Why are there so few women in tech? The truth behind the Google memo

An engineer at the company has suggested male domination of Silicon Valley is down to biological differences between the sexes. But the root causes are much more complicated

It is time to be open about the science of human nature. This was the assertion of software engineer James Damore to his colleagues at Google, in an internal memo that has since led to his sacking. Im simply stating, Damore wrote, that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. He went on to imply that womens stronger interest in people and neuroticism might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google.

The companys leadership viewed the matter differently, firing Damore and sparing his female colleagues the need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers.

Sacking one errant employee doesnt alter an awkward fact, though. Only 20% of Google engineers are women a statistic that is matched roughly across big tech companies. So, does Damore have a point? Is there an underlying biological explanation for why so few women work at a company that prides itself on its progressive ideals and family-friendly ethos?

There are countless scientific studies that claim to identify differences between male and female cognitive aptitudes and, in the UK, far fewer girls choose to study computer science at GCSE level (20% of the total number of students), at degree level (16%) and beyond. There is something seductive about the idea that professional success springs from our innate abilities, rather than the degree to which society tips the odds in our favour.

After the contents of the memo became public, through a leak to tech site Gizmodo, the scientific argument for innate biological differences quickly found favour with some tech insiders, albeit those writing anonymously on sites such as Hacker News and the gossip app Blind.

Students
Students at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. Far more women study computing in India than in the UK. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

On Blind which requires users to prove who they work for before posting one Google employee wrote: Can we go back to the time when Silicon Valley were [sic] about nerds and geeks, thats why I applied [to] Google and came to the US. I mean this industry used to be a safe place for people like us, why so fking complicated now. I used to dislike conservatives until I started working in tech, wrote another. Now I sympathise with them due to the hostility and groupthink, as well as the fact that they are the only ones standing up for classical liberal values.

While the biological hypothesis seems to appeal to some tech workers, the notion that Silicon Valleys gender gap can be explained away by such factors is questionable. Prof Dame Wendy Hall, a director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, points to the wide variation in gender ratios in computing internationally, which she argues would not be seen if there were a universal biological difference in ability between the sexes. While only 16% of computer science undergraduates in the UK and a similar proportion in the US are female, the balance is different in India, Malaysia and Nigeria.

I walk into a classroom in India and its more than 50% girls, the same in Malaysia, says Hall. They are so passionate about coding, Lots of women love coding. There just arent these gender differences there.

In fact, in the west, female participation in computer science has plunged since the mid-80s, while female participation in medicine and other scientific fields has increased steadily.

Over the past decade, even with a number of initiatives being set up to boost girls participation in coding and computer science, the proportion of female computer science undergraduates has continued to fall 10 years ago, the proportion was 19% of the UK total.

Hall believes that the gender gap and the male computer geek stereotype can be dated back to the advent of the home computer in the early 80s, when the machines were marketed heavily as gaming systems for men. She suspects this might be more culpable for womens low participation than men having evolved a mindset better suited to writing lines of code.

Women were turned off computing in the 80s, she says. Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the west in a way that we cant get rid of and its just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.

Jane Margolis, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees. Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students in the 90s at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programmes in the country at the time.

Many of the women at Carnegie Mellon talked about computers being in [their brothers] bedroom and there were a lot of father-son internships around the computer that werent happening with the girls, she says. There was a cultural assumption that the norms of being in computer science were that you would do it 24/7, were obsessed with it, wanted nothing in your life but computers and that was very much associated with male adolescents, she added. It was very much based around a male norm. Females were made to think that, if they didnt dream in code and if it wasnt their full obsession, they didnt belong or were not capable of being in the field.

Former
Former Tinder vice-president Whitney Wolfe, who sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014. Photograph: Jeff Wilson for the Observer

Prof Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University in Birmingham, has studied extensively cognitive differences between men and women. She says that, while Damore pointed to scientific evidence for men and women having different aptitudes and personality traits, he seemed to miss the point that, even if there were well-established sex differences at any level, theyre always very tiny. Certainly not enough to explain the gender ratios of Google programmers even if you didnt want to get into the nitty-gritty of arguing about the science.

Rippons work suggests that, in many cases, the differences between male and female performance, if present, are very small, can disappear with training and are not consistent across cultures.

In one study, Rippon found that British men performed significantly better on a spatial rotation task than women. However, when the experiment was repeated with Chinese participants, there was no difference between the male and female participants. Other similar studies have found that gender differences in spatial rotation tasks disappeared when the researchers controlled for video game experience. Rippon points to another study, which showed that differences in personality traits between men and women varied wildly across countries, depending on the status of women in that society.

So, Damores suggestion that women are more prone to anxiety does not imply that this difference is a function of hormones or hardwiring of the brain. Plus, there is compelling evidence that unconscious biases have a powerful effect on what people expect themselves to be good at and how they perform. For instance, girls tend to score worse on a test if they are told their maths skills are being assessed than when they are told they are taking part in a study investigating how people solve problems.

Even assuming that there are fundamental differences between male and female cognition and personality, there is no clear, logical line between such findings in a laboratory setting and performance in the workplace.

Priya Guha, the UK lead of tech incubator RocketSpace and a former UK consul general in San Francisco, argues that, even by its own arguments, Damores memo missed the point. The description of an engineer as somebody who has their head down, focused on developing the next line of code, is the sort of engineer that wont be adding value, she says. We need engineers out there who are both very strong developers, but also people who understand the world around them and are comfortable interacting with society. So, by that description, women would be better engineers even by the stereotypes he proposes.

Unfortunately, many such multiskilled people are likely to be deterred by the perception of hostility engendered by claims like Damores. We have a historical challenge to encourage girls, let alone women, into careers such as engineering, which then creates an imbalance in the people who enter tech industries overall, says Guha. Tech has a particular problem in this area. Wherever there are instances of people creating a hostile environment, companies need to stamp that out quickly. His dismissal sends a really powerful message: the environment in these companies needs to be thought about to ensure that it improves day by day.

But Eileen Burbidge, a partner at venture capital firm Passion Capital, argues that tech does not have a significantly worse gender gap than other high-pressure industries such as finance or the media. I think it comes down to cultural norms and female representation in general, Burbidge says. It is what affects the rest of the business world: its around the same time that women start thinking about having families that they think about the opportunity cost of staying in a work environment, and if its not positive or they get negative influences its going to affect their decisions.

She argues that, in many ways, tech is better placed than most large industries to tackle its gender gaps. I dont think theres anything specific that needs to be done for technology: I think the tech sector is more introspective and likes to think of itself as more progressive, so remedies that work for other sectors will help here, too, she says.

In Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in particular, were seeing the tech industry trying to be more proactive about outreach. The industry is trying to have this discussion a lot companies dont always follow what they say, but they say it, at least.

Computer
Computing is too important to be left to men … the late computer scientist Karen Sprck Jones. Photograph: Cambridge University

Peter Daly, an associate in the employment team at the law firm Bindmans, agrees with Burbidge. The clients Ive had from the tech world are pretty evenly split by gender, he says. But, because it encourages risk-taking, tech doesnt fit well with maternity and pregnancy, so that can be a source of a lot of friction. You see people in the industry who see pregnancy as a genuine problem. That, he says, is the main cause of gender-specific issues in technology at least, those that reach the stage of requiring a legal recourse.

Internal documents such as Damores are the soft end of the sort of hostile working environment female employees can face at overwhelmingly male tech firms. At the extreme end, as companies such as Uber and Tinder have learned, this environment can result in claims of sexual harassment and illegal discrimination.

At Uber, where 85% of technical employees are male, one engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a tell-all blogpost that revealed a workplace where managers proposition female employees for sex and human resources does little to stop the issue. Tinder faced a similar scandal when former VP Whitney Wolfe sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014, entering into evidence abusive texts allegedly sent by Tinders chairman, Sean Rad.

Beyond the egregious cases, the wider culture of even the most diverse Silicon Valley firms can still end up being offputting to would-be employees: the campus-style culture, which encourages workers to be on site from dawn till dusk, renders it hard for any primary caregiver to be part of the team, while in some companies an antipathy for part-time work or on-site creches can also limit flexibility.

Addressing the gender gap isnt only an issue of perception. Companies with homogenous workforces make worse products and earn less money, argues Guha. We know large numbers of women are struggling to get funding. A female founder is 86% less likely to be funded than a man, she says. Thats crazy when we know the return on investment is higher; it is about 34% higher for companies with a gender diverse leadership. Its not about corporate social responsibility: a diverse range of thinking will bring better value for the company.

As we move into a future in which algorithms have greater influence on our lives from communication to healthcare, transport to the law the gender balance in tech companies goes beyond what is fair for their employees. The result of male domination of tech has led to the development of, for example, voice recognition technologies that, trained and tested solely by men, struggle to understand female voices. It has resulted in virtual reality technologies that disproportionally impose motion sickness on women. At this early moment in its history, the tech industry is already littered with products that have gender bias effectively programmed into them.

The most objectionable point about that memo was the notion that there are biological differences that make women less capable, said Burbidge. Obviously, I have an issue with that and I think its fundamentally incorrect. The thing I cant answer is how, in 2017, do you stop people thinking that? I dont know how you change peoples minds.

As we go into the world of AI, when people are designing algorithms that help us live our lives, it will be very bad if thats all done by men, says Hall. Social care, looking after kids, so many aspects of our lives. We really need as many people as possible doing this. Its really important and its going to get more important.

Hall invokes her late mentor Karen Sprck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist who campaigned hard to encourage more women into the field. As she used to say: Computing is too important to be left to men.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/08/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-tech-the-truth-behind-the-google-memo

Malala Yousafzai: notes from my Girl Power trip to Nigeria

In a few months Ill be starting at university. If only more girls around the world had this opportunity

Three days ago, I returned from my second visit to Nigeria.

Nigeria is the richest country in Africa, but it has the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world. When I first visited the country in 2014, the government spent 9% of its budget on education. This year its only 6%. (The international benchmark for spending on education is 20% of the overall budget.)

When planning where I would travel on my Girl Power Trip this summer, I knew I needed to return to Nigeria and advocate again for the millions of girls fighting to go to school.

In some states, particularly in northern Nigeria, extremism terrorises communities and makes education impossible for many children, particularly girls.

During my trip, I travelled to Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram. In a camp for people displaced by terrorism, I met girls like 15-year-old Fatima, who have faced so much violence and fear in their young lives but are still determined to go to school.

Boko Haram abducted me and wanted to marry me, Fatima told me. I later managed to escape. I was not in school until I came to the camp here.

Malala
Inadequate government spending, corruption and poverty keep girls from getting an education and pursuing their dreams. Photograph: Tess Thomas/Malala Fund

Leaders in this area, like Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, are working against extreme challenges to keep children in school. When we met, Shettima told me hes determined to rewrite history through education for children who suffer so much under Boko Haram.

In other regions of Nigeria, inadequate government spending, corruption and poverty keep girls from getting an education and pursuing their dreams.

Kehinde and Taiwo are 14-year-old twins living in Lagos. In the poor community where they live, there is no public school. When their mother contracted a serious illness and couldnt work, the family could no longer afford to pay $70 per term for their private tuition. Today, Kehinde and Taiwo work 12 hours a day grinding peppers. They earn $2 a day or less, and use the money to feed their family.

Taiwo loves mathematics and wants to be a banker. Kehinde says shed like to be a nurse and help sick people like her mother. But neither of these sisters or millions of Nigerian girls like them can achieve their dreams without education.

Malala
I knew I needed to return to Nigeria and advocate again for the millions of girls fighting to go to school. Photograph: Tess Thomas/Malala Fund

Nigeria has the means to help these girls but the government hasnt prioritised education. Thats why I met with the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, and asked him to declare an education state of emergency in Nigeria. I urged him, the minister of education and other leaders to triple spending on education, make budgets transparent and encourage all states in Nigeria to pass the Childs Rights Act.

Osinbajo said leaders would meet again in the next two weeks to address the education crisis and he agrees Nigeria must invest significantly in education.

Malala Fund and I will keep monitoring Nigerias progress. I hope my next visit to the country can be a celebration of many more girls going to school, learning and preparing for a brighter future.

My ambitions are high, but so are those of Fatima, Kehinde, Taiwo and all the girls I meet on my travels. I will keep speaking out until all girls can go to school. My sisters and I are fighting for a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear. I hope you will join us.

Follow Guardian Students on Twitter: @GdnStudents.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/21/malala-yousafzai-girl-power-trip-nigeria-women-education

Tech has become another wayfor men to oppress women | Lizzie OShea

We act as if technology were neutral but its not. The challenge now is to remove the gender bias, says human rights lawyer and writer Lizzie OShea

Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive, despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit, wrote former Facebook product manager Antonio Garca Martnez in 2016. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence. But the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, theyd become precisely the sort of useless baggage youd trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel. This is from his insider account of Silicon Valley, Chaos Monkeys. The book was a bestseller. The New York Times called it an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment. Anyone who is surprised by the recent revelations of sexism spreading like wildfire through the technology industry has not been paying attention.

