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Adding Diversity to STEM is Important

During an AVNation Special, Tim Albright started listing some of the things I do to promote Diversity. I have been asked repeatedly, “Why [are you doing this]?” Allow me to answer that.

Let me be clear, I am sharing my actions to encourage others to follow suit. It is not “virtue signaling”. It is leading by example and sharing some of the actions people can do. Thank you to Alesia Hendley for clarifying the intent during AVWeek Episode 559. To use a quote attributed to Sally Ride, “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.”Not everything I do to improve the world is public, nor should it be.

Changing employers in 2018 resulted in me being part of a much more diverse workplace. Many of my coworkers were not middle age white men.  I am surprised at how much of an impact that change has had. While getting to know people I was impressed by people’s backgrounds. People had multiple advanced degrees. People that are across the gender and sexuality spectrums. People of different races. People of different nationalities. Talking with people I became much more aware of the challenges and roadblocks nonwhite straight males have.

Becoming more aware of the challenges people face, I started to notice discrepancies more often. A few events and conversations were very impactful. It is impossible for me to list everyone and everything. I do want to mention two people, Clarisse (Vamos) Falls and Amy Shira Teitel. they shared experiences that illustrated the situations very well. I asked before I shared their names. The illustrations are amalgams of multiple people’s experiences.

Being a space and science aficionado, I read Amy’s book “Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA” and enjoyed it. When her next book “Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight” was released I added it to my queue. I was already aware of some of the problems. Seeing a more complete picture made me realize how much I did not know or did not notice. While reading Amy’s book, I was amazed at the number of barriers women faced. I learned how widespread and institutionalized the exclusion of women was. When Wally Funk went to space as part of Blue Origin’s first crewed flight news organizations were getting history wrong. They were saying she was part of a NASA program. The study that Wally Funk took part in was not a NASA initiative at all, it was not First Lady Astronaut Training (FLAT). It was a private study heavily subsidized by Jackie Cochrane, a main person in Amy’s book. Women were not part of the astronaut program until January 1978

Within the “diverse” workplaces there is still a lack of action. I understand that the terms guys and dude are widely considered non-gendered. When someone has said repeatedly that they do not appreciate the term and a manager continues to use it, it shows the attitude toward making a change. This hesitancy can also be seen in upper management typically. At many places the ratio of women to men is not even close to even. When women bring it up, they are dismissed as being aggressive or a “bitch”. That is an outright insult. Women are 50%, okay 49.6%, of the population but are not represented at that same level in many fields.

I worked with a man who was an admitted misogynist. He told people, but more importantly his actions in the workplace reflected it. When issues became widespread and noticed human resources had to get involved. The person was suspended for one week. As one of the people who reported incidents, I am still amazed but not surprised that nothing more substantive happened. I feel that if I had not reported the issues, the problems would have been dismissed by HR as “women being too sensitive and needing to get used to it.” Why should women need to accommodate people being mean to them? Why should anyone?

I have watched women told that they would be taken more seriously if their hair looked different. There are times during meetings, people have leaned over and made downright lewd comments about coworkers. I have seen women who have more experience and more knowledge been mansplained to. I almost choked when a man started explaining to a woman about her area of expertise.

At tradeshows I have seen too many women addressed as “Cupcake, Sweetheart, Honey … etc.” At too many shows I have seen women used as eye candy. I have seen women dismissed as not being knowledgeable about a product that they manage. I watched as a man told a woman, a polyglot, she was pronouncing a French word wrong; she is fluent in French.

I could continue with examples for much longer. Think what would happens if someone said to a man, I would take you more seriously if your hair wasn’t brown. Imagine having someone, unrequested, explain your area of expertise to you. I am highlighting problems I often did not notice. I will admit I have done some of these things.

Some would say I am “woke”. I prefer to say I am more aware and observant. I have always known things like this are wrong. I just did not always notice the problems as they are so common it has become normal. 

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