Friday, 27 March 2009

CareerStep - more fabulous women in Electronics and Computer Science

Following on from my Ada Lovelace Day blog, I thought it would be timely to write about some of the things we are doing in ECS to help colleagues progress through their careers, and hopefully sustain and help grow the diversity of our researchers in the School.

The initiative has provided a discussion space for colleagues to identify and discuss the issues they face in furthering their individual careers, and is providing support through activities such as co-coaching to enable them to each actively progress their individual personal career objectives.

There are sound reasons for seeking greater diversity across our academic community, with a lot of evidence showing that balanced teams are significantly more effective than non balanced teams. I picked this info up from one of the guest speakers at a Girl Geek Dinner event in London last year.

Elisabeth Kelan , a researcher from Kings College London and the London Business School was reporting on studies into the effect of gender balance on the performance of teams (Innovative Potential: men and women in teams). A set of individual factors associated with successful innovation were considered in a study of over 100 teams drawn from a wide range of different organisations worldwide. A gender balanced team appeared to optimise perfomance against each factor, and although individual effects were small, it is suggested that together these impacts are significant. A further study looked at gender stereotypes, and considered the ways in which they are limiting, both to those who apply them, and those to whom they are applied.

Initiatives like CareerStep are not new, but as with many instances of organisational and cultural change, devising an approach which is effective in the particular climate and culture of an organisation works best with approaches which are given clear leadership but which also grow from the ground up.

Interesting work has been done in the US following an NSF initiative begun in 2005. The ACES project was hosted at Case Western Reserve University, as well as collecting substantial quantities of data on female academic careers, their project findings included some suggested models of transformation which are relevant to CareerStep.

Links, References and Further Reading
GirlGeekDinners - a women's networking community which combines face to face social networking with a programme of guest speakers on topical technology subjects. London Girl Geek dinners are the nearest regular venue, but meetings take place across the UK.

Women and IT Scorecard: joint publication from the BCS, BERR, eSkills and Intellect report providing an overview of participation, challenging some assumptions, and pointing to some ways forward.


In ECS our students (under grads and post grads) have a community with regular coffee and cakes, meetings, and guest speakers which provides a focus for women across the school.

Our school is based in the faculty of Engineering, Science and Mathematics. Pearl John from Physics leads this activity convening regular meetings, guest talks and activities which reach across the faculty. This provides many opportunities for our students to meet and make new friends and gain an insight into the activities of other schools in the context

Working with more senior women in the University in Science, Engineering and Technology. There is a regular programme of meetings and events, including the annual Campbell Lecture. WISET has run action learning sets to develop women with the specific objective of enhancing their promotion prospect. Currently it is supporting mentoring schemes across the University.

Reena Pau: post grad in ECS whose study is looking at the relationship between Career Choices and experience of IT among school age young adults.

Ada Lovelace Day

Was an effort led by Suw Charman Anderson to get people to pledge to blog about influential women in technology on March 24 2009. You can read about the event via some observations from Guardian correspondent Sue Schofield, or take a look at the map and list of posts.

Short Bibliography

Settles, Isis H.; Cortina, Lilia M.; Stewart, Abigail J.; Malley, Janet Voice matters: Buffering the impact of a negative climate for women in science, Psychology of Women Quarterly. 31(3):270-281, September 2007.

Gratton, L., Kelan, E., Voigt, A., Walker, L. and Wolfram, H.-J., “Innovative potential: men and women in teams”, report by the Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business, London Business School, London, 2007

Diana Bilimoria, Breaking Barriers and Creating Inclusiveness: Lessons of Organizational Transformation to Advance Women Faculty in Academic Science and Engineering, ACES project (Power Point) 2007

Mary Frank Fox, Institutional Transformation and the Advancement of Women Faculty: The Case of Academic Science and Engineering, , in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, vol. 23. Edited by J. C. Smart. Springer Publishers, 2008.

Dorota Bourne and Mustafa F. Ozbilgin, Strategies for combating gendered perceptions of careers ,International Journal of Career Management, 13,4 , p320-332

Mary Frank Fox, Carol Colatrella, David McDowell, and Mary Lynn Realff, Equity in Tenure and Promotion: An Integrated Institutional Approach, in Transforming Science and Engineering: Advancing Academic Women, edited by A. Stewart, J. Malley, and D. LaVaque-Manty. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2007

Mary Frank Fox, Women, Science and Academic, Graduate Education and Careers, Gender and Society (15) 5, p654-666, 2001

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day, Blogging for women

Commit to blog to inspirational women in technology they said. So this is my pledge for Ada Lovelace Day (#ALD09) Where do I begin? With the observation that it must be partly due to their scarcity factor that women in technology are inspirational?

At the University of Southampton I am in Electronics and Computer Science. We are lucky to have Wendy Hall, our previous head of school, first out of US head of the ACM, previous president of the BCS and professor and dame of the British empire. Wendy is a first class role model, fabulous and inspirational, which is a good job because there are only three female academics in ECS, among the 100 so total number of academics, so she had better be inspirational!

I'm trying to do my bit - I have got some cash from our diversity committee and have set up a self support scheme (called CareerStep) to empower female colleagues to progress up the career ladder. Other female colleagues contribute too. We work through ECSWomen for female undergrads and post grads in ECS, Theano supporting female undergrads and postgrads across the Faculty of Engineering, Science and Mathematics and WISET working with women academics in our Faculty.

