Society needs diversity in STEM

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Dr. Carla Fehr is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and serves as an advisor for the Gender and Social Justice program. She is an expert in gender diversity in STEM and feminist philosophy of science.

Fehr’s research examines the social nature of science and technology and how our culture influences the knowledge we produce. In all our academic and research activities we must take into account the consequences for society. We asked Fehr how we can strengthen science and technology to positively advance society and ensure that all members of our communities thrive.

Dr. Carla Fehr

Professor, Faculty of Arts

> Advisor, Gender and Social Justice

>Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy

Advice from Dr. Fehr

If we want better science and technology that contributes to the well-being of all members of our society, we must build a culture that includes and respects diverse practitioners, researchers, and students in the STEM fields.

My research shows that scientific communities that include members from different backgrounds, social and material locations, and people with different theoretical perspectives, enable research that is more creative and produces results that better meet the needs of a wide range of audiences than homogeneous scientific communities. communities. . This means that research communities must value diversity not only for ethical and political reasons, but also because it makes our science better.

Diversity stimulates innovation, stimulates knowledge creation and strengthens the scientific and technological workforce. So why is it so unusual in the field of science and technology?

The lack of diversity in STEM is no coincidence. It is the result of patterns of injustice built into the values, structures and daily practices of many of our institutions. Changing these elements of an organization’s culture can be difficult and requires some people to give up some current practices that make their work easy and comfortable. However, we have seen that it is worth the effort to promote exciting new research.

For example, the influx of feminist women researchers into primatology in the 1970s resulted in attention being paid to female primates and to the nuances of primate social structures that had previously been neglected. Women researchers have addressed this knowledge gap and developed new theoretical and methodological resources that are now standard for not only studying primates, but also general animal behavior. Involving more women in the field opened up a new way to study ethology and has expanded our understanding of animals.

We have also seen that when members of our society are excluded from STEM, harmful consequences occur. You’ve probably heard of examples where racism is embedded in artificial intelligence, such as facial recognition software that doesn’t recognize the faces of black women or doesn’t recognize women of color. This is directly related to exclusionary practices. Women of color are typically excluded from computer science and technology, leading to the development of products that do not serve a large demographic.

Some of the culture changes needed can start in the classroom. As a professor, I teach my first-year students to be careful and critical consumers of knowledge. I want them to ask themselves, “How did this knowledge come about and who is missing from the process?” At Waterloo we train the future STEM workforce, so we are responsible for actively creating diverse educational spaces. This means we must diversify our syllabi, expand our department’s definitions of scholarship, and push for policy changes to make college campuses more open to women, members of the disability community, and 2SLGBTQ+ people.

These changes will require courageous leadership, time, energy and expertise, but if we do it right, they will greatly benefit our institutions and societies. Our students are our future leaders, policymakers, scientists and practitioners – they are powerful – and with that power comes the opportunity to contribute positively to the world around them. We must now do our best to create diverse spaces to nurture these minds so that they can foster better scientific and technological outcomes for our future.

rally for the urgency of social justice

Waterloo students, faculty and staff gathered in the Arts Quad on September 20, 2023 for the launch of The Urgency of Social Justice

Attend the speaker series on the urgency of social justice

Join Fehr along with her colleagues Jennifer Saul, Joanne Atlee, and Lai-Tze Fan as they discuss gender in computer science and technology on Friday, November 17 at 2:30 p.m.

/Public publication. This material from the original organization/author(s) may be contemporary in nature and has been edited for clarity, style and length. Mirage.News takes no institutional positions or parties, and all views, opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s). View the full document here.

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