Previously published on The Other Photo. By Kerry Parke
Teresa Maria Ramos of HST is the latest professor profiled in The Other Photo blog: “Digital transformation” has become a buzz phrase. But let’s try to define it. Digital transformation is nothing more (and nothing less) than cultural shift catalysed by technology. I think of it as 80% transformation with people and culture as its core element, and 20% digital. The mistake is that, in general, we focus our attention on the flashy digital angle rather than the human transformation.
Why aren’t more women in science and technology fields?
The (misguided) impression that women are not good at math, science, and technology results in girls not being encouraged to study these subjects in school. Compounding this is the fact that young girls take society’s cue and decide that these topics are “not for them.” So there is a dearth of little girls interested in STEM in primary schools, which transfers into secondary schools, which leads to a small pool of women studying in these fields at university and, finally, few women employed in STEM post-graduation.
What is the effect of this lack of gender diversity in STEM?
There is a tremendous bias in the products and services produced. The world is mainly designed by men for men, and this has serious consequences. For example, as highlighted in a Guardian article by Caroline Criado-Perez, crash-test dummies were designed and manufactured based on the “average male body,” which puts women’s lives more at risk in the event of an accident. Even NASA is culprit, having recently cancelled an all-female spacewalk because the suits did not fit the astronauts properly.
Another example: many countries often tax female hygiene products as “luxury products.” In my home country even, in Spain, it was not until this year – 2019! – that such products were considered a basic need (presupuestos generales del estado) with an accordingly lowered tax. There’s also the case with pharmaceuticals. In the late 1990s, eight out of 10 prescription drugs were withdrawn from the U.S. market because they statistically caused health risks for women. Turns out, the biomedical and clinical research was based on the assumption that men could represent all humans in the trials despite the fact that men and women respond differently to drugs and have varying susceptibility to and risk of medical conditions.
Ever wonder why women are often cold in the office while their male colleagues feel warm and comfortable? Seems like a mundane workplace battle, but the truth is that office thermostats are generally set at the resting state of the average man, ignoring women’s lower metabolic rate. This effects women’s productivity at work.
But there is a movement towards more inclusion right?
Yes, but the results are not very satisfactory. And sometimes the efforts even backfire. For example, take how the #metoo movement spread from the entertainment industry into other areas of business, allowing women in various sectors to speak out about the abusive and inappropriate behavior they endured and endure. Good, right? But, in the financial sector, on Wall Street for example, the movement had the unintended consequence of making women’s lives more difficult: men not inviting women to meetings, less women being promoted or mentored because men want to avoid being accused of abusive conduct altogether. This is just crazy!
The phenomena reminds me of non-linear dynamics, aka chaos theory, in physics. The famous bat of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil that causes a hurricane in Japan. A movement with a very clear and positive objective somehow becomes counterproductive. Yet, we cannot stop pushing forward. Personally, I now try to act rather than talk. This means I help recruit more female professors, support female students, and showcase female role models in the traditionally male roles whenever possible.
Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to focus on technology?
Keep on reading on The Other Photo