Consciously Adapting

Steam STEM Poster

STEAM logo

This started as research for a class on Hidden Biases. Disappointingly, there was a lot of suitable background material. Most emotionally accessible to me was the 2017 breakout of the top 100 academic and technical high school students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math). Over two-thirds were male.

Thirty years ago, my High School Mathematics Team was roughly 80% male. So were the teams we faced. We’ve made progress. But honestly, I’d hoped for more significant gains.

Other factlets that were very near and dear to me:

  • Authors still take male or gender-neutral nom de plums to help maximize audience reach.
  • Hiring Managers tend to recommend applicants with easy to pronounce names.
  • Initial STEM figures for women are better than 30 years ago–but women with STEM degrees are dramatically less likely to wind up in tech jobs than their male counterparts.
Erwin Blumenfeld - Artistes, 2015
Erwin Blumenfeld – Artistes, 2015

Less personal but just as disappointing, the percentage of women holding board seats of U.S. Fortune 500 companies actually decreased last year to less than 20%. Global analysis of nearly 6,000 companies in 49 countries, women held 12% of board seats. Only 4% of board chair positions were held by women.

So as much as it pains me, thirty odd years on, I agree with Sarah Kaplan’s assessment that “We are all jointly producing and perpetuating a system that is biased.” I love that she doesn’t point a finger but stresses that we are all in this together.

The argument goes that if 53% of workers are from x group, we should reasonably expect, over time, for that percentage to carry roughly across positions and roles within an entire organisation.  And if the numbers are off, we should ask “Why are they off?” If women or any other group are disproportionately represented, especially at such a critical level as board positions, the question shouldn’t be “why should we do something?”

It should be “Why wouldn’t we?”

We have gotten better at attracting women and minorities into STEAM (STEM + Art) fields. We have to keep them there. Checking our own individual biases alone isn’t enough, either. But it is a start. So let’s start.

Because 2019 is just around the corner.


Some excellent books on Hidden (Implicit) Bias and our Adaptive Unconscious:

  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do by John A. Bargh

See also –
Adaptive Unconscious: Mental processes able to affect judgement and decision making that remain out of reach of the conscious mind.

Gender Diversity

Maker Mess