Algorithms Learn Our Workplace Biases. Can They Help Us Unlearn Them?

“The nudge doesn’t focus on changing minds. It focuses on the system.”

— Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School


In 2014, engineers at Amazon began work on an artificially intelligent hiring tool they hoped would change hiring for good — and for the better. The tool would bypass the messy biases and errors of human hiring managers by reviewing résumé data, ranking applicants and identifying top talent.

Instead, the machine simply learned to make the kind of mistakesits creators wanted to avoid.

The tool’s algorithm was trained on data from Amazon’s hires over the prior decade — and since most of the hires had been men, the machine learned that men were preferable. It prioritized aggressive language like “execute,” which men use in their CVs more often than women, and downgraded the names of all-women’s colleges. (The specific schools have never been made public.) It didn’t choose better candidates; it just detected and absorbed human biases in hiring decisions with alarming speed. Amazon quietly scrapped the project.

Amazon’s hiring tool is a good example of how artificial intelligence — in the workplace or anywhere else — is only as smart as the input it gets. If sexism or other biases are present in the data, machines will learn and replicate them on a faster, bigger scale than humans could do alone.

On the flip side, if A.I. can identify the subtle decisions that end up excluding people from employment, it can also spot those that lead to more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Humu Inc., a start-up based in Mountain View, Calif., is betting that, with the help of intelligent machines, humans can be nudged to make choices that make workplaces fairer for everyone, and make all workers happier as a result.

A nudge, as popularized by Richard Thayer, a Nobel-winning behavioral economist, and Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, is a subtle design choice that changes people’s behavior in a predictable way, without taking away their right to choose.

Laszlo Bock, one of Humu’s three founders and Google’s former H.R. chief, was an enthusiastic nudge advocate at Google, where behavioral economics — essentially, the study of the social, psychological and cultural factors that influence people’s economic choices — informed much of daily life.

Nudges showed up everywhere, like in the promotions process (women were more likely to self-promote after a companywide email pointed out a dearth of female nominees) and in healthy-eating initiatives in the company’s cafeterias (placing a snack table 17 feet away from a coffee machine instead of 6.5 feet, it turns out, reduces coffee-break snacking by 23 percent for men and 17 percent for women).

Humu uses artificial intelligence to analyze its clients’ employee satisfaction, company culture, demographics, turnover and other factors, while its signature product, the “nudge engine,” sends personalized emails to employees suggesting small behavioral changes (those are the nudges) that address identified problems.

One key focus of the nudge engine is diversity and inclusion. Employees at inclusive organizations tend to be more engaged. Engaged employees are happier, and happier employees are more productive and a lot more likely to stay.

With Humu, if data shows that employees aren’t satisfied with an organization’s inclusivity, for example, the engine might prompt a manager to solicit the input of a quieter colleague, while nudging a lower-level employee to speak up during a meeting. The emails are tailored to their recipients, but are coordinated so that the entire organization is gently guided toward the same goal.

Unlike Amazon’s hiring algorithm, the nudge engine isn’t supposed to replace human decision-making. It just suggests alternatives, often so subtly that employees don’t even realize they’re changing their behavior.

Jessie Wisdom, another Humu founder and former Google staff member who has a doctorate in behavioral decision research, said sometimes she would hear from people saying, “Oh, this is obvious, you didn’t need to tell me that.”

Even when people may not feel the nudges are helping them, she said, data would show “that things have gotten better. It’s interesting to see how people perceive what is actually useful, and what the data actually bears out.”

In part that’s because the nudge “doesn’t focus on changing minds,” said Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It focuses on the system.” The behavior is what matters, and the outcome is the same regardless of the reason people give themselves for doing the behavior in the first place.

Of course, the very idea of shaping behavior at work is tricky, because workplace behaviors can be perceived differently based on who is doing them.

Take, for example, the suggestion that one should speak up in a meeting. Research from Victoria Brescoll at the Yale School of Management found that people rated male executives who spoke up often in meetings as more competent than peers; the inverse was true for female executives. At the same time, research from Robert Livingston at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that for black American executives, the penalties were reversed: Black female leaders were not penalizedfor assertive workplace behaviors, but black male executives were.

An algorithm that generates one-size-fits-all fixes isn’t helpful. One that takes into account the nuanced web of relationships and factors in workplace success, on the other hand, could be very useful.

So how do you keep an intelligent machine from absorbing human biases? Humu won’t divulge any specifics — that’s “our secret sauce,” Wisdom said.

It’s also the challenge of any organization attempting to nudge itself, bit by bit, toward something that looks like equity.

Source: In the ‘In Her Words’ NewsletterAlgorithms learn our workplace biases. Can they help us unlearn them?

International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

Sigh….

