Home > 21006018, Race Matters, Why There Are No Women in Science > Why Are All The White Men Sitting Together In The Other Conference Rooms?

Why Are All The White Men Sitting Together In The Other Conference Rooms?

So I’m at a conference where the majority of attendees are white males. Well, after all, it is an engineering conference. Anyway, given the demographics, do you expect to walk into any particular parallel session and find that there are only two, three, maybe five white males, and the remaining 25 to 30 session attendees are comprised of ten or 12 white females and the rest minority women and men?
Where have all the white men gone? Long time passing.
The easiest way to clean all the white males out of your parallel session is to title it “Diversity” and to schedule talks on:

  • The responsibility to share women in engineering research with women in engineering students
  • Recruitment of Native Americans in computing programs
  • Enhancing the pipeline for blacks in technology fields
  • Expanding the PhD STEM pool of minority students along the U.S.-Mexican border
  • Status and experience of minority doctoral students in STEM disciplines
  • Crossing technical, social, and cultural borders within the engineering classroom

Because, after all, what in hell could white male engineers need to know about any of that shit.
Tell me again who’s doing the self-segregating?

  1. October 31, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Guess you gotta tricks them with titles they find sexy, then lock the door when they come in.
    BTW, try to post on EST time…

  2. November 1, 2006 at 12:32 am

    BTW, try to post on EST time…
    change movable type settings and you won’t have to think about them. i’m in PDT but the blog is set to EDT so i’m in synch with the pack.

  3. bsci
    November 1, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    I’m playing devil’s advocate in this comment.
    I don’t know the conference stats, but I notice on the website that there are about 9 sessions at any one moment. If the white men are fairly evenly distributed across all 9 session, but a larger proporation of the women and minorities attendees go to sessions on women and minorities then it could match your observations. (i.e. each white male attends 1 or 2 “diversity” sessions during the conference, but doesn’t make it the whole focus of the conference with other interesting and important topics like teaching ethics)
    The data I don’t have is whether the same men are in every “diversity” session? If yes, then there’s clearly a bias of attendees. If no, then my above theory might be correct.

  4. November 1, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Coturnix and Razib: I have finally figured out how not to post “in the future” when physically on the west coast but computer time still set on the the east coast…doh!
    BSCI: pretty much the same white men, every session. Once in awhile a new face! but wait, he’s presenting a paper.
    You can try to explain it away statistically but basically it boils down to this: they don’t care because they figure they don’t have to care because they figure the “others” are busy caring and taking care of all that crap they don’t want to be bothered with.

  5. November 3, 2006 at 10:29 am

    I think that you’re probably right about the whys and wherefores of this clustering, but another angle on it might be that at least some of the panels you describe (in almost any discipline) are going to less exploratory and open in the way they think about these issues and more about delivering relatively fixed and sometimes polemical positions on the problems and experiences involved. So the exclusion sometimes operates at both ends: white men don’t come to the panels, and they’re assumed by the panels not to be coming. On the rare occasion when a standard-issue white guy comes who is not assumed to be coming, he may find that no one is really talking to him or exploring issues with him, that they are just talking *about* him as a kind of irresolvable problem or issue.

  6. November 3, 2006 at 10:29 am

    I think that you’re probably right about the whys and wherefores of this clustering, but another angle on it might be that at least some of the panels you describe (in almost any discipline) are going to less exploratory and open in the way they think about these issues and more about delivering relatively fixed and sometimes polemical positions on the problems and experiences involved. So the exclusion sometimes operates at both ends: white men don’t come to the panels, and they’re assumed by the panels not to be coming. On the rare occasion when a standard-issue white guy comes who is not assumed to be coming, he may find that no one is really talking to him or exploring issues with him, that they are just talking *about* him as a kind of irresolvable problem or issue.