When Susan Fowler wrote about her experience of being sexually harassed at Uber, it prompted a chain of events that seemed unimaginable months ago, including an investigation led by former attorney general Eric Holder, and the departure of a number of key members of the companys leadership team. Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck faced allegations of harassing behaviour, and when he offered an unimpressive denial, companies funded by his firm banded together to condemn his tepidity. He subsequently resigned, and the future of his former firm is unclear. Since then, dozens of women have come forward to reveal the sexist culture in numerous Silicon Valley technology and venture capital firms. It is increasingly clear from these accounts that the problem for women in the tech industry is not a failure to lean in, it is a cultureof harassment and discrimination that makes many of their workplaces unsafe and unpleasant.

At least this issue is being discussed in ways that open up the possibility that it will be addressed. But the problem of sexism in the tech industry goes much deeper and wider. Technological development is undermining the cause of womens equality in other ways.

American academic Melvin Kranzbergs first law of technology tells us that technology is neither inherently good nor bad, nor is it neutral. As a black mirror it reflects the problems that exist in society including the oppression of women. Millions of people bark orders at Alexa, every day, but rarely are we encouraged to wonder why the domestic organiser is voiced by a woman. The entry system for a womens locker room in a gym recently refused entry to a female member because her title was Dr, and it categorised her as male.

But the issue is not only that technology products reflect a backward view of the role of women. They often also appear ignorant or indifferent to womens lived experience. As the internet of things expands, more devices in our homes and on our bodies are collecting data about us and sending it to networks, a process over which we often have little control. This presents profound problems for vulnerable members of society, including survivors of domestic violence. Wearable technology can be hacked, cars and phones can be tracked, and data from a thermostat can reveal whether someone is at home. This potential is frightening for people who have experienced rape, violence or stalking.

Unsurprisingly, technology is used by abusers: in a survey of domestic violence services organisations, 97% reported that the survivors who use them have experienced harassment, monitoring, and threats by abusers through the misuse of technology. This often happens on phones, but 60% of those surveyed also reported that abusers have spied or eavesdropped on the survivor or children using other forms of technology, including toys and other gifts. Many shelters have resorted to banning the use of Facebook because of fears about revealing information about their location to stalkers. There are ways to make devices give control to users and limit the capacity for abuse. But there is little evidence that this has been a priority for the technology industry.

Products that are more responsive to the needs of women would be a great start. But we should also be thinking bigger: we must avoid reproducing sexism in system design. The word-embedding models used in things like conversation bots and word searches provide an instructive example. These models operate by feeding huge amounts of text into a computer so it learns how words relate to each other in space. It is based on the premise that words which appear near each other in texts share meaning. These spatial relationships are used in natural language-processing so that computers can engage with us conversationally. By reading a lot of text, a computer can learn that Paris is to France as Tokyo is to Japan. It develops a dictionary by association.

But this can create problems when the world is not exactly as it ought to be. For instance, researchers have experimented with one of these word-embedding models, Word2vec, a popular and freely available model trained on three million words from Google News. They found that it produces highly gendered analogies. For instance, when asked Man is to woman as computer programmer is to ?, the model will answer homemaker. Or for father is to mother as doctor is to ?, the answer is nurse. Of course the model reflects a certain reality: it is true that there are more male computer programmers, and nurses are more often women. But this bias, reflecting social discrimination, will now be reproduced and reinforced when we engage with computers using natural language that relies on Word2vec. It is not hard to imagine how this model could also be racially biased, or biased against other groups.

These biases can be amplified duringthe process of language learning. As the MIT Technology Review points out: If the phrase computer programmer is more closely associated with men than women, then a search for theterm computer programmer CVs might rank men more highly than women. When this kind of language learning has applications across fields including medicine, education, employment, policymaking and criminal justice, it is not hard to see how much damage such biases can cause.

Removing such gender bias is a challenge, in part because the problem is inherently political: Word2vec entrenches the world as it is, rather thanwhat it could or should be. But if we are to alter the models to reflect aspirations, how do we decide what kind of world we want to see?

Digital technology offers myriad waysto put these understandings to work. It is not bad, but we have to challenge the presumption that it is neutral. Its potential is being explored in ways that are sometimes promising, often frightening and amazing. To make the most of this moment, we need to imagine a future without the oppressions of the past. We need to allow women to reach their potential in workplaces where they feel safe and respected. But we also need to look into the black mirror of technology and find the cracks of light shining through.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/07/technology-sexist-society-even-worse-women-potential

After getting pregnant, you are done: no more school for Tanzania’s mums-to-be

Furious campaigners say President John Magufuli is out of touch with public opinion after he endorses law allowing state schools to expel young mothers

A coalition of human rights groups has condemned as unconstitutional the Tanzanian presidents comments that pregnant girls should be banned from school.

President John Magufuli was widely criticised by campaigners after he told a rally last week: As long as I am president no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school After getting pregnant, you are done.

A law dating back to the 1960s allows all state schools in Tanzania to ban young mothers from attending. Over the past decade more than 55,000 Tanzanian pregnant schoolgirls have been expelled from school, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Womens groups said the ban is out of touch with public opinion and breaks international human rights conventions. It also contradicts a promise set out in the ruling partys 2015 election manifesto, which pledged to allow pregnant school girls to continue with their studies.

Faiza Jama Mohamed, director of Equality Nows Africa office, said campaigners will not stop in their fight against the ban. We have to ensure girls are going to school. Its a right. Even if it means we have to lodge a case in the courts to declare it unconstitutional, thats a route that were considering.

Speaking in Chalinze town, Magufuli said that girls would be too distracted to concentrate on their studies if they had a child, and their presence would be a bad influence on other girls.

After calculating some few mathematics, shed be asking the teacher in the classroom Let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby, he said.

Following his comments, the hashtag #StopMagufuli trended for days, while an online petition opposing the ban and calling for better sex education attracted almost 2,500 signatures.

Equality Now, an international human rights organisation, is supporting a coalition of 29 local campaign groups that gathered in Dar es Salaam on Thursday to voice their concern about the ban. In a statement released before the meeting, the coalition said it was speaking out to defend the countrys young girls, calling on the government to listen.

The statement reiterated that Tanzanian children were guaranteed the right to an education by the constitution and legislation. The rights and protections offered to children, including the right to education, therefore must be available to all those under this age, regardless of parental status. The law is unequivocal on this issue, the statement said.

Failing to educate young women would further entrench poverty, the group warned.

The group pointed to neighbouring countries that have successfully introduced re-entry policies for young mothers. In Zanzibar, since 2010 girls have been allowed back into school after giving birth as a strategy for reducing the number of dropouts. In these countries that offer girls the option to return to school, there is absolutely no evidence of an increase in student pregnancies as a result of young mothers being in school, it said.