Demonstrators belonging to Islamist groups attacked an International Women’s Day rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Sunday, hurling rocks, chunks of mud and even their shoes. The demonstrators, who were at a rival rally held by hardline Islamist organizations, were particularly enraged by one slogan the women’s day rally adopted: “mera jism, mera marzi” – “my body, my choice.”

Riot police set up large cloth barricades to dive the rival rallies, which flanked either side of a main road. But the police were also there to protect the women’s day protesters, after the hardline men and women threatened violence.

As the protest was winding down, dozens of men tried to push through the barricade, including a man who held a little girl aloft on his shoulders. According to a video uploaded to Twitter by a BBC reporter, police used batons to push them back. Still, for the next few minutes, they hurled projectiles that scattered the women’s day protesters, as journalists huddled behind concrete road dividers.

The hardline groups, their surrogates and conservative talking heads, took to the airwaves preceding the rally to condemn Pakistani feminists, accusing them of encouraging anti-Islamic vulgarity by raising a slogan that hinted that a woman had the right to do as she pleased.

The tensions even boiled over on a live talk show, where a screen writer swore at a prominent Pakistani liberal after she interrupted him by chanting the slogan. “Nobody would even spit on your body,” he shouted in a clip widely shared on social media.

Conservative lawyers petitioned the courts in Pakistan’s three cities to try ban the women’s marches. One prominent Islamist opposition leader, known as Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, threatened protesters on Feb. 29, warning them not to chant “my body, my choice.” “God willing, we will also come out into the streets, and we will destroy you,” he warned. And a senior teacher at Jamiat Hafsa, a hardline women’s seminary in the Pakistani capital, told NPR her students would halt the march by organizing a rival “modesty march.”

“This is a march to stop that march,” said the woman, who uses the name Bint Azwa (the women at the seminary often use first names or fake names to avoid being identified by security institutions that monitor their activities). “We are not going to let those women march the streets of our country, our neighborhood, with those vulgar chants.”

The violence underscored how hardline Islamist groups played upon conservative outrage over the slogan “my body, my choice,” to assert their presence in the Pakistani capital – and demonstrate their muscle.

The opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has struggled to find a toehold in Pakistan’s freewheeling politics since his party was forced into opposition. The hardline Jamiat Hafsa was violently shut down in 2007, after a standoff that killed more than 100 people. The women returned to the seminary only this February, and have dared security forces to remove them again.

On Sunday, dozens of the seminary women turned up at the counter-rally, clad in long black robes, headscarves and face veils, segregated from dozens of men who stood in a nearby park. They stood in military-style rows, their fearsome appearance only jarred by blue, green and pink bows pinned to their shoulders, to identify which bus they should return on, explained one 25-year-old, who only gave her first name, Rubina.

“We don’t want women to make choices for their bodies. The choice rests with God,” she said. Nodding toward the women’s day march, she described the women there as “naked.” “These people don’t even wear dupatas,” she exclaimed, referring to the shawl that Pakistani women traditionally drape across their chests to signify modesty.

On the other side, at the women’s march, hundreds of men, women and transgender Pakistanis clustered. Some waved the red flag of a leftist party. Others held up signs, including “my body, my choice,” but they denounced so-called “honor” killings, where men murder their female relatives for bringing alleged shame onto the family. Some demanded to know the fate of female political activists who mysteriously disappeared.

“Pakistan is getting more and more divided over time,” said Ambreen Gilani, a 41-year-old development consultant, gesturing to the Islamists across the road. The opposition to the women’s march helped motivate another protester to turn up, Sukaina Kazmi, a chemical engineer. She gestured to her Muslim headscarf, “Our religion does not teach us any of the things they are standing up against, our religion actually does fight for women’s rights,” she said.

As the protesters regrouped and walked away from the dozens of men trying to assault them, one organizer, Anam Rathor, said the violence underscored why they were demonstrating. “This proves our point, and this movement is growing. And now we will have more people. The reason why they are throwing stones is because they are afraid of us and that makes us happy.”

Source: International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Always interesting to follow Indonesian debates:

Maimon Herawati is an accomplished woman who believes in equal opportunity for women. She finished her Master’s degree at Abertay University in the United Kingdom in 2003, securing tenure as a lecturer of mass communication science in West Java’s Padjadjaran University and then juggling her family life with her social and political activities.

She has participated in various activities in her community, including a “Free Palestine” movement.

Maimon is one of many empowered women who has been politically active but has worked against the feminist movement in Indonesia, including by protesting against a bill that is intended to eradicate sexual violence. Such women have been in a cultural clash against Indonesian feminists on several other issues, like the Pornography Law and, most recently, the family resilience bill.

The two warring groups both have highly educated women as members who express their opinions with confidence, are politically active and have made achievements in their lives. However, at some point, these empowered women who fight for women’s empowerment have parted ways.

Antifeminist groups claim the sexual violence bill is “pro-adultery” since it only criminalizes nonconsensual sex. They said the bill should instead prohibit all extramarital sex, consensual or not.

