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Changing the conversation

Here I am on Hilton Head Island at an ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) Leadership meeting at a session called “ Describing Mechanical Engineering: Devising a Strategy for Recruiting Underrepresented Students”. I am having a great time and not just because it’s Hilton Head and I’m getting to hang with folks like Ilene Bush-Vishniac and Alice Agogino

In the room are representatives from institutions that graduate maybe 40,000 ME students a year. The room is predominantly white and male and the conversation is all about women of all colors and minority men. (In one indication of progress, the person who stood up, (ah there always is one), and said but "What about the white men?", was a white woman).

ME, as you may know has fewer women than any other engineering field and they are trying hard to change that. I’ve worked with ASME before and have been impressed with their work. (Want to see my video?). This weekend they are looking at what can be done to "change the conversation" Alice brought up the concept of "positive deviance", something that has always fascinated me. We need to look at the positive outliers and see what they are doing right; but it isn't enough to do that. As Toni Clewell, Lesley Perlman and I found when we were studying elementary schools, you need to find the positive outliers, find others operating under similar conditions and see what the differences are.

Alice reported on "Engineer 2020: Themes from Feminist Focus Group". (my techie failure is I can get the powerpoint but can't figure out the url, so folks sorry you are going to have to "just goggle it">

One of the things I liked was along with telling what was needed, she spoke about how to get there. For example:

A change in the culture of engineering (practice)
Less unrewardingly competition, more collaboration
Changes in the types of problems we decide to solve
Diversity and quality are seen as correlated
Greater value placed on family issues
Engineers genuinely pursue inclusiveness

Strategies to get there
Radical change in the power structure (as it relates to who decides what problems are important)
Decision-makers represent a more diverse group
Coalitions between public/private sector.

There is lots more but you will have to wait; I'm going for a swim.



This is a great post, especially because it encapsulates both the problem and potential solutions. Beyond social questions of justice and equity that motivate many of us, there's no doubt that cognitive diversity just makes sense for the success of any profession, company, research program, culture. It's ME's time to embrace the change. With folks like you, Alice and Ilene carrying the flag, my money is on changes to come Let us here at MentorNet know if we can help.

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