Monday, November 28, 2011

Cindy Gallop Speaking at MIT Next Monday, Dec. 5

Don't miss this! The MIT Startup Club is hosting Cindy Gallop's talk at MIT next Monday at 7pm. You may view the video recording of Cindy's inspiring keynote at the GWAMIT Empowerment Conference '11 here.

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This Monday, marketing badass Cindy Gallop will be giving a talk called "How To Start Up Something That Puts a Dent in the Universe" about what to start, why to start it, and how to get the word out. She's a TED fellow and the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld, and we're super psyched to have her!

More about the talk:
Weighing a corporate job vs be-your-own-boss startup? Want to change the world but not sure how? Have a startup in mind but no idea how to get it off the ground? Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld (changing the world through microactions) and MakeLoveNotPorn (changing the world through sex) provides some radically simple and easy to implement advice on why start up, what to start up, how to start up and becoming the next Steve Jobs. Bring doubts, fears, startup ideas and lots of questions to what will be a fully interactive session.

And about Cindy:
Cindy Gallop's background is brandbuilding, marketing and advertising - she started up the US office of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York in 1998 and in 2003 was named Advertising Woman of the Year. She is the founder and CEO of www.IfWeRanTheWorld.com, a web meets world platform designed to turn good intentions into action one microaction at a time, which launched in beta with a demo at TED 2010, and of www.makelovenotporn.com, launched at TED 2009. She acts as board advisor to a number of tech startups and consults, describing her consultancy approach as 'I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.' She has a reputation as a highly compelling and inspirational speaker at conferences and events around the world on a variety of topics, and recently published ‘Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior’ as one of TED’s new line of TEDBooks launched this year with Amazon. You can follow her on Twitter @cindygallop.

MONDAY 7PM 32-124

Sunday, November 27, 2011

MIT Hosts Miss Representation Screening

GWAMIT recently co-sponsored a screening of Miss Representation (trailer below), a documentary film about the negative effects of representation of women in the American media. The screening was held in 26-100; estimated attendance was just under 200.

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation is a 90-minute film challenging the media's limited representation of women. It engages not just with the unattainable, Photoshopped ideals of female beauty perpetuated by the media but also by the limited roles that the media allows women to take on. If a woman is does not fit into the hyper-feminine, nonthreatening image of a woman, she is portrayed negatively (for instance, consider Sarah Palin vs. Hilary Clinton). Newsom discussed how the media pays a disproportionate amount of attention to the appearance and personal lives of powerful women (as opposed to those of powerful men) and how news articles often use positive, empowering words for men (e.g. "declared") and more negative words for women (e.g. "complained"). Newsom showed interviews with both male and female high school students who talked about their issues with what they see of the media and their interpretations what current media portrayals lead people to believe. I applaud Newsom for drawing attention to these important issues and for producing this thoughtful plea for change.

Congratulations to organizers Lindy Liggett and Julia Ma for an event well done! We are fortunate to have been able to host this screening on MIT's campus. Events like these are what we founded GWAMIT to support. Please do not hestitate to contact us (gwamit-exec [at] mit) with proposals of such events. If you want to help make sure GWAMIT continues to exist, we invite you to apply to join our Executive Board.

What did people think of the film? Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Whether Millenial Women are Burning Out at Work by 30

Forbes recently ran this Larissa Faw article Why Millennial Women are Burning Out at Work by 30 hypothesizing that burnout is the reason there is such a drop-off of women from entry-level positions*. Based on a study saying that women are relaxing less than their male counterparts (through taking walks and going out to lunch), the article weakly supports the thesis that women bring the "leaky pipeline" effect upon themselves by being ill-prepared, having unrealistic expectations, and working too hard. Rather than engaging with the methodology of the study and the implications of its results, Faw instead uses the alleged discrepancy as an excuse to gratuitously criticize young professional women.

Faw's support for the article's thesis is weak: it is anecdotal and does not address the question of women are relaxing less than men. Faw's reasons for why women are burning out could also apply to men: she writes that women need to look beyond their first jobs (women "need to learn life is a marathon, not a sprint") and that college is nothing more than a "baby-sitting service" that leaves women with unrealistic expectations about how much work they will need to do in their careers. Faw further detracts from her point by making irrelevant antifeminist statements: for instance, the unsupported claim that young professional women struggle with the fact that motherhood is not an option because they are "still single or unwilling to be fully supported by men."

This article leaves open the question of whether young professional women are relaxing less than their male counterparts--and whether they are burning out. Faw describes how women are turning to therapists, yoga, and acupuncture to combat the stress but does not consider the question of whether the study was biased in not considering these more stereotypically female activities as legitimate forms of relaxation. It may be the case that women are relaxing just as much--just in ways different from men. The connection between relaxation and burnout is also tenuous and based on anecdote.