Objections by the antifeminist group have halted deliberations over the bill, triggering protests from women’s rights activists. The bill’s supporters said they believe that since it defines more types of sexual violence than the prevailing Criminal Code, it would end impunity for sexual violence perpetrators and provide more help to survivors.

Neng Dara Afifah, the author of Muslimah Feminis: Penjelajahan Multi Identitas(Muslim Feminists: Multi-Identity Exploration), said the antifeminist movement had become counterproductive to gender mainstreaming efforts.

“What they are doing is a form of betrayal of feminism, which has allowed them to access the public sphere and eventually express their ideas,” said the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University lecturer.

Maimon disagreed. She said she could be active politically because Islam allowed women to be so. Islam, she said, introduced gender equality some 14 centuries ago, long before feminism did.

Islam, which emerged from Arabian society during the so-called Age of Ignorance, had elevated women’s dignity from being considered merely as property to having the right to inherit and secure their own property, Maimon said. She said she refused to be associated with feminism because “the idea came from the Western world, which is antithetical to Islamic values”.

Maimon said that one of the basic principles of feminism that collides with Islamic principles is the notion of “my body is mine”, meaning women possess full authority over their own bodies, no one else has the right to control them and they can wear whatever they want over their bodies in public. However, in Islam it does not work that way, Maimon explained.

“My body is not mine. It’s a mandate from God, so I cannot just do what I please on my body,” she said.

Another prominent figure among conservative Muslims is Euis Sunarti, a professor of family studies at the Bogor Agricultural Institute. Euis said feminism was problematic for Indonesia because its “liberal” values conflicted with the values of Islam, which were adopted by a majority of Indonesian citizens.

Feminism, she claimed, does not recognize the “division of roles” between men and women, husbands and wives. If a husband works and earns a certain amount of money, the wife should also do the same to achieve the goal of equality, Euis said.

“In fact, it does not have to be that way. If a married couple is committed to building a family and have children, then who should focus more on raising the kids?” Euis asked. She suggested mothers as the ones giving birth should take more responsibility in child-rearing but added that that did not mean mothers could not “actualize” themselves by participating in public affairs.

Women’s rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana clarified that feminism did not put money or power above all, but instead “fights for equal rights between men and women, inside and outside their homes”.

Instead of applying gender stereotypes to domestic roles, Nursyahbani said, feminism actually promoted “cooperation within households” by which both parties were encouraged to play active roles in taking care of domestic affairs, “unlike the rigid role of husbands and wives as stipulated in the 1974 Marriage Law”.

Article 31 of the law regulates that “husbands are the heads of the households and wives are homemakers”. Article 34 further states that husbands are obliged to fulfill the family’s needs, while the responsibility of wives is to properly manage domestic affairs.

“We want to eliminate the rigid legal norms because they’re inconsistent with the social reality, where many women actually act as breadwinners in their respective families,” said the founder of the Indonesian Women’s Coalition and the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women Association for Justice.

Source: ‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

Supply and demand theory would suggest the higher costs will have an impact on the numbers and attractiveness of the UK as an immigration destination:

The UK’s “sky-high” visa fees could deter vital NHS staff and the “brightest and best” scientists that Boris Johnson wants to attract with his new immigration policy, experts have warned.

Nurses, lab technicians, engineers and tech experts who currently flock to the UK from the EU may not be able to afford to do so if the prime minister’s proposed immigration overhaul becomes law.

At £1,220 per person, or £900 for those on the shortage occupation list, the fees are among the highest in the world – and this is before charges for using the NHS and costs for sponsoring employers are taken into account.

Comparisons with fee structures in other countries, published by the Institute for Government (IfG) thinktank, show that a family of five with a five-year work visa for one individual would have to pay £21,299 before they could enter in the country.

This includes the annual £400 health surcharge that must also be paid upfront per person. This is double the fee charged by Australia and about 30 times the amount charged by Canada, where it costs just over £10,000 for a family for five years. Germany charges £756 for entry for a family of that size.

The fee comparisons are equally stark for individuals. A single person who wants to come to the country will be charged up to £3,220 for five years. If they want to move to the UK with a spouse, the cost would rise to £6,500 for a five-year work stint.

UK visa fees compared with other countries
UK visa fees compared with other countries Photograph: Institute for Government

This compares with Canada, which charges £220 for an individual visa for three years; Germany, which charges £147; and France, which charges £2,075, according to the data supplied to the IfG. Luxembourg charges €50 (£42) for a visa and€80 for a residents permit.

Source: UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

And on the gender impacts:

The British government’s plan for a post-Brexit immigration overhaul was designed to wean the economy off its reliance on cheap foreign labor. But in the process, women’s groups warned on Thursday, women will suffer disproportionately.

The new points-based system will give precedence to occupations in which women are underrepresented, favor male migrants over female and deepen gender inequality, according to the Women’s Budget Group, an independent network that promotes gender equality.