About 21% of Tanzanian girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth, according to the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics. Womens campaigners say high numbers of girls become pregnant as a result of rape, sexual violence and coercion.

Instead of blaming girls, the state should tackle the causes of teenage pregnancies, said Jama Mohamed. They need to deal with sexual violence in schools, and with what happens to girls in between schools and home.

There is also a need to improve the quality of reproductive and health education for both boys and girls, she said. Mostly the reproductive health issues are not clear to students and nobody even tells them what will happen if they have sex, for example, she added.

Equality Now is also calling for better access to post-rape healthcare services, including those necessary to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/30/tanzania-president-ban-pregnant-girls-from-school-john-magufuli

New science and technology program wants to engage more women in STEM

Superstar in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith at the Australian Astronomical Observatorys 3.9m Anglo-Australia Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.
Image: Lisa Harvey-Smith/supplied

Superstars of STEM is a new program by Science and Technology Australia that aims to smash the stereotypical portrait of people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).The plan is to identify 30 superstar women currently in STEM, and work with them to create role models for young women and girls, and thus move towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM.

As the new ambassador and a mentor for Superstars of STEM, my role is to encourage broad participation, which we hope will elevate the visibility of women STEM professionals in public life.

Encouraging more women in STEM

There are already some programs that support female scientists and technologists in a bid to break down systemic obstacles. These include the Science in Australia Gender Equity program. Others aim to inspire women to study STEM subjects, such as Code like a Girl or to help young women build their techno-confidence, such as SheFlies and Robogals.

Adding to this picture, Superstars of STEM aims to address public perception and is founded on the principle that visibility matters in achieving equality.

Rather than simply attempting to shoehorn women into the public eye, this new program will work with 30 women in STEM to equip them with the skills, confidence and opportunities to become role models. This approach will build on the work being done to address systemic issues facing female scientists and technologists.

Have our young, modern-day

Marie Curies

,

Ruby Payne-Scotts

,

Ada Lovelaces

and

Isobel Bennetts

passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

A recent European study by Microsoft found that most girls became interested in STEM at around the age of 11, but their interest began to wane at 15. This is an important age, as girls are starting to make decisions that will set the trajectory of their academic life.

The lack of role models in STEM was identified as the key factor that influenced the girls in the study, as well as a lack of practical experience with STEM subjects at school. On Twitter, 92% of the most followed scientists are male. When women scientists are mentioned in the media, they often tend to be described by their appearance rather than their achievements.

The need for more female STEM role models has also been echoed in similar reports and programs in Asia, the UK, Africa and the United States.

In Australia, more than half of all undergraduates and half of PhD students are female. Almost 60% of junior science lecturers are women. But women comprise just 16% of top-level science and technology researchers, professors and professionals.

Role models

As a young kid gazing at the stars, my role models were pioneering astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and eccentric types such as the late, great astronomy broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore.

I thought that was enough for me, until as a 16-year-old I met Britains first astronaut, Helen Sharman, at Space School UK. At that moment I suddenly realised that every one of my role models in the fields of astronomy and space science had been male.

Meeting this real-life STEM superstar had a transformational influence on me. It even spurred me on to apply for the European Astronaut Program in 2009.

As someone who is passionate about astrophysics and science education I have inadvertently become a role model myself. But the continued lack of diverse role models in STEM makes me wonder how many missed opportunities and how much unrealised potential continues to be lost. Have our young, modern-day Marie Curies, Ruby Payne-Scotts, Ada Lovelaces and Isobel Bennetts passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

The new superstars

In its first year, Superstars of STEM is placing 30 women in the public eye, by equipping them with advanced communication skills. This will include media training, meetings with decision-makers, and opportunities to showcase their work.

Participants will also be supported to speak with girls directly at local high schools and public events, along with establishing a public profile online.

There are too few transformational and brilliant women in the public eye. Every success in science and technology in Australia is built on the work and contributions of people across the genders. For the sake of our girls, we need to celebrate these outstanding scientists and their work.

I imagine a time when we ask children to draw a scientist and they draw somebody who looks like mathematician Nalini Joshi, molecular biologist Suzanne Cory, or astronomer Karlie Noon.

The measure of the success of Superstars of STEM will be whether young Australian women can turn on the television, read a newspaper or engage with social media and see women experts presenting STEM as an exciting and viable career. I cant wait to witness the opportunities this change will bring.

This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia.

This article originally published at The Conversation here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/02/superstars-in-stem-women-australia/

The female gaze through 70 years of Magnum | Giles Tremlett

As Magnum celebrates its 70th anniversary, Giles Tremlett looks at the role women have played in the agencys story

In 1960, the Magnum photographer Eve Arnold spent a year following Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam movement around the United States. The white, female photographer and the leader of black Americas radical movement found they both understood the power of images. Malcolm X helped Arnold, though his followers were not always happy to see her and after one rally she found the back of her jersey riddled with holes left by the cigarettes people had been jabbing into her back. The result of Arnolds work was a series of pictures that included an iconic image with the sharp and handsome Malcolm X sitting in profile, his hat tilted forward and a ring on his finger bearing the star and crescent moon.

Arnold was a talented photographer from a legendary agency. Magnum was set up 70 years ago this year by a small group of photojournalists led by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Chim Seymour. The agency was not just a leader in providing the definitive and often first images of mid-20th century history, it also recognised that women belonged to what Cartier-Bresson called its community of thought. By 1957, two of its 15 owner-members were women including Arnold and Inge Morath. Some of their pictures still lurk in our collective subconsciousness as categorical representations of certain people, places or moments in history. It would take the New York Times, by comparison, two more decades to hire its first female photographer.

For several decades, women were a small but core part of Magnums operation. Marilyn Silverstone, Susan Meiselas, Mary Ellen Mark and Martine Franck also joined. But between 1983 and 2009, only one Lise Sarfati was admitted as a full member, and she later resigned. It is only in the last dozen years that Magnum where nominee members take four or more years to make it full membership has begun to redress the imbalance.

Profile
Iconic image: Nation of Islams Malcolm X photographed by Eve Arnold in 1962 during his visit to businesses owned by black Muslims in Chicago. Photograph: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Arnold and Morath joined during the 1950s around the time early members, such as Capa, Seymour and Werner Bischof died. All had followed Capas rule that if your pictures arent good enough, youre not close enough and were killed, respectively, after stepping on a landmine in Indochina, being machine-gunned in Suez and driving off an Andean mountain road. Their deaths were a sign of the dedication Magnum expected of its members who considered themselves a hybrid of photojournalist and artist. They still do. That makes the agency notoriously anarchic. Magnums biographer Russell Miller describes meetings marked by tantrums and slammed doors. Magnum isnt a democracy, its anarchy, he says. A former employee was even more candid. Its like the inmates taking over the asylum, he said. Its mob rule.

