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How Do We Engage More Women In Energy Issues?

30 Oct

As I’ve written in the past, the energy sector is dominated by men. At meetings and conferences, it’s easy to recognize the lack of women in the room, on panels, and involved in the discussion. But a look the latest poll numbers reveals the gender gap goes well beyond the energy sector itself.

Consider: In the United States, 44 percent of men say they are knowledgeable on energy issues. Just 20 percent of women do. Sixty-seven percent of men say energy issues are important. Fifty-seven percent of women do. Fifty-one percent of men say they follow national energy issues. Thirty-five percent of women do. These are just some examples of what I’ve been observing within the data.

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While poll responses are self-reported (women and men may answer questions differently), the differences are large enough to suggest that one half of the population is generally less interested, engaged, and aware of energy issues than the other. What do you think accounts for the gender divide? Cultural norms? Social mores? Something else?

Regardless of what’s driving this trend, we ought to do something to close the gap because women matter in the energy dialogue. A lot. We are frequently the primary household decision-makers so have a disproportionate influence on the future of energy efficiency. Our choices will continue to play a major role in defining national energy priorities, so we should be paying closer attention.

How might we encourage more women to become engaged in the energy issues that affect all of us? (The answer is not another “campaign” like this one by European Commission which hoped to get women excited about science):

That said, I am very interested to read your suggestions in the comments (and please share whether you are male or female in your reply).

This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In’ on October 29, 2013.

It’s Not “Nice” To Include Women In The Energy Sector, It’s Essential

28 Sep

It’s difficult not to notice that at most energy events I attend, I’m one of just a handful of women. Last week’s C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium at MIT looked and felt a lot different. It provided a forum for female professionals to come together to discuss challenges and opportunities in clean energy.

C3E stands for the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment program launched in 2010 to advance the careers and leadership of women in clean energy. Why do we matter? In policy discussions and research, diversity brings novel ideas to the table. We are also the primary energy decision-makers at home in both the developed and developing world. So if we are truly serious about finding solutions to our most pressing global energy challenges, both halves the population must contribute to the conversation. C3E is a step in that direction by providing mentorship, support, and a network of pioneering women in a field traditionally dominated by men.

The highlight of the symposium was the keynote “Creating a Sustainable Culture of Innovation” by Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia. While not an energy expert, Vosmek is passionate to propel women’s full-participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in all roles. She explained why it’s not just “nice” to include women, but essential, pointing out that 95% of venture capitalists are men. If women want to get into that network, she explained that we’ll need greater access. The most memorable take-away was this–which was not energy specific: Reducing barriers to female participation in the workforce can increase GDP up to 9 percent. Translation: When we work to include women, it benefits everyone.

So how do we get there? Vosmek advised the audience to “pursue uncomfortable work situations” where we feel different because of our gender–rather than try to avoid them. Our presence helps to challenge the status quo, which ultimately fosters change and more equal representation. She described the clean energy sector as ripe for inclusive innovation because it is young enough to build in women leaders. I suspect she’s correct.

I left Boston feeling optimistic about the future of women in clean energy. Instead of listening to the same old questions (“where are the women?” or “how do we raise numbers of women in…x?”), C3E is working toward change by fostering a community of women actively involved in the energy conversation.

This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In’ on September 25, 2013.

Let’s Get Honest About Women In Science

22 Mar

There has been a good deal written recently about women in the scientific workforce. It’s not a new conversation, but I’ve been reconsidering why more of us aren’t forging ahead in STEM while preparing a talk for Women’s History Month.

I’ve posted many, many, many times about the unique obstacles we face in academia. Women lack visibly successful role models, face a good deal of gender discrimination and, at times, sexual harassment, and – most importantly – the academic lifestyle is not ideal for raising a family. I’d like to focus on that last one.

As a new mom, I will return to work on Monday–when my son is just nine weeks old. I am fortunate to have a flexible schedule, supportive husband, and wonderful colleagues, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. When I discuss motherhood, there are usually comments about how fathers are ignored in the conversation. So first let me be perfectly clear: Partners are extremely important and often play a very active role in childcare. But there are also significant differences.