“The new immigration system roundly fails to understand the lived experience of women, many of whom are prevented from accessing paid work by the weight of unpaid work — caring for children, older people and those with disabilities — that successive governments rely upon them to do,” said Sophie Walker, the chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, a British feminist organization.

Under the new rules, which will be implemented next January, applicants will be required to receive a job offer with a salary of at least 25,600 pounds, about $33,300. The salary threshold will be lower in special cases where there might be a shortage in skills, such as in nursing.

By and large, however, that requirement will work against women, who are more likely to work in sectors like home and senior care that are relatively poorly compensated, even though the skill levels of such women are relatively high, women’s advocates say.

“Care workers’ average annual salaries stand at just £17,000, not because care work is ‘low-skilled,’ but because the work force is 80 percent female and therefore undervalued and underpaid,” says Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

Imposing the salary requirement would mean “shutting out care workers, piling pressure on women to take on yet more unpaid care, and widening the existing social care gap between need and provision,” she said.

Women are also four times more likely than men to leave paid work to shoulder unpaid caring responsibilities for children and older relatives. This is one cause of the gender pay gap and gender inequality, the Women’s Budget Group found.

As a result of these inequities, major industries like food production, hospitality, health and social care that rely on female migrant workers are likely to see staff shortages after the new measures are put into place.

In the points-based system, the government gives top priority to scientists, engineers, academics and graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, once again to the detriment of women because of the gender disparities in those professions.

“There is a great emphasis on wanting to attract scientists to the U.K. under the new system, but it is another well-known fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences,” said Adrienne Yong, a lecturer in law at the City Law School in London.

“That the U.K. will give a Ph.D. in STEM subjects 10 more points than Ph.D.s in other subjects already puts women on a back foot,” she said, “as there is already a problem with female students doing STEM subjects, much less continuing further education to a doctoral level with that specialism.”

On Wednesday, the cabinet minister responsible for migration policy, Priti Patel, suggested that around eight million “economically inactive” people in Britain could be trained to fill such shortages, but experts say that many of those people are women who are already providing full-time care for children and families.

“It feels like they just want us to fill the badly paid jobs while the men and foreigners will get the higher-paying jobs,” said Amy Pears, a mother of three who left her job as a professional caregiver and went on benefits in 2015 because she could not afford child care. “My mother is disabled, so between her and the three children I have my hands full.”

The Women’s Equality Party says that without substantial government investment in child and elder care, women are put into a position where they simply cannot work.

“These shortsighted plans are in fact more likely to exacerbate the shortages in formal care, leaving it to women to pick up unpaid and increase the number of ‘economically inactive’ full-time carers,” Ms. Reid said.

Women’s groups warned that shutting out foreign workers would put more pressure on women who are already in Britain, particularly caregivers.

“Without extra colleagues from abroad, U.K. carers are going to have even less time to do the job they’re employed to do and offer people the dignity they deserve,” Ms. Walker said. “This policy makes it an inevitability that this exhausted system will come under further strain, while female family members will increasingly be expected to pick up the pieces as the system continues to erode.”

Ms. Pears said that many of her European friends and former colleagues, who played important caregiving roles, would be locked out of the new system because they did not qualify for the salary threshold or education qualifications.

“These people are carrying a huge burden for our country, and the truth of the matter is we need them,” she said. “Without them we are putting our services at risk.”

Source: Women Will Be Hit Hard by U.K.’s New Immigration Rules, Experts WarnWith its minimum salary requirements, the new system would particularly affect female migrants, who tend to cluster in lower-paid occupations.By Ceylan Yeginsu

Before we hurl insults around about ‘transphobes’ let’s be clear about what we mean

Definitions can be helpful but can also be divisive as we have seen the shift from the IHRA antisemitism working definition to one that has been adopted by governments and institutions:

When anti-semitism still appeared to be the Labour membership’s most glaring problem with intra-party prejudice and related mudslinging, great importance attached to definitions. What might seem to some members a perfectly allowable comment on the Israeli state might to others, using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, be manifestly hateful and targeted.

The party’s adoption of that definition was itself disputed. Labour took on the IHRA definition in 2016, then argued about adopting its examples of antisemitic behaviour. As ugly as this difficulty with internationally agreed terminology might look from outside, the interest in precise wording represented some common ground. On the definition of antisemitism, Labour’s factions were at least able to communicate.