Morath was a Magnum editor before starting to take her own photos in 1951. She became, among other things, a photographer of Hollywood stars and even saved the life of the Second World War hero, the actor Audie Murphy, after he injured himself during one of director John Hustons duck shoots. Morath pulled his boat back to shore by swimming in front of it and using her bra strap as a tow rope. In one of her best-known images, an off-guard Marilyn Monroe raises her eyes to Moraths camera, warmth shining through the glamour during a break in the filming of The Misfits.

Both Morath and Arnold befriended Monroe, and their photographs of her reveal their ability to build intimacy and trust. She doted on the pictures Inge Morath had taken of her, sensing real affection, Monroes then husband, playwright Arthur Miller, later recalled. Marilyn liked her at once, appreciating her considerate kindness and the absence remarkable in a photographer of aggression. Morath went on to marry Miller after he separated from Monroe. Their daughter, Rebecca Miller, is the film director and partner of Daniel Day-Lewis.

Katayoun
Heads up: Katayoun Khosrowyar, Irans national under-14 football team coach, practices her skills in Tehran, shot by Newsha Tavakolian, 2015. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

Much has changed since the glory days. Internet and digital phone cameras are bringing more radical change but, as a new generation of women builds a presence at Magnum, some things remain the same. People often dont see beyond you as a person with a camera; they dont think of you as a professional and they let their guard down, says Olivia Arthur, an Oxford mathematics graduate who was an early recruit to the new wave of Magnum women.

Arthurs Jeddah Diary series, an intimate portrait of young women in Saudi Arabia, is a prime example of this unsought advantage. Her pictures speak of secret partying, alcohol, lesbians and hook-ups. Its an extreme example. But I had so much access to a world that couldnt even have been seen by a man, she explains. Arthur provides not just photographs but also text. She finds a festive atmosphere among women in a theme park, for example, where the only photograph she can publish is of an empty fairground ride. The lesbian crowd is at the bowling alley, hanging out, flirting, kissing, Arthur writes. Walking around with a girl dressed like a man, security approaches. Im getting complaints, she says. Women are afraid, they think there is a man here Cant you be more feminine? Some of Arthurs pictures were tantalisingly held below a bright light and photographed again to hide the subjects face. I had access to something that couldnt all be shared.

The industry is very male dominated, but when you make your work, personally I think its easier to be a woman, says Susan Meiselas, who joined in 1976 and links the generation of Arnold and Morath with the newcomers. Her entry into Magnum was an example of just how willing members are to take apparently risky bets on new talent, despite the famously rigorous selection process which now sees aspirants present three different portfolios over four years. Meiselas had made her name taking pictures of itinerant strippers in New England fairgrounds. These hung on the walls of the Whitney Museum in New York, but she had little experience of photojournalism. When in 1978 she set out for Nicaragua a country in open rebellion against strongman Anastasio Somoza she did not even know how many rolls of replacement film she could request (she asked for 10 and Magnum sent 100). Her enthusiasm was such that experienced hands soon warned she was taking the get close philosophy too literally. She turned into a much-praised conflict photographer. Her Molotov Man picture of a beret-clad Sandinista fighter with Mick Jagger looks captured both the bravado and, for some, the romance of battling US-backed regimes in central America during the 1980s.

A
Sleepy princess: a young girl yawns during the annual Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Crosses) in Abern, captured by Cristina Garcia Rodero, Spain, 1993. Photograph: Cristina Garcia Rodero/Magnum Photos

There has always been a tension at Magnum between art and reportage. Even stronger has been the tension between art and money. For years the agency struggled to make a decent profit. In 2010 Magnum sold much of its New York archive of press prints to billionaire Michael Dell who then gifted them to the University of Texas with an insurance value reported at more than $100m. The market is now pushing photographers towards the art side of the balance. Photographers like Arnold were given months to carry out magazine commissions, while todays Magnum members are more likely to be given days. As a result much of the agencys best photography is to be found in limited-edition books.

For some, this is a return to their roots. Cristina Garca Rodero, a Spanish member, had been taking photographs for decades before joining in 2005. Her first project had been an epic journey taking pictures of Spanish fiestas which took 15 years to complete and became a book. When we meet in Madrid she has just returned from India, and is considering setting out for Brazil to photograph Easter rituals. Her festival obsession means she now also travels to the Nevada desert for Burning Man, to Berlins Love Parade and to other erotic festivals. I guess I probably look at those in a different way to a male photographer, she says.

The degree of ambition and amount of work – required to be a Magnum photographer has been one of the blocks to women. Men do not always have the same impediments. I remember war photographers who were back in the field a few days after a child had been born, said Meiselas, who recalls at least one talented female nominee leaving Magnum because it did not fit with her family life. Arthur, who I catch in jet-lagged mode in London between trips to India and New York, shares her life and small daughter with a fellow photographer. Hes very supportive, and we are able to juggle, she says.

Marilyn
A simple smile: Marilyn Monroe during a break in filming The Misfits, New York, 1960. Later Arthur Miller revealed how much she liked the Inge Morath shot. Photograph: The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos

Magnum photographers have, in terms of nationality, always been a diverse group. So what happened to women during that 26-year lull? Meiselas believes that, in part, the agencys history of incorporating women mirrors that of society and feminism with women photographers joining during the militant 70s and the bold early 21st century, but not during the low days of the late 20th century. Three of the nine photographers now going through the process of acquiring membership are women and Magnums foundation gives an annual Inge Morath Award to young female photographers wanting to complete a long-term project. One of the current Magnum nominees, Newsha Tavakolian, is the subject of a picture by another of the agencys photographers, her fellow Iranian Abbas. It shows her at work in a press pack among a bunch of short-sleeved, bare-headed cameramen. Tavakolian is the only one obliged to cover her head and arms. It is a reminder that in some places women struggle just to become professional photographers, making the idea of joining Magnum an almost impossible dream.

Magnums 70th anniversary is being celebrated throughout 2017 (magnumphotos.com/magnum-photos-70; #MagnumPhotos70). To order a copy of the anniversary book, Magnum Manifesto (Thames & Hudson, 45) for 38.25, go to bookshop.theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/30/the-female-gaze-through-70-years-of-magnum

Whats next for the womens movement?

