women’s associations in technology and trades?

Recruiting 101:  Have you visited the career links section of www.womentechworld.org? There are links to many women in technology and trade associations—some of which have local chapters or an email list that you can access.   A few examples of what you can find include Women in GIS, Women in Animation and Women in HVACR .

How to Recruit Female Role Models!

Recruiting 101: The key to recruiting women and girls in a field in which they are under-represented is female role models.  You already know their numbers are small, so where do you find these women?  IWITTS did a survey in 2005 and found that among educators word of mouth was the leading strategy (86%), followed by connecting with women on the street (66%).  Respondents also found doing a newspaper story on their program effective! In addition, I’d recommend putting flyers up in your community saying you are looking for female role models in specific occupations.

What does following up with women on the street mean? I remember meeting a female telephone repair person in our office building one morning. I invited her into our office, explained what we did, got her contact information and a little bit of her background. She told me, “I’m the queen of DSL.” Another time, via a journalist I was able to track down a woman who had been written about in the local paper. She ended up testifying before Congress in hearings I helped set up for legislation on women in non-traditional jobs that I drafted on behalf of a Congresswoman.  (The bill was signed into law!)

These are direct recruitment strategies.  Even more effective in the long term is to recruit female role models via program partners.  Employer Industry Boards can place articles in employee newsletters advertising for role models and can provide paid release time.  Develop partnerships with Women in Technology Associations; they can become a pipeline for role models.  Self-employed women have more control over their schedules and may be found via your local chamber of commerce. Also, speak with community college and 4-year college instructors in male-dominated program areas.

Please keep in mind that women in technical occupations (rather than professional occupations) have less control over their schedules, make less money and may not be able to take time off during their regular workday. If they have to take time off from work and you can offer them a stipend that will help. Some will work evenings or weekends, making it easier to connect with them during the daytime if that’s when your classes meet.

The first time you try to find female role models, give yourself three to six months. If you recruit program partners it shouldn’t be as hard on the second go around. And the good news is that as women and girls enroll in your programs you’ll have your own role models to feature in any publicity about your program! If you or someone you know has been successful in recruiting female role models in a way I haven’t mentioned here, please post a comment and let us know about it.

Julie and Julia: What Julia Child Has to Teach Women Students Today and What Julie Had to Teach Me

I had the good fortune of seeing the movie Julie and Julia this past weekend and I loved it, as did the rest of the audience! Everyone clapped after many of the scenes—something which rarely happens in the movies. The movie is based on the true stories of the famous, American-French chef Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and a New York writer named Julie who decides to cook all of Julia’s recipes in a year and to blog about it daily.

Julia Child broke into the elite and all male French culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, via sheer persistence.  In the movie, Julia watches on her first day as her fellow classmates expertly and rapidly chop onions while she lags behind. The instructor tutors her on proper knife technique, while the others watch and no doubt question her skills.  In the next scene we see Julia’s husband come home that evening to find his wife chopping a mound of what must be 30 to 40 onions. The scene is hilarious as they are both crying from all the chopped onions, and the message is clear—Julia is going to do whatever it takes to succeed at Le Cordon Bleu.  The very next day in class she chops the onions expertly and is the first to finish, thereby gaining the respect of her fellow male students and instructor.

However, there is one other obstacle to Julia’s success at the Cordon Bleu school of cooking and guess what? It’s a woman, the owner of the school. She is reluctant to let Julia in the school in the first place and sets her up to fail by placing her in an advanced professional class when Julia complains about being in a beginning all female class that is extremely elementary. She refuses to let Julia take the test she needs to receive her diploma. Julia must ultimately reference her friendship with the American Ambassador in order to take the test (her husband is a diplomat). She is given a test clearly designed for her to fail; forcing her to request another opportunity to take the exam.

This touches on a little discussed subject—one that is still relevant today.  What about when women undermine other women? Well this does happen, especially when a woman is one of very few. Sometimes the pioneer woman doesn’t want other women to succeed. Why? This phenomenon–referred to as “tokenism” in the field of sociology—happens when someone is a minority and wants to fit in with the majority. Sometimes the way a person tries to accomplish this is by trying to appear more like the majority than the majority group themselves. Clearly it must have been quite rare at that time for a woman to own an elite male culinary school–she must have herself struggled to be in this position–and she did not want to jeopardize this.

An excellent video on tokenism that I have used in the training I do for supervisors on how to integrate women into a male-dominated workplace is The Tale of X and O.  The Xs are the insiders and the Os are the outsiders. There are many “ahas” that go off for both men and women when I show it.

Ok, so what did I learn from Julie? I could really relate to her blog launching experience. The first day she gets a comment she’s so excited, only to see it’s from her mom. Weeks go by with no comments and she wonders if anyone other than her mom and her husband read her blog. (Reminds me of me!) The day she gets 10 comments and half of them are from people she doesn’t know, she’s super excited. When her readers start sending her photos, recipes and words of encouragement, she’s in disbelief and ecstatic.  Starting a blog is hard! Watching Julie and Julia has inspired me to hang in there and keep posting! Still, if you’re reading this and feel like commenting, please do. I’d love to hear from you and it would really make my day. Thank you for the moral support!