More recently, the party has adopted a working definition of Islamophobia advanced by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims (after consultation with more than 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics and 50 MPs). The group’s co-chair Wes Streeting dismissed objections that free speech would suffer. “While our definition cannot prevent false-flag accusations of Islamophobia to shut down reasonable debate and discussion, it does not enable such accusations. In fact, it makes it easier to deal with such behaviour,” he said. “Our definition provides a framework for helping organisations to assess, understand and tackle real hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”

There could hardly be a better case for another considered definition – after a week in which its meaning has been both stretched and contested – of what should be understood by transphobia. Unless we want to leave that job to the courts. Is it allowed, for instance, to satirise self-ID, as in the case of Harry Miller? Yes, says Mr Justice Knowles. And in a passage that might have been inspired by Labour’s pledges: “Some… are readily willing to label those with different viewpoints as ‘transphobic’ or as displaying ‘hatred’ when they are not.”

There are obvious implications for the unprecedented debates prompted by a proposed reform to the Gender Recognition Act, facilitating gender self-identification (ID). Can it be damagingly transphobic – if Miller is not – for people to meet and discuss the possible implications for women-only spaces and safeguarding? Should people be able to meet, without fear of abusive crowds, to share concerns about early gender dysphoria diagnosis/affirmation? Is it actionably bigoted – unlike Miller – to question the fairness of male-bodied athletes competing in women’s elite sport?

Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

 Some apparent progress:

  • Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws to both Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority

  • But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters

CAIRO: Egyptian Copt Amal Hanna says she is determined to fight the long-standing application of Islamic inheritance laws to Christians, as recent court victories embolden Coptic women.For decades, Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws — which mostly allocate a bigger share of inheritances to men than to women — to both Muslims and the country’s significant Coptic Christian minority.But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters.
Hanna has twice been faced with the unbalanced division of family estates.
The first was more than 20 years ago, when a court granted her brother double her share of their parents’ property.
Then, after her aunt died last year, another court awarded the entire inheritance to Hanna’s brother.
“I was dumbstruck,” she said. “It really upset me, especially as my family raised us — me and my brother — as equals.”
Hanna has appealed against the ruling.
But Christian women’s hopes were rekindled late last year after Coptic lawyer Hoda Nasrallah and her brothers were granted an equal share of their father’s inheritance.
The November ruling by a Cairo family court took into account a constitutional article allowing Christian principles to be the basis of rulings on the minority’s personal status affairs.
Nasrallah’s rare victory generated a buzz across Egypt, but it was not the first of its kind.
In 2016, a Christian woman won a legal dispute with her brother, obtaining equal inheritance.
Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation in Egypt.
They are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, and account for 10-15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 100 million.
They have also been the target of Islamist militant attacks that have left more than 100 dead since December 2016.
Elizabeth Monier, an expert on Coptic affairs at the University of Cambridge, said applying Christian inheritance rules would meet resistance from within the legal system.
Their application “has had to overcome resistance from entrenched practices and norms, both in the judiciary and society,” she said.
Though Nasrallah had already agreed with her brothers to split the estate equally, it took her around a year to have a court rule in her favor.
She said she pursued the case in order to set a legal precedent for other Christian women.
“My fight was about ensuring that the constitution is applied,” Nasrallah said.
“Many judges are against applying Christian norms,” she added. “It can be even more challenging when the heirs are in disagreement.”
Hanna also criticized a lack of legislation forcing judges to apply Christian rules.
In building her case, she said she invoked the constitution and used the 2016 ruling as precedent.
Hanna said she feared her appeal would be rejected, but would keep on challenging the decision.
“I will even take it to the constitutional court if I have to,” she said.
Lawyers say the lack of a personal status law for Christians is partly to blame for courts’ resistance.
“Coptic males sometimes push for Islamic laws to be applied since it’s in their interest,” lawyer Atef Nazmy said. “It is vital that a personal status law for Christians be created to regulate these issues.”
Christian denominations have for years been locked in talks over a unified personal status law.
They have yet to reach agreement or present a bill to parliament.
Nazmy said issues like divorce were at the core of the divisions.
Egypt’s strict Coptic Church applies rigid rules to divorce, granting it only in cases of adultery or conversion to other faiths.
Monier said courts might also resist granting Christian women equal inheritance because they fear Muslim women would seek the same rights.
In 2018, then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi sparked controversy across the Islamic world by proposing a bill on equal inheritance for Muslim women.
The move drew praise from secularists and women’s rights activists across the region, but stern rebuke from Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s most prestigious educational institution.
Despite the resistance, Monier remains optimistic.
“That a Coptic woman has taken her case to court and won suggests there is some progress being made,” she said.
“This is another step that is part of the journey toward greater gender equality.”

Source: Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

How Iranian immigrants can be role models for diversity in STEM

Of interest:

When I first came to the United States from Iran in 2007 for a doctorate in computer science and machine learning, I was surprised by how few women attended industry conferences. Those I did meet were usually fellow immigrants.

Diversity and gender equality drive creativity and spur innovation across the globe. It’s why the United Nations has declared Feb.11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and why the U.S. House of Representatives just launched the first-ever Women in STEM Caucus. The bipartisan initiative, started by four female congresswomen, now has 13 members from both sides of the aisle. The caucus aims to increase the presence of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM across the country.