After the success of the Womens March, its International Womens Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality

Lena Dunham: keep on protesting

I think the activism and organisation thats happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Womens March, but it was the largest global protest weve seen and thats because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now were not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director

Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts

Its a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.

However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.

It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.

Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland

Signs
Signs of the times: protesters on the Womens March in London take a breather. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Naheed Farid: introduce bottom to top economic development

I represent women in the Afghanistan parliament, in a country that is one of the worst places to live as a woman. We suffer from violence, insecurity and lack of access to basic rights, such as education and health. We tried many things, such as investing in civil society organisations, education and democratic processes, but still Afghanistan stays the same. My analysis is that in order to ensure womens rights and equality in Afghanistan, and generally all around the world, we need to involve women in the production process, empowering women economically. We also need policies to make sure that the process of development is bottom to top, completely the opposite of what is practised right now. Womens inclusion in political, economic and social aspects of development can stabilise society by consistently empowering women and involving them in high-level decision-making processes.
Naheed Farid was elected MP in 2010 at the age of 27

Nomboniso Gasa: civil action to defend our freedom from misogynistic world leaders

As I watched Donald Trumps inauguration, I noticed something familiar in the body language between him and Melania. My mind flipped back to President Jacob Zumas inauguration in 2009. He didnt even look back to see whether his wife was comfortable. She trotted behind, with shoes that were too big for her. She could have tripped and he would not have noticed.

People have written about Trump and Zumas disdain for the judiciary, the constitution, media and civil liberties. But they are similar in other ways, including their public devaluing of women. Trumps tape about women throwing themselves at you, if you are famous, reminded me of Zumas statement when accused of rape. I am not afraid of women. They are attracted to me. Why would I rape? Zuma must be envying Trump, though. He is unable to reverse the Constitutional Court decision enabling women to make choices about reproductive rights, bodily integrity and freedom of choice. His ANC is unlikely to garner enough votes to change the Bill of Rights.

Contesting these men requires a careful unmasking of their devious narratives, combined with civic action in defence of our freedoms. This must be a well-planned and sustained struggle against misogynistic bullies.
Nomboniso Gasa is a South African researcher, writer and analyst on land, politics, gender and cultural issues

Laura Bates: sex and relationships education for all schoolchildren

There is a single, clear action that experts agree could make a substantial difference. For the past decade, campaigners, teachers, parents and pupils alike have urged successive governments to implement compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for all young people, including topics such as consent, healthy relationships, pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. Schools are currently only obliged to teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, with no compulsory coverage of issues, such as consent.

This would help protect vulnerable children who may already be experiencing sexual abuse. It would create change for the many girls who report unwanted sexual touching a form of sexual assault. And, by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities, it could have an impact on the broader problem of sexual violence. With 85,000 women raped annually and two women per week killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, this is an urgent priority.

We know that young people today face a bombardment of influences, from sexting to pornography. If we teach children how to read maps so they can find their way, and how to do maths so they can work out their change in a shop, why do we leave them shockingly ill-equipped to navigate sexual relationships, a similarly universal life experience? With 43% of young people reporting they dont receive any SRE at all, we are failing them and letting wider society down as well.
Laura Bates is founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Join
Join the gang: women hold hands and share personal stories during the Dress Like A Woman rally and march, held to support womens rights and to protest against Donald Trump, in Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

Anne-Marie Imafidon: more women in science and tech jobs reflected in TV soaps

Ive always watched a lot of TV and when I was younger watched EastEnders. As an east Londoner it felt close enough to reality that I would get excited when they filmed on location trying to point out landmarks and guess the road. Soaps dont fully reflect reality, but they do try to stay current. These days most characters have a mobile phone and technology sometimes features in storylines.

In the battle for gender equality Id like to see the soaps embrace some new careers for their characters particularly the female ones.

Wheres Dot?

Oh, shes just taking air quality measurements in the square for her PhD thesis, shell meet us at the Queen Vic.

Normalising science and tech-related careers can start with a female character or two deciding to leave work at the chippy for a job at a digital start-up. Someone in Hollyoaks might strike up an affair with someone theyve met on an evening coding course (affairs happen all the time on soaps). Seeing these characters have breakfast, and fight with family while enjoying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers will work against the one-sided portrayals of Stem characters that we see in films and on TV. The small screen can do what Hollywood is beginning to do with films, like Hidden Figures the story of African-American women who helped Nasa.
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE campaigns to get women into science, technology, engineering and maths

Li Maizi: create an international force against the censoring of womens voices

The answer for me is chasing gender equality in China. It has become my daily life, making noises against all the discrimination. And when we meet the backlash, we have to stand together and fight back. As a woman, I have no country: my country is the whole world. So I will also criticise Donald Trump, who is a straight man cancer.

In China, the space for civil movement is becoming more narrow. One of the most powerful Weibo [Chinas Twitter] accounts, Feminism Voice, has been blocked for publishing an article about the planned womens strike against Trump in the US. Thus, no single issue belongs to one country, we must fight together against the censoring of womens voices.
Li Maizi is one of Chinas feminist five, detained for more than a month in 2015 for organising a protest against sexual harassment on buses and subways

Catherine Mayer: champion more shared parenting

Theres no single fix because the mechanisms keeping women down are intertwined. However, one of the seven core objectives of the Womens Equality Party equal parenting and caregiving is capable on its own of creating huge change. If we can shake the idea that childcare is primarily a mothers responsibility, if we learn to value the unpaid labour now primarily undertaken by women, then we also unpick some of the causes of the gender pay gap. There are also ways to speed the process. In 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women left jobs and homes for the day, their male compatriots learned just how much women do. Iceland now ranks as the worlds most gender-equal country. Im helping to organise a Womens Day Off in the UK next year.
Catherine Mayer is the co-founder of the Womens Equality Party and author of Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World!