Ask Donna Advice Column Launched! Send Your Questions.

Donna MilgramHave a question on recruiting and retaining women and girls in technology that you want to ask me? Now’s your chance, today I am launching a “Dear Donna” advice column except it will be about gender equity questions.  Send your questions to me via this link. Make sure to include “Ask Donna” in the subject line. This should be fun!

Do you know that I read “Dear Abby” faithfully every morning in the San Francisco Chronicle and now I am going to have an advice column of my own!!! I’m so excited, so fire away with those questions, the more difficult the better readers. :-)

UC Santa Cruz, 44% female graduates in engineering in 2007

Recruitment 101: In 2007, a survey of master’s degrees awarded by U.S. engineering schools showed that the University of California, Santa Cruz, ranked third in percentage of degrees awarded to women. Of the master’s degrees awarded by UCSC’s Baskin School of Engineering in 2004-05, 44.2% went to women. In 2006, women made up 17.2% of engineering students nationally.

I was curious – did UC Santa Cruz’s website have images of women? I went to the homepage for the engineering school and counted in the rotating photos four that showed both women and men, four that showed men only and two that showed women only. In most of the photos the women were engaged in using equipment.  Hats off to UC Santa Cruz for the many images of women engaged in engineering on their website and for having nearly half female graduates in their engineering program.

U Mass Computer Science Department Adds Photos of Women to its Website Homepage

I am happy to see that U Mass’s Computer Science (CS) Department added photos of women to its homepage. Out of seven photos–two now feature women! Unfortunately, the photos of women don’t show them working in the field with equipment as photos 1, 2 and 4 do for the males. The photos now show a woman writing on a board in a classroom setting and two women in an office setting. One of the recommendations IWITTS makes in our WomenTech training is that photos are taken of women working with equipment. Too often women are portrayed in “passive” roles in the workplace while males are in “active” roles.

A faculty member who was on U Mass’s Computer Science website redesign committee commented on my previous blog article and posted additional URLs where we can see photos of women in Computer Science. I applaud that U Mass CS has these specialized programs for women. They should feature them on their homepage. I do still think that the homepage needs to have an equal or close to equal number of photos of female and male students (equally engaged in hands-on activities). Many women wouldn’t bother to go past the homepage, if the images are all male (or almost all male).

Readers, please comment about other STEM/technical education school websites with photos of all male students AND if you know of a website that shows half female and male photos we’d love you to comment about that, too!

Using the color pink to recruit women and girls – should we?

My answer is a resounding yes! It works; research shows that females prefer pink–REALLY. So if you have the opportunity to run flyers in pink or use pink as part of a poster’s color scheme–GO FOR IT. Women and girls identify with the color pink. According to Wikipedia, “The color pink is often used to represent women or young girls.” The Boston Red Sox successfully used the color pink to increase sales of clothing to women coming to their baseball games. Pink baseball hats are the second best-selling color at the souvenir store. The pink ribbon is the international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Pink was chosen partially because it is so strongly associated with femininity (see Wikipedia article).

In 2007, Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling, neuroscientists at Newcastle University conducted a color-selection experiment with 208 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 26. On average, the study found, all people generally prefer blue, something researchers have long known. The study also found that while both men and women liked blue, women tended to pick redder shades of blue—reddish-purple hues—while men preferred blue-green.

Personally I love the color pink as you can probably tell from what I’m wearing in my photos. However, using the color pink to recruit is not a personal preference; it’s based on hard data. Have you used the color pink to recruit?

Will teaching spatial reasoning eliminate the need for support strategies for women?

Math Linking Blocks
What if I told you that you could potentially improve the retention of your female students in engineering by almost 30% just by providing them with 12 contact hours of spatial reasoning education?

That’s what Dr. Sheryl Sorby of Michigan Technological University did.  Seventy-seven percent of women who took an introductory spatial skills course she developed under an NSF grant were retained in Engineering Design, compared to 48% of the women who didn’t take the course (Female n=251).  That’s a 29% difference!

There is a great deal of evidence showing that overall women and girls as a group have significantly less ability in spatial reasoning, a skill that is critical to engineering and other science disciplines.  There is also evidence that spatial reasoning skills and test scores can be easily upgraded in a short period of time.  You can read nine articles in our Proven Practices Library on this topic!

Hear from Dr. Sorby herself – the leading researcher on gender and spatial reasoning – in these U.S. Department of Education video interviews.

Sheryl Sorby

Sheryl Sorby

Want a tested spatial reasoning course and teacher’s guide so you can implement a course in your school?  This link takes you to the CD and workbook for students and this one takes you to the teacher’s guide.

Have you noticed a gender difference in spatial reasoning skills between your female and male students? Or have you experienced difficulty in this area yourself? Dr. Sorby, an engineer, tells how it was her own difficulty with spatial reasoning, despite being an A student, that led to her interest in this topic.  She wanted to make the path easier for the women (and men) coming behind her.