Faw also completely ignores the question of why these women are working so hard. A possible reason is that women need to work harder to achieve the same success as their male counterparts. In Why So Slow?, Virginia Valian describes a study in which resumes with women's names need about 1.5 the number of achievements to be assigned the same level of seniority as a resume with a man's name. It may also be the case that women have to show higher levels of commitment in order to be taken seriously, in which case they would have a harder time justifying a walk or lunch break.

Assuming that the burnout phenomenon is real, another interesting question to address is whether under-30 men are facing the same burnout but handling it differently. I would not be surprised if both women and men were facing a sense of burnout but societal pressures force men to respond to the burnout by pushing ahead while they encourage women to take the back seat. In Unlocking the Clubhouse, Margolis and Fischer cite these gender-related pressures in explaining why there aren't more women in computer science.

What do our readers think of the Faw article? Do you believe that professional women are relaxing less than their male counterparts--and what is the evidence supporting your point of view? I would be interested in hearing what people have to say about whether they believe young women are burning out, what the reasons for it are, and how the experiences and reactions of men differ.

* According to the article, women make up 53% of entry-level positions, 37% of mid-management, and 26% of vice presidents and senior managers.

Grad-Undergrad Women's Mentoring Forum


On Nov. 14th, GWAMIT teamed up with undergraduate women who hosted a Mentoring Forum to connect undergraduate and graduate women and provide informal mentoring and discussion. Graduate women shared their experience and perspectives on topics including academics and careers, relationships, and women's issues while answering insightful questions from undergraduate women.

We hope that this forum will become a recurring event to provide a relaxed atmosphere for the discussion of what it means to be a woman at MIT and to some day lead to the formation of a more formal undergrad-grad mentoring program.

If you or anyone in your network would like to get involved in the formation of an undergrad-grad mentoring program, please email kfurman@mit.edu.

Can't wait to do it again, ladies!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

HST Women's Group Alumnae and Faculty Panel

The HST Women’s Group, established in 2005, is a student-led organization working to foster a sense of community amongst women - including graduate and medical students, faculty and alumnae - in the Health Sciences and Technology (HST) Division. The group’s activities include admissions events, potluck brunches or dinners at faculty member or alumnae homes, semi-professional mixers and panels.

On Tuesday November 1, 2011, the group hosted its Annual Alumnae and Faculty Panel. 25 current female students took a break from class, lab and clinic to network with seven very accomplished female alums and faculty members, learn how they planned their careers and gain perspectives on balancing work and family.

Panelists came from academic, clinical, business as well as entrepreneurial career tracks, and represented varied HST programs and graduation dates. They included Prof. Sangeeta Bhatia (HST and MIT EECS), Prof. Mary Bouxsein (Orthopedic Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center), Sarah Calvo (Computational Biologist, Broad Institute), Joanne Donovan (Chief Medical Officer, Catabasis Pharma and senior GI Clinician, Roxbury VA Hospital), Manijeh Goldberg (Founder CEO, Privo Technologies), Anna Greka (Nephrology Attending and PI, MGH) and Usha Tedrow (Cardiologist, Brigham Women’s Hospital).

The event started off with all the panelists sharing their experience and views on questions submitted by students in advance. Panelists then split into smaller groups and rotated around student tables for a more intimate discussion over dinner (catered from Regina’s North End). Discussion topics included dealing with difficult advisors, handling rejection, creating research collaborations, starting a family during doctoral/postdoctoral training, balancing science and medicine. Students appreciated the opportunity to chat candidly with the panelists in small groups. We hope they all took something away that evening - be it positive vibes, inspiration, perspective, or perhaps a mentor.

If you have attended such a panel in the past, what was the most useful or surprising thing you have learned? What questions would you like to ask at an alumnae/faculty panel?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

CTO of Cisco Recalls Her Experiences and Gives Advice

Women at MIT, and in graduate schools across the country, often struggle with a common internal decision: industry or academia? I know that personally that I have considered both of these options, and as a woman there are certainly different factors to consider. One very successful woman in industry, Padmasree Warrior (Chief Technology Officer of Cisco), recalls struggling with the same decision. Not only that, but she remembers being intimidated by the prospect of working in the male dominated environment of the tech industry. Warrior initially left her PhD program to spend a year working for Motorola, and ended up staying there for 23 years before leaving to become CTO of Cisco. Her advice to women is that it’s OK to be different. People will remember you from meetings if you look and dress differently from everyone else, and this can be used to your advantage. She also warns women to be aware of the difference between sharing power and giving away power, and urges them not to be afraid to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

As a woman at MIT, I can certainly identify with Warrior’s former concerns about industry. It is definitely intimidating to enter a male dominated field, especially since women today often feel that they must sacrifice their personal goals for their career goals or vice versa. Furthermore, the stakes can often be higher if you are the minority in a field. Everyone makes mistakes eventually, and if you are one of the few women in your job then suddenly you are wondering how your mistake is being perceived by your coworkers. Are they thinking that it is because you are a woman? Are you are letting down your entire sex? I believe this mindset can prevent women from taking a lot of risks in their career, which will almost certainly hold them back in the long run. Padmasree Warrior’s advice and experiences are extremely comforting and inspiring to me, and I hope they are equally inspiring to other graduate women.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

(Hip-Hop) Educate Yourself about Women's Rights

You will want to send your younger sister (or brother, or co-worker, or boss) this amazing song about the history of women's rights. Created by Flocabulary, a Brooklyn-based educational hip-hop company, "We Won't Stop" details the history of women's rights from Mary Wollstonecraft (author of the treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792) to today, when women still only own 1% of the land worldwide.