Magic
Magic circle: protesters chant against gender-based violence at their camp on La Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: EPA

Stella Creasy: dont be a click-avist, get stuck in

The change we need to make is mobilisation. We have to sound the alarm. The worst thing we can do is despair. My message is, dont stand aside, get stuck in. Dont be a click-avist. Keep asking: What next? If you go on a march and think: Thats the job done, they win. A backlash is a reaction, so we have to keep taking action. I keep saying to people, I adore Martin Luther King, but he was wrong when he said: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards progress. It doesnt, unless you fight for it.
Stella Creasy is MP for Walthamstow. Join her Feminist Action Network (
stella@workingforwalthamstow.org.uk)

Liv Little: economic autonomy for women of colour

The face of feminism Im surrounded by is young and fresh. Feminism has the potential to be a bright, vibrant movement. But its difficult. There are so many pressing issues for women. Whats really important is economic empowerment. I think as a woman of colour its important that we are running our own businesses, able to support each other and generating our own income to support other young women of colour who are coming up in the world. As a black female graduate youre likely to earn a lot less than your white male counterparts. Youre increasingly seeing women of colour in positions of power, but there are still not enough of us in prominent positions.
Liv Little is editor-in-chief at gal-dem

Caitlin Moran: embrace our weakness and silliness

You know what make us strong? All the things you think are a hindrance. Our strength is our weakness. Our love of silly things to wear. Our love of jokes. On the Womens March, there were millions of weak women with buggies, with elderly relatives women who are disabled, or from minority groups wearing pink hats and holding placards. And our strength is, you cant send armed police into a crowd like that. Theres no way to spin that footage. You cant pretend its violent, radical extremists. Theres no excuse to break it up. The weaker, sillier and funnier we are, the more impossible it is to demonise us, or stop us, as so many protests have been stopped and demonised before. As things go backwards, we think: We cant fight this, and the answer is we mustnt fight it.

Fighting is how its always been done before. They know how to stop fighters. But these old, white, straight, angry men? They dont know how to stop joy, humour, knitted pink hats and buggies. We are the force theyve never seen before. They have nothing in their box to counter this. This is our strength. And we have it in endless amounts. We are the 52%. And we can knit and joke the fuck out of the revolution.
Caitlin Moran is an author and columnist

Stepping
Stepping up: women on the march in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photograph: Raul Martinez/EPA

Susie Orbach: defeat the merchants of body hatred

In a time of threat, the places we might be able to call home, our bodies, are being ripped apart by commercial pressures. They bear down on labias (too messy), faces (too tired), lips (too small), eyes (too hooded), breasts (too small, droopy or large) For each of these crazy designations, there are surgeries sold as empowering, sold as safe, sold as solutions. But whats the problem and who is generating it? Control girls and womens bodies whether by the purveyors of beauty, the cultural enforcers of female genital cutting, the anti-choice gang in the White House and insecurity is induced. Give girls as young as three cosmetic surgery games that divert their dreaming and imaginative energy into pursuits that hurt what it means to be a girl, and you ensure big profits and big body preoccupations for a lifetime. Its time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.
Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, analyst and writer

Paris Lees: real feminism excludes nobody

If your push for social justice excludes women of colour or disabled women, trans women, sex workers, Muslims, Jews, poor people you dont want equality, you want privilege. Promoting women of the same class and colour while ignoring and speaking over women less privileged than yourself isnt feminism. Its supremacism. I come from a mixed-race family. I like to think I know a little bit about racism. But Im not black. So I listen. I follow feminists from minority backgrounds on social media: Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nesrine Malik, Janet Mock, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Fatima Manji, Roxane Gay. Most women voted for Hillary in the US election, but a significant proportion white women without a college degree voted for Trump. In the end, their votes swung it. This is what can happen when women dont pull together. So lets pull together. Fascism is back. Women are leading the resistance, but if we really want decency to prevail, its time to revive another idea from the mists of time: solidarity.
Paris Lees is a journalist and transgender rights activist

Getting
Getting the message: a wall of signs outside the White House in Washington. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Mariella Frostrup: include boys in the conversation

Ive been a feminist since my lungs first filled with air, but Im weary of war and eager for a coalition. In my small corner of the western world its hard to find a man who doesnt believe his daughter, his wife, his sister, his mother or his colleagues to be his equal, yet we continue to mark out our battle lines on a gendered basis. No social revolution in the history of mankind has succeeded without the participation of both sexes so its time to invite the guys aboard. Instead of car ads that accept a woman can control a vehicle (doh!) Im more hopeful for one that entices a man to try a vacuum cleaner. Our ability to participate in a mans world is beyond dispute, but the jurys still out on our success in enticing men into what was once our domain. The proportion of women doing the worlds unpaid work has barely changed. The only difference is that most women today are holding down two jobs. It is stress levels, not our incomes, that are rising. Expectations of both sexes have changed beyond measure and the conversation needs to stop being so one-sided, which is why weve set up Great Men, opening conversations with boys in secondary schools exploring masculinity and gender issues. If we want to eradicate misogyny, we need to make sure boys are given the support and emotional investment they need.
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster, columnist and co-founder of the Great Initiative

Lisa Randall: end the fear women feel

An issue for women throughout the world that is implicitly played down by lack of adequate attention is fear. The topic is broad and the specifics are difficult to address through existing systems, but whether it is physical violence, online stalking, harassment, or unwanted encounters at work or in schools, women are prevented from living their best possible lives and from contributing in the most significant ways. Current systems address only very explicit danger. Even when the attacks are merely upsetting, the resultant loss of diverse voices online and elsewhere because of womens reluctance to be subject to insults or insinuations, is a loss to us all.
Lisa Randall is professor of science at Harvard University

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/05/whats-next-for-the-womens-movement-march-equality

Charles Dickens and the women who made him

Dickens is often criticised for his weak female characters. But his great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Dickens Hawksley says he is a product of the strong women in his life and the Victorian ideals of his times

To a modern reader, many of Dickenss heroines can seem weak, foolish figures of fun. Dickenss novels date from the 1830s to 1870, when women were legally the property of their husbands, fathers or whichever male relative called themselves head of the family. His heroines, including Flora Finching, Dora Spenlow and Rosa Budd described in The Mystery of Edwin Drood as wonderfully pretty, wonderfully childish are often infuriating to read now. At the time of their creation, however, Dickens was emulating a popular impression of what a well-brought up young lady should be like.

Many Victorian girls and even adult women were forbidden by their families to read novels if the heroines were considered too controversial (including Anne Bronts The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte Bronts Jane Eyre). Instead they were recommended to read improving books, often written by religious writers, about how girls and women should behave: think Jessicas First Prayer by Hesba Stretton and Coventry Patmores narrative poem The Angel in the House. Queen Victoria famously sacked her daughters governess after discovering one of the princesses reading a novel.

The real women in Dickenss life were very different from his domesticated and compliant creations, including three remarkable women in his family. Charless paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, was a servant in the household of Lord Crewe. She began as a housemaid and, after being widowed and left a single mother, worked her way up to the role of housekeeper. Her grandson retained vivid memories of her warm personality and storytelling.

Illustration
Elizabeth Gaskell, who was encouraged by Dickens to continue writing about subjects deemed unsuitable for female novelists. Illustration: George Richmond/Alamy

Dickenss mother Elizabeth taught her children mathematics, literacy and Latin. She and her husband, John Dickens, were also unusually progressive in believing it was their eldest child, a daughter, Fanny, whose education was more important than their sons. (Fanny was two years older than Charles and a talented musician, winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.)

