By JAYDE LOVELL
“There’s definitely people that don’t want to see you succeed for whatever reason—sometimes it’s where you’re from, sometimes it’s what you’re saying, and sometimes it is because you have a vagina. That does exist.” – Iggy Azalea
The under-representation of minority groups in science and in journalism is well-documented. Just a few examples:
- The UN has had to step in to address the shortage of girls choosing to study STEM subjects in school.
- Only 24% of people working in STEM jobs are women, despite women representing 48% of the total workforce.
- In the US, the number of non-white people in newsroom is just 13%, despite non-white minorities representing 22% of the population.
Both ‘news’ and ‘science’ should surely represent the concerns of the general public – so how to we explain such dramatic statistics?
New research may reveal at least part of the answer: statistics show that the tendency to give young girls Barbies and young boys trucks as toys could account for lack of women in STEM as adults. The choice to get into STEM can be influenced by what toys we’re playing with as one-year-olds.
Given the discussions on the issue of diversity recently, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the best-attended panels at the 2014 ScienceWriters festival this month was titled, “Supporting Diversity In Science Writing.“ Hundreds of passionate and curious participants crowded the room to hear the panel discuss diversity – and reveal some quite shocking horror stories.
The panel was made up of some of the biggest names in the business;
Philip Yam, managing editor of Scientific American
Tracie Powell, Founder of AllDigitocracy.org
Anna Lee Strachan producer on PBS’s NOVA
Nidhi Subbaraman, Boston Globe
Francie Diep Science reporter and Brooklyn-ite (just like us Francie!)
It is sometime hard to imagine such articulate, competent, proud professionals having to deal with issues of discrimination, but the stories were truly horrifying:
“When I was first starting out… I was approached to be a contributor in a blog… When I asked how much they would pay, she said ‘Well, that’s the Indian coming out’” – Nidhi Subbaraman
“At a high school journalism program I reported on, I asked ‘Where are all the black kids?’
I was told, “birds of a feather flock together,” meaning black students weren’t as intellectually curious as the mostly white students who worked for the school newspaper’”– Tracie Powell
“Sometimes if you’re young, bringing up the issue (of diversity) can be bad for your career. You really have to make a decision on whether it’s wise to speak up.” – Anna Lee Strachan
“African Americans now count for about 3% of the people in the newsroom, it used to be 5%. We’ve gone backwards.” – Tracie Powell
“We can make an hour long physics show with nothing but old white males on camera” – Anna Lee Strachan
(That last quote strikes me as just horrifying as a viewer more than anything else!)
Did Someone Say Science was lucky enough to catch up with two of the panelists, to ask them about their experiences of diversity whilst working as science communicators:
Philip Yam: “A challenge for women in science, it seems, is that it’s still a man’s game.”
Anna Lee Strachan: “I’ve faced some prejudice myself.”
Australian science journalist Nicky Phillips reports; it is important for a healthy democracy that the public understand science issues – and the job of keeping the whole public informed is only possible when the newsroom is closely representative of the population they are speaking to. We hope that by talking openly about how to address prejudice and support greater diversity in science journalism, we can help change some of the statistics.
Jayde Lovell is the co-producer of “Did Someone Say Science,” where this post first appeared. It is republished here with permission from the author.