In Tehran, where I grew up, it’s considered normal for girls to study computer programming from an early age. That culture has opened the door for new generations of female engineers. In fact, in Iran, nearly 70 percent of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women.

That’s a sharp contrast with the United States, where women are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields. Data by the Council of Graduate Schools found that in 2018 U.S. women earned only about a quarter of PhDs in engineering, math and computer science. This is at a time when the United States is facing a critical shortage of STEM workers; in 2015, 14 states advertised 20 STEM jobs for every unemployed STEM worker, according to New American Economy. That demand is projected to grow over the next decade.

Today, I’m the executive vice president and chief algorithms officer for Overstock.com, a tech-driven online retailer committed to diversity. As an immigrant and a woman, I bring a wealth of experiences that help me see problems differently. Plenty of data shows women bring skill sets, strategic thinking and creativity valued by businesses. Women also take women’s needs to heart when creating products and services for them, whether it’s heart medication, seat belts or air bags designed for our physiques. Simply put, women are an essential part of the talent pool.

American companies should strive for increased diversity and inclusivity throughout their organizations. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms that value girls’ and women’s opinions. Those of us in the field can create better representation by hiring and championing female colleagues or requesting female-friendly policies inside the companies where we work. Leaders in our communities also need to do more to encourage women, immigrants and minorities to enter STEM fields. I applaud the Congressional Women in STEM Caucus, whose mandate is to improve access to hands-on learning, technical training and real-world application of skills required in these jobs.

But we also need to remember the value of our personal stories in influencing young lives. If young American women and girls, including immigrants and minorities, are going to embrace STEM, they’re going to need more support and role models. As Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of West Chester, Pa., said, she was one of 10 women in her engineering major and doesn’t think the numbers have changed much in 30 years.

A 2018 study of 6,000 American young women conducted by Microsoft and KRC Research found that girls who know a woman in STEM are more than 70 percent more likely to know how to pursue a STEM career and what types of specific jobs might utilize a STEM skillset.

The study said parents’ encouragement was particularly influential in whether girls cultivated a love for science and technology and stuck with these fields over time. Likewise those of us already working in these industries can also serve as mentors for them, whether it’s volunteering at coding camps or sharing our enthusiasm for AI and robotics over ice cream.

Or we can simply raise our hands high in our communities and say: “This is what a female coder, engineer, biotech founder, mathematician or science professor looks like. You can be one, too.” That’s especially important, because 30 percent of girls and 40 percent of women described a man when asked what a “typical” scientist or engineer looked like.

As a woman in STEM, an Iranian American citizen and an immigrant, I want to encourage new generations to realize their potential. With any luck, I’ll see many more female faces at industry conferences to come.

Dr. Kamelia Aryafar is executive vice president and chief algorithms officer for Overstock.com.

Source: How Iranian immigrants can be role models for diversity in STEM

Coptic Christian woman wins court case against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law

Of note:

A Coptic Christian woman has won a major legal victory against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law that greatly favors men.

Christian human rights lawyer Huda Nasrallah announced that a Cairo court ruled in her favor Monday, deciding that, as a Christian, she has a right to the same share of her father’s inheritance as her brothers.

The decision follows a nearly yearlong legal fight that has seen two other judges rule in favor of Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law that grants male relatives twice as much share of a family member’s inheritance as female relatives.

The Associated Press reported last week that when Nasrallah presented her case to a higher court she based her argument around a Coptic Christian doctrine that calls for an inheritance to be distributed equally.

On Tuesday, Nasrallah told AP that she is “thrilled” by the verdict and hopes it will serve as an encouragement to women in her country.

According to Texas Tech University law professor Gerry W. Beyer, recent cases and sentiment on the issue in Egypt did not bode well for Nasrallah. Additionally, leaders at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, regarded as the most prominent Sunni religious institution in Egypt, have rejected equal inheritance proposals.

Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., called the decision a “significant development” in a Twitter thread, but stressed that “only time will tell about its scope.”

“On the other hand, we still don’t have the court’s reasoning,” Tadros, the author of Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, added. “In Hoda’s case, there was no contest. Her brothers joined her in her demand. So if the court simply found no objection and hence ruled in her favor, the case’s scope would be very limited.”

Although Nasrallah’s brothers were on her side in the case, complaints have been raised in the past about how Coptic men “usurp the inheritance of women.” The Coptic Church has also been accused of overlooking the inheritance issue.

Tadros explained that if the court’s reasoning cited the constitutional clause that grants Copts “the right to resort to their own laws in governing their personal status affairs, then this is a huge thing.” However, he stressed the decision could bring both “positive and negative developments.”

“On the positive side, obviously the rights of Coptic women to equal inheritance. It would also be interesting to see what else would the courts consider as Christian personal status. Adoption?” He asked.