As well as his family, the women Dickens chose to surround himself with show an appreciation of a sharp, female presence. There were so many fascinating women in Dickenss life: the novelist Anne Thackeray Ritchie, who shocked society with her engagement, at 39, to a fiance who was 17 years her junior and her godson; the anti-slavery campaigner and educationalist Elizabeth Jesser Reid; and the author Elizabeth Gaskell, who Dickens tracked down in 1848 despite her writing anonymously. Dickens encouraged Gaskell to continue writing about subjects deemed unsuitable for a female novelist, such as illegitimacy and prostitution.

One of the most influential of Dickenss female friends was the banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts. They met in the early 1830s. A few years later she was asked to be godmother to Charles and Catherine Dickenss first child, Charley. In 1847, Dickens and Burdett-Coutts set up their most famous joint venture: Urania Cottage in Londons Shepherds Bush, intended as a rehabilitation home for so-called fallen women (a category which covered all manner of social ills), where they could learn basic literacy and numeracy as well as cooking, sewing and cleaning. Dickens worked with prison governors to help women who were about to be released; he was passionate about rehabilitation, convinced that most female convicts were not inherently criminal but simply desperate, failed by a harsh society.

Both Urania Cottage and its founders friendship eventually fell victim to the breakdown of the Dickenses marriage, when Burdett-Coutts found it difficult to forgive her friend for his treatment of his wife.

An
A sparky intelligent woman Catherine Dickens, circa 1836. Photograph: Michael Nicholson/CORBIS

Even Dickenss much-maligned wife Catherine, who is often criticised as having been too compliant and too similar to his fictional heroines, was actually a sparky, intelligent woman who was simply laid low by a combination of constant childbearing and postnatal depression. In their early marriage, Catherine enjoyed a happy, adventurous life, accompanying her husband to America and Canada. She acted in a series of theatricals at home and abroad, and she wrote a book,What Shall We Have for Dinner?, intended as a guide for young housewives (preceding the more celebrated Mrs Beeton by a decade). Sadly, Catherine Dickens is usually remembered today as the saddened and wronged wife, eclipsed by her younger rival for Dickenss affections the actor Ellen Ternan rather than as the bright woman Dickens married.

So why do Dickenss female characters lack so much? Many criticise his heroines for being far too thinly sketched: they can be beautiful and good but seldom deep-thinking or intelligent. The ones with spirit and sharpness tend not to be considered sexually alluring, and, often by reason of being thwarted financially or socially, they tend not to be written about in terms of becoming wives (think of Rosa Dartle or Miss Wade).

Those who do manage to overcome the barrier of being too quick or witty or clever tend to lose this spark as soon as they fall in love such as Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend as though it wasnt really their true personality but merely one they were toying with. There is a sense that once Bella has been tamed by marriage, all that independent nonsense will leave her.

Perhaps, in his heroines, Dickens was portraying an idealised woman, one whom, when he encountered her in reality, proved less than ideal; or perhaps he was creating the kind of women he thought his audience wanted to read about. Considering how many independent and intriguing women Dickens knew, I think it is remarkable that he is derided for making his literary heroines too docile or one-dimensional, as such descriptions could not have been applied to the real women in his life. Dickens scholars can argue for years about whether he was creating women he idealised or whether he was creating characters symbolic of the Victorian stereotype of women.

Dickens was a superb publicist, always aware of what sold, but he also refused to pander to public opinion. This isnt just seen in his hard-hitting journalism, but also in his tenderness towards characters such as Nancy in Oliver Twist (whom Dickens never refers to as a prostitute, and whose death caused him physical anguish), and Little Emly in David Copperfield. He saw both these women as victims of a cruel society which allowed men to behave in one way and expected women to behave in another.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/06/charles-dickens-and-the-women-who-made-him

Bitches Get Stuff Done: 18 Women On What Its Like To Be The Boss

1. Dont waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when youre the boss. Or they wont. Who cares? Do your thing, and dont care if they like it.


2. If you want to be successful and you are a woman, you have to understand that theres all kinds of horrible stuff that comes with it, and you simply cannot do anything about it but move on.


3. How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? … Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other womans footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”


4. The bigger we get, the easier it is.


5. Its also important to realize that its okay to be the first. If you constantly look for role models who look like you, then there wont be any firsts.


6. [Being a boss] is my job…Were all feminists here and I dont think anyone I work with would interpret that being a boss would be like being a bitch or anything.


7. “I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but its pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. Youre not skinny, youre not white, youre a woman. Why on earth would you feel like youre worth anything?’


8. “Be first and be lonely.


9. We should not wait for someone else to come and raise our voice. We should do it by ourselves. We should believe in ourselves. Yes, we can do it. One day you will see that all the girls will be powerful; all the girls will be going to school. And it is possible only by our struggle; only when we raise our voice.


10. Let me take a minute to say that I love bossy women. Some people hate the word, and I understand how bossy can seem like a shitty way to describe a woman with a determined point of view, but for me, a bossy woman is someone to search out and celebrate. A bossy woman is someone who cares and commits and is a natural leader.


11. “There is nothing like a concrete life plan to weigh you down. Because if you always have one eye on some future goal, you stop paying attention the the job at hand, miss opportunities that might arise, and stay fixedly on one path, even when a better, newer course might have opened up.”


12. You could certainly say that Ive never underestimated myself, theres nothing wrong with being ambitious.


13. Whether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which Im well aware of, but thats just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human historyempowering women to be able to stand up for themselves.


14. “I handle my business and also I speak up for myself. But if I was not like this, so many people would’ve taken advantage of me…I just always felt like, Im never going to let anyone pull me down and make me feel small. Im never going to let a man do that and I think sometimes that transfers over into your career as a woman … Im a businesswoman.


15. If you push through that feeling of being scared, that feeling of taking risk, really amazing things can happen.


16. No matter where you are in life, youll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be.


17. It is pure mythology that women cannot perform as well as men in science, engineering and mathematics. In my experience, the opposite is true: Women are often more adept and patient at untangling complex problems, multitasking, seeing the possibilities in new solutions and winning team support for collaborative action.


18. I think when you start out in your career, you think that everything is fair, and you are getting equal opportunities. And as you move up higher in the ranks, you realize that actually there are fewer positions and its more competitive and its harder to get those opportunities. And then you reach a point where you realize, hey, these opportunities are not equal, and I think thats been the case for many women.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/katie-mather/2016/05/bitches-get-stuff-done-18-women-on-what-its-like-to-be-the-boss/