Intended for a high school audience, "We Won't Stop" opens with the exchange "All men are created equal / But what about the women? / We think you're too feeble." It starts with the French Revolution, describes first wave feminism ("I just got back from Seneca Falls / And I got a little message for y'all"), moves on to second wave feminism ("From a bored housewife, / Thinking: 'This can't be all, this can't be life, right?'"), and describes the present situation ("But there are female heads of state. / Yeah. Not in America though."). The song aptly captures the fight that feminists still have decades later: "We want rights for all people. / Women and men were created equal. / We won't stop until we have a voice. / No discrimination, women have a choice." I applaud Flocabulary for including history from different perspectives in their mission to engage young people with traditional educational topics.

What do people think about the video and the Flocabulary goals for making learning more accessible? Also, what do people think about the coverage of the history of women's rights? What did they leave out--especially for modern feminism--and was it a good decision?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Case Against the Feminist Case Against Single-Sex Schools

Slate recently ran an article, The Feminist Case Against Single-Sex Schools, supporting the thesis of a Science article "The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Education." The article cites that "decades of research... has failed to demonstrate an advantage of single-sex schooling" and that there is little evidence from neuroscience boys and girls learn differently. The article also refers to news reports describing girls' classrooms where the "lights are low, the temperature is elevated, the students are seated in small, collaborative clusters, and teachers are trained to speak gently and quietly as they conduct lessons involving fashion and wedding planning." I respectfully question the writers' reasons for arriving at this conclusion.

First of all, it is not clear that research has demonstrated the advantage of coed schooling. Harvard economists Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt (co-author of the Freakonomics books) have reported in their analysis of the math gender gap (see "An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics") that "girls do not lag boys in math in countries with same-sex schooling." A hypothesis for this is that in coed environments, cultural reasons cause boys and girls to differentiate in terms of interest in math. For math and science, it has been shown that having all-girls programs helps retain high-achieving girls. A cursory Google search also brings up references to several studies (for instance, this Guardian article) that girls in all-girls schools often outperform girls at co-ed schools on standardized tests.

With these cultural factors at play, the neuroscience findings about biological differences between boys and girls (or lack thereof) are not so relevant. Sure, boys and girls may not learn differently, but placing them in a coeducational setting could perpetuate of societal norms about what is "appropriate" for boys and girls. Coed situations potentially exacerbate the experience of stereotype threat, anxiety regarding the potential to confirm negative stereotypes about a group (for instance, "girls are bad at math"). Stereotype threat and other factors in academic performance and learning have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with nurture.

Finally, the existence of sexist all-girls schools does not prove that all-girls schools are necessarily sexist. I, for one, went to an excellent all girls school where the lights and temperature were normal, we had normal rows of seats, and we had male and female teachers that spoke to us normally and disciplined us rigorously. My education was not based on the idea that boys and girls need different, gender-stereotypic learning environments to thrive, but that girls may learn better when gender is a non-issue. I can look back on a fantastic education that not only prepared me well for my Harvard undergraduate and MIT graduate educations, but taught me to respect women as peers and made me accustomed to being listened to. These expectations proved to be quite useful in combating sexism later in my academic career.

It may one day be the case that single-sex schools are proven to do more harm than good, but more evidence needs to be provided and changes need to occur in the socializing of boys and girls before I believe it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Honoring Women in Science

Today, the 8th annual Pearl Meister Greengard Prize was presented to Dr. Brenda Milner for her research on memory and the human brain. The 93-year-old neuroscientist and McGill University Professor has managed to establish herself as one of the greatest neuroscientists of the twentieth century despite the many challenges she has faced throughout her long and impressive career.

The Pearl Meister Greengard Prize was created by Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard and his wife Usula von Rydingsvard. When Dr. Greengard received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000 for his work on transmitters in the brain, he decided to donate the entire monetary share of his award to honor the accomplishments of women scientists. He named the award for his mother, who died in childbirth, and who he claims was restricted to doing secretarial work despite her reputation as an extremely bright woman. The generosity of Dr. Greengard both encourages women to further pursue their interests, and, as in the case of Dr. Milner, congratulates them on a long life filled with many renowned accomplishments.

There are two amazing stories here from which we can learn a great deal. The first is a story of Dr. Milner, who fought the odds to become one of the greatest scientists in her field during a time when it was unheard of for a women to do such things. The other remarkable story is of Dr. Greengard, who realized that the lack of women in science and the prejudices that they face are a real issue that is just as relevant to men as it is to women.

(Read more about The Man Who Loves Women Who Love Science!)