“On the other hand, this means that there is unlikely to be any movement on marriage and divorce issues. In those cases, while @PopeTawadros made significant practical moves on them (ones that got him curses from the old guard), these changes remain tied to him and not long term.”

Tadros assured that “any such movement should be understood as a return to the Dhimmitude framework.” He explained it is a framework in which “non-Muslim communities were allowed to govern their own internal affairs, but in which they are not equal citizens.”

Nasrallah is not the only Coptic woman to have successfully sued in the past for their right to equal inheritance. The AP reported earlier this month that Nasrallah was inspired by a 2016 Cairo court ruling in favor of a Coptic woman who fought the inheritance laws.

“It is not really about inheritance, my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she told AP at the time. “I have the right to ask to be treated equally as my brothers.”

Source: Coptic Christian woman wins court case against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law

In their mother’s country, Lebanon protesters clamour for citizenship

Ongoing:

Draped in the Lebanese flag, 22-year-old Dana is bursting with pride at taking part in Lebanon’s “revolution” — even if her home country refuses to give her nationality.

Standing among other demonstrators in the capital, she explains she was born in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and has spent all her life in the country.But like thousands of others in Lebanon, her father is a foreigner and, with Lebanese women unable to pass down their nationality, she has been deprived of citizenship.

“My parents divorced before I was even born. I grew up with my mother,” Dana told AFP.
“I see myself as Lebanese, but they don’t want to recognize my identity,” she added.
The politicians who do not want to change the century-old law, she says, are “patriarchal” and “racist.”

The right to citizenship is one of many long-standing demands to have found new life in the mass protests sweeping Lebanon since October 17.

The unprecedented show of cross-sectarian anger in the street brought down the government last month — but many other of the demonstrators’ demands remain unmet.
Outside the seat of government, 17-year-old Omar said he’d only ever been to Syria once, but was consistently suffering the consequences of his father’s nationality.

Each year, he has to make his way to General Security headquarters to renew his residency permit — like all other non-Lebanese.

“They treat us like foreigners. It’s humiliating,” he said, holding the Lebanese red-green-and-white flag.

Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) strongly denounced the law, noting that Lebanon lags far behind some other countries in the region on the issue.

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen all provide equal citizenship rights to the children of both women and men, while Iraq and Mauritania confer nationality to those born in the country, according to HRW.

At a Beirut protest, Samer stood in a small crowd, raising his fist and chanting against political leaders he sees as inept and corrupt, the majority of whom have been in power since the end of the country’s 15-year civil war in 1990.

“But we need it (citizenship) to work, to sign up our children at school and receive social security,” said the 33-year-old, whose father is Palestinian and who is himself the father of three.

Despite activists campaigning to amend the 1925 nationality law, Lebanese authorities have been reluctant to do so.

In this small multiconfessional country of around 4.5 million, the political system relies on a fragile balance of power between communities.

Authorities fear that changing the law would open the door — especially through marriages of convenience — to the naturalization of some of the majority-Sunni 1.5 million Syrians and around 174,000 Palestinians living in the country, according to official estimates.

Last year, then foreign minister Gibran Bassil suggested amending the law to allow for Lebanese mothers to pass on their nationality — but only if the father was neither Palestinian nor Syrian.

“It’s racism,” said Randa Kabbani, coordinator of the “My Nationality, My Dignity” campaign demanding citizenship for children of Lebanese women.

Of the 10,000 impacted households identified by the campaign, some 60 percent are Syrian, 10 percent Egyptian, and just seven percent Palestinian, Kabbani said. Others are Jordanian, Iraqi, American or hold European nationalities, she added.

Around 80 percent are Muslim and 20 percent Christian.
Samer said those pushing for reform are not demanding the naturalization of all Palestinians living in Lebanon, “but only those born to a Lebanese mother. It’s a natural right.”
Kabbani said she was delighted the issue had gained new momentum in the ongoing protests.

“Before the movement, women were almost ashamed to speak up about it. But today they’re clamouring loud and clear,” she said.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters took part in a march organized by “My Nationality, My Dignity” in the capital.
Volunteers with the campaign have erected a tent in the square by the office of the now deposed cabinet to discuss the issue.

When she is not protesting, Dana — the university student — helps spread the word among other protesters so they too can join in her fight.

But the young student says she is under no illusions.
Whether or not a new cabinet includes independent experts as demanded, the key to her finally obtaining her Lebanese citizenship will boil down to political will.

“The day decent leaders take power, the legal amendment will fly through,” she said.

Source: In their mother’s country, Lebanon protesters clamour for citizenship

Feminist Senators are critical actors in women’s representation

Interesting take. Would also benefit from possible impact of visible minority and Indigenous senators:

The results of the federal election have produced much scrutiny over the number of women in Canadian Parliament. The Senate is nearing gender parity, with 60 percent of Prime Minister Trudeau’s appointments being women. Gender and politics scholarship has shown that meaningful representation of women’s interests is likely to occur not just because of a critical mass of women, but because of the presence of critical actors. It seems that a group of independent feminist senators have the potential to be critical actors in the representation of Canadian women’s policy interests. Their efforts will be ones to watch in the next Parliament.