  7. November 3, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Timothy, that’s a reasonable theory. Except that in this case, the abstracts and full papers of all the talks were available well in advance of all the sessions. So any white guy was able to check out any of the talks and get a sense of whether the panels were of the type that assumed they would not be coming, or were talking “about” him as an irresolvable problem or issue. I can assure you that the ones I attended were not of that nature on either count. I think it was pretty obvious even from a reading of the abstracts that that was not the case. However, if one is extremely defensive, uninterested, or simply doesn’t care – then one might not even bother to read the abstracts to find out.

  8. November 3, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Timothy, that’s a reasonable theory. Except that in this case, the abstracts and full papers of all the talks were available well in advance of all the sessions. So any white guy was able to check out any of the talks and get a sense of whether the panels were of the type that assumed they would not be coming, or were talking “about” him as an irresolvable problem or issue. I can assure you that the ones I attended were not of that nature on either count. I think it was pretty obvious even from a reading of the abstracts that that was not the case. However, if one is extremely defensive, uninterested, or simply doesn’t care – then one might not even bother to read the abstracts to find out.

  9. Chris
    November 3, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    As someone who’s attended quite a few engineering conferences, I find that sessions about the profession/discipline tend not to be very well attended, and not representative of the meeting attendees as a whole. For instance, sessions on engineering education tend to attract only a small fraction of the attendees that come to sessions about using steel reinforced concrete in bridge design or retroreflectivity in highway signage. The only people who show up are usually professors, and perhaps a few grad students who intend to become professors (I’m in the latter category). Of course, this makes discussion of engineering education rather insular, which isn’t good considering that most engineering students will be going into the government or private sectors rather than academia.
    I suspect that “diversity” sessions are much the same way. You generally only get people with a specific stake in the subject (in this case women and minorities rather than professors) and hardly anyone else.
    At least in my experience, most engineers going to conferences aren’t really interested in going to sessions about engineering as a profession (which is how I’d group both education and diversity sessions). They’re more interested in networking with people, picking up practical knowledge, etc. Some of this may be specific to engineers, and some may be a product of the “professional” nature of most engineering conferences. In addition to engineering conferences I also go to some academic conferences in the social sciences. The attitude there is quite different. People are much more interested in thinking about the discipline. Sessions on education, diversity, etc. are very well attended and not necessarily by people with a specific stake in that subject.

  10. Chris
    November 3, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    As someone who’s attended quite a few engineering conferences, I find that sessions about the profession/discipline tend not to be very well attended, and not representative of the meeting attendees as a whole. For instance, sessions on engineering education tend to attract only a small fraction of the attendees that come to sessions about using steel reinforced concrete in bridge design or retroreflectivity in highway signage. The only people who show up are usually professors, and perhaps a few grad students who intend to become professors (I’m in the latter category). Of course, this makes discussion of engineering education rather insular, which isn’t good considering that most engineering students will be going into the government or private sectors rather than academia.
    I suspect that “diversity” sessions are much the same way. You generally only get people with a specific stake in the subject (in this case women and minorities rather than professors) and hardly anyone else.
    At least in my experience, most engineers going to conferences aren’t really interested in going to sessions about engineering as a profession (which is how I’d group both education and diversity sessions). They’re more interested in networking with people, picking up practical knowledge, etc. Some of this may be specific to engineers, and some may be a product of the “professional” nature of most engineering conferences. In addition to engineering conferences I also go to some academic conferences in the social sciences. The attitude there is quite different. People are much more interested in thinking about the discipline. Sessions on education, diversity, etc. are very well attended and not necessarily by people with a specific stake in that subject.

  11. November 4, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Hi Zuska – Glad you liked this title… 😉 Hope all is well – I’ve got a lot of blogging reading to catch up on!

  12. Frumious B
    November 4, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    As long as only women and minorities are talking about women and minorities, science and engineering will continue to be dominated by white males.

  13. February 22, 2007 at 11:06 am

    I see this all of the time, and you are completely correct. Very frustrating

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