Here’s a big one: When I fly out of state on Thursday, there’s suddenly a lot more to figure out. No one prepares you for traveling with a breast pump or explains how to freeze enough milk for the day. And that’s only the beginning. There are lots of little and big things like that we just don’t talk about in academia. I think balancing a family and career would be easier if we have these conversations. Openly.

What I know for sure is that no matter what else I do – whether I write more books, move back into research, or return to policy – the most important job I will ever have is being a mom. Not every woman in science will decide to be a parent and not all of us will choose to stay in the scientific workforce, but if the goal is to get more women into positions of influence in STEM, there’s one clear solution. We must make these two more compatible.

Science and Kissing in Puebla, Mexico

18 Mar

My final talk while pregnant at Ciudad de las Ideas is now available online:

Next week will be my first speaking engagement post-baby at MTSU for National Women’s History Month.

On Balancing A Blog, Career, and Motherhood

1 Oct

Lately a lot of readers have been asking why I’m not posting here as often. The truth is, a lot has changed professionally and personally since I began in 2006. I’m working hard to strike a balance between career obligations, family, and life on- and offline.

When I composed my first blog post, I was living as a policy staffer in DC. Hours on the Hill were long, but I enjoyed getting my thoughts about the convergence of science, policy, and culture down at the end of each day. Blogging felt cathartic and I did my best writing very late into the night–the same schedule I kept while composing my thesis during grad school. Sure I had a full-time job, but I was single, living in the city, with boundless energy and relatively few commitments.

By the following year, I started taking my role in the science online community more seriously. I joined Chris Mooney at Scienceblogs where we posted every day. There were far fewer science bloggers at the time and we all knew–or knew of–each other, participating in a kind of ongoing conversation. My online contributions not only helped me organize my thoughts, but also provided an informal education about journalism, leading to books about the role of science in our culture. I started writing regular articles and giving talks, while trying to include some sort of social life along the way.

By early 2012, I was traveling every week–sometimes for weeks at a time–and wading into my newest role as director of the Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin. I’m also married now, with a newborn baby boy.

In other words, we grow and change. Being at the helm of university project takes a lot of planning, analysis, and time. And as for those late-nights writing until 4am? These days, motherhood has me ready for bed by 9pm. I still continue to travel regularly for book talks and job obligations. In fact, with our upcoming energy poll release focused on voting behavior, it will continue to be a whirlwind up to the election. So right now I’m working hard at balancing career, parenting, and contributing to the online science community.

We hear a lot about whether women can–or should try to–”have it all.” I suspect the answer is quite nuanced. We can do different things very well at different times in our lives as we change. With every passing year, I’m learning more about myself and figuring out what works for me.

Be assured Culture of Science will continue. This blog has been through five incarnations at various networks over six years. You might even say I’m a veteran in the community at this point. So yes, I will keep posting when I have meaningful ideas to contribute. And always know I’m glad to have you along on the journey.

Would You Call Me A Scientist?

14 Jun

We all arrive into this world as budding scientists, naturally curious about everything we encounter. I’ve yet to meet a 6-year-old who isn’t captivated by whales, dinosaurs, or space exploration. They may not call their interests “science” or be able to recite the scientific method by heart, but elementary schools across the United States are teeming with would-be astronauts, paleontologists and ocean explorers.

Once upon a time (a decade ago), I studied the charismatic sea cucumber in graduate school. I modeled the way populations of these animals move and reproduce in the Gulf of Maine, spending much of my time elbow deep in sea cucumber gonads. I also worked with fishermen and the state government officials to implement better management of the emerging sea cucumber fishery. So back in 2002, sure, I would have immediately called myself a scientist.

Then I had the good fortune to serve as a science fellow for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). I was initially brought to his D.C. office to handle ocean policy. My science background helped me also take on energy and environment issues. I became comfortable and happy in the role of policy staffer because I filled an important niche.

I started blogging, writing science articles and books after taking a job at Duke’s Nicholas School. Although I have never taken a journalism course, I had evolved into a budding science writer.