The new Parliament will start in the coming weeks, and politicians will descend on Parliament Hill ready to get to work. They certainly haven’t forgotten the near-constitutional crisis at the end of the last Parliament. The Liberal government pushed many pieces of legislation through the House of Commons only to have them stall in the Senate. While some bills were passed, a few significant pieces of legislation died on the Senate’s Order Paper. Amidst the intensity of the last legislative session, a cadre of feminist independent senators worked hard to ensure that the interests of Canadian women were represented. When Parliament starts up again, these senators will surely continue to work together to pursue feminist initiatives in policy-making.

For decades, the Senate has had a better balance of men and women than the House of Commons has. However, we have no studies that show whether the presence of women senators has led to the effective representation of Canadian women’s policy interests.

In recent years, research on women’s representation has shifted focus. Rather than looking just at the number of women in Parliament, researchers are looking at the critical actors who represent women’s interests. We know that increasing the number of women in a legislature is likely to improve the representation of women’s policy interests. However, researchers have found the most important factor is that there are actually people in Parliament who are willing to stand up for women. The group of feminist Canadian senators could be those critical actors.

The new Senate appointment process allows individuals to nominate others or apply directly, and it emphasizes proficiency over partisanship. As a result, many feminists with specific expertise have been appointed as independent senators with free rein to form their own alliances.

Under the new appointment system, a number of Canadian feminist powerhouses have been introduced to Parliament. They bring with them a myriad of experience advocating for women’s interests. Donna Dasko helped found Equal Voice, which is a nonpartisan organization that supports women running for office in Canada. Kim Pate was formerly the director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which advocates for women in the criminal justice system. Another senator who has fought for women’s rights is Marilou McPhedran, who was instrumental in getting section 15 equality rights into the CanadianCharter of Rights and Freedoms, and who helped to found the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. Mary Coyle has also promoted the rights of women and Indigenous peoples, setting up the First Peoples Fund to provide microfinancing to First Nations and Métis communities in Canada. Before entering politics, Frances Lankin was an active member of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, where she acted as the provincial spokesperson for the Equal Pay Coalition. Rosemary Moodie comes from a career in maternal medicine, where she advocated for the expansion of quality health care to marginalized populations. The specific expertise that these senators bring to Parliament informs their work in the Senate.

There are also senators who have particular experience with advising governments on women’s issues. Wanda Thomas Bernard was the chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Nancy Hartling cochaired the New Brunswick Minister’s Working Group on Violence Against Women. Julie Miville-Dechêne was the chair of the Quebec government’s Conseil du statut de la femme. These formidable women represent a few of the feminist senators who, along with many other senators, are working hard to represent women’s interests in the chamber as well.

With this influx of wide-ranging expertise, there have been questions about whether ad hoc Senate caucuses will form on different issues, especially because Liberal senators were removed from the party’s national caucus. Former senator Hugh Segal has been a supporter of that change. With the removal of party discipline, he says, “you could have a caucus on women’s issues, you could have a caucus on defence, you could have a caucus on First Nations issues, you could have regional caucuses.” The efforts of feminist senators seem to be an example of that prediction at work.

In fact, Pate, McPhedran and Coyle allied with NDP MP Christine Moore to found the Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians in late 2018. It already has more than 60 members, and it is working on getting parliamentary approval. The association demonstrates the drive for collaboration and support among Canadian feminist senators.

In an illustration of collaboration between feminist senators, Senator Dasko has worked with her colleagues on oversight of Bill C-78, an Act to Amend the Divorce Act, which she identifies as a bill with vast importance for women: “I took on the responsibility for delving into it. A responsibility on behalf of a small group of senators, feminists as we were, who wanted to make sure that we understood the bill and made changes where we felt necessary.” She recounts a time when the group strategized that she would take the lead. Another senator gave her seat on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to Senator Dasko as a replacement, to ensure that she could deliberate and vote on the Divorce Act at the committee stage (since she had studied the bill’s subject matter and its weaknesses). This access to expertise is an example of the benefits of a cooperative feminist group.

Senator Dasko says she finds that “with the ISG senators, there are a lot of women…it really is a quite congenial work environment. I think we try to get along and we get along very well. I think we work very collaboratively.”

Before the Senate reform, senators’ memberships in party caucuses meant that they did a lot of collaborating behind closed doors, in caucus meetings. We cannot know the specifics of what feminist alliances might have been formed there, or the effects that they had. Now, a group of openly feminist senators operates within the context of a more independent Senate. This provides evidence that some members of the Senate are working in the interests of Canadian women.

Source: Feminist Senators are critical actors in women’s representation