Diversity: Claude Steele is the man!…er…person!

I think the universe was trying to tell me I needed to post about diversity.  In the course of three days, I was sent an article from LinkedIn about women trailing men and self-sabotaging,  then, as I was downloading recent Freakonomics podcasts (which I subscribe to) their “Women are not Men” episode ended up being next on my listening list.  Finally, I was reading a rather depressing article from the NYT about how poor my job prospects are as a future vet, when a snippet on the last page jumped out at me: “An added wrinkle to the debate is gender. The number of women in vet schools has been rising for decades; today they account for 80 percent of graduates, flipping the gender mix on its head as compared to 30 years ago. As with most professions, there is a pay gap between men and women, and in the veterinary field it has widened since the downturn. Last year, starting salaries for women were 16 percent lower than for men, according to figures compiled by Dr. Myers of JustVetData, compared to a 3 percent difference in 2002. Everyone is losing ground, she says, but women are losing ground much faster than men.” – David Segal

Even though the article isn’t focused on gender or diversity issues, this piece of information stuck out and as a future female DVM, my immediate response was “What the hell!?!”

We talked a decent bit in class last Wednesday about subconscious male bias that is mentioned in the above materials – that teachers call on male students more often than female.  Likewise a female professor’s “authority” is more likely to be questioned than a male’s.  Girls who have to check a “Female” box before an exam perform worse than if they didn’t check anything.  Freakononics takes it further into sociological research showing that women in a matriarchical society are just as competitive as the men in the same society, where as in patriarchical societies (like the US) women are significantly less competitive.

The “Whistling Vivaldi” reading really helped me understand the role of stereotype threat for women and other stereotyped students in education.  I particularly like this reading because I felt like, rather than just stating the problem, the author offered solutions!  Often, when reading about or discussing large, complex social issues, I feel overwhelmed and powerless.  The NYT article, LinkedIn article and podcast all felt that way – what can I do about pro-male bias that is so embedded in our culture that it begins when we are infants?!?  However, Claude Steele left me feeling positive about my ability to recognize and deal with my own biases and help my future students overcome stereotype threats.  He shows that small steps taken by an educator can have a large effect on their students, and can even negate those stereotype threats.

And then I realized that he was actually practicing what he preaches in his own book – he helped me become positive and empowered in the face of complex and socially embedded problems.  Wow!

About Cat Cowan

2nd year DVM/PhD student at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Studying immunology, vet medicine and aiming to stay in academia.
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