Now I work at the University of Texas at Austin. At the business school I direct UT’s Energy Poll — an initiative to explore the relationship between energy and the public.

In other words, I’ve always worked in science, but also don’t fit into any traditional academic category. I don’t consider science my profession. Science is the way I live. It involves careful observation, critical thinking, patience and the courage to ask important questions, even when those questions might not be welcome.

So, would you call me a scientist? I’m not sure it matters.

This post originally appeared at NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog.

A Changing Landscape For Women In Academia?

22 Feb

On most recent Science podcast, Kerry Klein interviewed Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Deborah Kaminskido about the gender breakdown among science and engineering faculty. When Kaminskido and her colleagues used publicly available data, she found gender disparity doesn’t appear to be quite as dramatic as she expected.

Across science and engineering–with the notable exception of mathematics–women seem to be staying at the same rates as male colleagues. Woman are also being promoted at the same approximate times (for women entering the system after 1990).

Kerry Klein: [W]hat do you think are the most important messages to take away from this?

Deborah Kaminski: Well, I think there’s several messages. One thing we haven’t talked about yet is the point-of-view of the academic administration. We have a very high rate of leaving [overall], so our retention in academia is low. We lose half our people in 11 years. Our start-up packages can be as high as one and a half million dollars. You’re investing in someone at the rate of $1.5 million, and in 11 years, half of them are gone. So this is an economic calculation that universities need to make. And I don’t think they’ve had this number before, this “11 year” number, to guide them in their judgment for what they have.

And the other thing we see is that it’s going to take a very long time, at the rate we’re going, to get women into the science and engineering faculties. That’s another major message.

The third message here is in the mathematics discipline, we actually have two problems there that are different from other disciplines. One of the problems is that we’re not retaining them as quickly as men, and, furthermore, in math, faculty leave even quicker than in other disciplines, like in physics or in chemistry or in electrical engineering. They’re leaving quicker in math. The women are leaving quicker than the men. And, in mathematics, what we have is that in the pool, it’s about 25% women in the Ph.D. pool, but only 20% of them are becoming assistant professors. So, when you put that all together, this really points to the need for another study on what’s happening in math.

Some of this is encouraging news. Some is not. From my perspective, academia has to fundamentally change if the goal is to retain more women. But it’s also important to remember that there are many ways to contribute in science beyond the traditional tenure-track trajectory.

In any case, you can listen to the podcast here.

Innovation: A Video Interview By Springbox

17 Feb

For the third chapter in Springbox’s Innovation in Austin series, they invited me in to chat about science, sustainability, and innovation.

More from Springbox’s Innovation in Austin series here →

Science Is Hard. It Should Be.

15 Feb

Over at NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, Adam Frank has a wonderful and thoughtful piece about doing science. He begins by sharing own moment when math and science led him to a ‘bright burst of clarity’ upon discovering an answer he had been searching for in high school:

..the math spoke loud and clear. It gave me the answer.

The blue light we were probing had a wavelength of 470 billionths of a meter.

I was stunned. For a moment the world stopped spinning. For a moment I forgot about that girl at the next lab table I’d been hot for since 9th grade. For a moment, I forgot everything but the fact that somehow, in spite of its difficulty, the strange language of math and physics had just given me entry into a world so small that a mere moment before I couldn’t not even imagine its dimensions. Now we were intimate enough for me to trace its contours across pages of exhausting calculations.

Frank goes on to describe why science can be life-changing, the challenges for teachers, and explores why so many students drop science at universities. But more importantly, he highlights the way that intellectual challenges should be celebrated.

How remarkable is it that we have found a method that allows us to speak directly with the world? In form and content, science is designed to take us past bias, prejudice and preconception to see at least some aspects of the True and the Real.

We want to teach students more than just how to get jobs, we also want to teach them how to live with depth and for purposes that stretch beyond their own immediate interests. We should never forget that connection. If we do, we are in danger of losing more than just the next generation of science majors.

Frank’s excellent piece should be your required reading for the day, so go check it out..

Video: My Interview With CNN

14 Feb