And when I think about it, I have to suggest that alongside Professor Dame Wendy, I have to list each one of our ECS Academic female colleagues; reader; senior lecturer; lecturer ( conveniently one representative at each academic level! I also want to recognise every one of our women senior researchers, researchers, postgrads and undergrads. I want to recognise the mature role models who have made their life choices ( and who help embody our understanding of the work life balance) and to the young women who I see coming of age and emerging as strong independent female computer scientists. I want us to recognise all the strong women (who have families as well as work roles, who have a life outside of their working hours and some of whom have made difficult life choices, challenging their family's assumptions, or throwing off their hijab to provide intelligent, independent statements which step outside of stereotypes) I want to acknowledge all those strong women who by their daily interactions in our male dominated environment show that women are just people who do stuff, and like all the members of our very special research group ( the Learning Societies Lab ) are making change happen.

LSL is special because its one place in the whole of ECS where we have a much larger proportion of females than anywhere else in the School (female academic ratio soar to 1:10.5, overall in LSL its 22:66) Its also a new research group which has grown phenomenally, and attracts a wide range of interests, and does research which is interdisciplinary mixing technical rigour with social areas of study/focus.

As a feminist and socialist, I believe that humanity should be treated with equal respect, women who work in contexts against the odds deserve respect for their doggedness surviving and flourishing in a climate which is sometimes hostile, and often uncomfortable. Our academic school is richer for its diversity, and will be stronger and even richer when it embraces diversity with greater enthusiasm.

LSL Women
EA Draffan, Jessie Hey (we share her with IAM), Yvonne Howard, Debra Morris (we share her with the Library), Susan Walters, Su White, Pei Zhang, Lauren Dampier Noura Abbas, Kikelomo M (Maria) Apampa, Ani Liza Asnawi, Norhidayah Azman, Lisha Chen-Wilson, Roziana Ibrahim, Ilaria Liccardi, Athitaya Nitchot, Dade Nurjanah, Asma Ounas, Clare Owens, Yulita Iskander, Reena Pau, Onjira Sitthasak

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hiding Our/Their information

Just been working on an Open Educational Resources bid which is designed to establish a greater culture of sharing and change across our academic communities. As is often the case I observe some synchronicity in my experiences (actually an artefact, created by the focus of my attention, but here you go... )

Now I am someone who despairs at how off the shelf systems steer us to hiding information away. Let me give you a few examples...

Those who know me will remember that I believe that BlackBoard ( and indeed all such learning environments) is the tool of the devil.
Now I admit that part of this idea could come from blind prejudice, but
  • my experience as a tutor setting information up,
  • my experience as a user who gets frustrated using the system
so let's identify a few problems...

1) successive levels of indirection act as a barrier to use
  • its like sending students an extra long way round the campus to get to their lecture
  • its like making the academics spend an extra 15 minutes of admin each time they begin teaching
2) consistent look and feel is a barrier

  • its like making all the corridors and all the lecture theatres look identical,
  • we get confused, we get lost
3) dynamically allocating a different url to each instance of a document is a barrier
  • its like never letting anyone save their paperwork in their own folder to take home,
  • but forcing them to go to a special room whenever they want to take a look
  • ( oh and then making them go through some bizarre ritual before you hand the document over)
4 ) and did I mention that you can only look at a course if you are registered
  • you can't go back to look at a course notes for something you studied last year
  • a teacher can't go and take a look at colleagues notes
  • a student can't go and sit through a class which they are not actually registered for
its all a bit closed....

and then there is the university portal.. using that portal triggered this post.
I began of the arcane route which I had to take to find some notes for a special interest group.
  • login (annoyed already because they force you to change your password every six months)
  • got the the groups section (another click)
  • select the group (another click) - and the system decides to pop up a new window (when I want a new tab!)
  • another click neeeded to select my activity
but.... this is for the group only, and if I want to make my activities/information visible to the rest of the world
  • I have to create another copy, in another place, using another system
  • so any effort invested in the group site, and in the learning site, will have to be replicated for every different use
is there any sense in that?
  • its not findable by general engines
  • great for secret societies
  • not so good for things which benefit from being in the public domain)

compare the open systems I use, EPrints and EdShare.
  • OK, depositing information into the system is a bit arcane and could involve a few more steps than listed above
  • but don't begin to get me on the rigmarole of putting documents and information into Blackboard
once it is there
  • anyone can find it
  • it is indexed, findable and public
OK I can hear you thinking, so where is the synchronicity?

first off, I had been following a link on twitter this morning about user experience and found some insightful words on the A List Apart blog titled Look at it another way talking about how we should take the user perspective when designing systems.

and then, as I cycled home from work to catch up on my sleep after having submitted my bid JISC OER bid, what should I hear on the radio but James Boyle from Duke University being interviewed by Laurie Taylor on Thinking Allowed on the topic of copyright, digital commons, and all things open. Boyle is based at the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University, and has just published a new book titled The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.

There were a lot of fabulous ideas touched upon during this short interview, and you can get a sense of the breadth of what's covered by following up a few search result on for James Boyle book commons copyright duke university on google (like I did)

Inevitably I found myself muttering to Laurie, ' if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, copyright is like homosexuality. Ultimately, mass law breaking will lead to a change in the law'. It would be a miracle if publishers (of all types of media) did not try to defend their hegemony, but it does not mean that they will win.

But Boyle is a man who has made a career out of this study, and my trite comment is not backed up by his insight and understanding of the labrynthine realities of the law. In fact Boyle's title The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind is rather chilling, especially for us in the UK, who see how little of the commons persist, and observe how little of the commons' right have survived.

And his message was chilling too, for he argues that the exercise of ownership is a dead hand on creativity. ( ...and I think... and for post industrial societies, destroying our creativity is surely a route to our ultimate demise? )

And it is this reference to the blight on creativity which chimes most strongly with me when I think about what we do as academcs by locking up our intellectual resources. As an educationalist I think it is irresponsible not to make available to the widest possible community the outputs of my educational activities. Many times those resources may be fragments, better understood when they are situated with their context, the class, the duscourse. But they may have value, and surely I am being wasteful if I do not make them freely available.