Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

As an organization that uses science to advocate for human rights, the goals and issues represented by Ada Lovelace Day are very near and dear to our hearts.  Additionally, we are lucky to work with and be advised by some pretty kick-ass ladies in STEM (see our People page to learn more about these amazing women (and men)).

I brainstormed a list of women I could write about, as Finding Ada suggests we celebrate today by blogging about a STEM heroine.  I considered Anita Borg (she has her own institute!), who advocated tirelessly for women in computer science.  I thought about Sally Wyatt, keynote speaker and organizer of the fascinating workshop/conference I attended this past weekend combining computer science and the humanities.  She studies how people use the internet and specifically the interplay between the internet and social exclusion.  I considered any of the ladies featured on these awesome t-shirts!  I even thought about our own Anna Berns.

I think all these women and more deserve the kind of attention they’re receiving today.  I look forward to the day when their accolades are as well-known as their male counterparts.  I talked through these ideas with Patrick, and pondered how such a profile would fit in with the small collection of blog posts we’re building, and he had an interesting suggestion – that perhaps what would be more fitting, and more of a contribution to this conversation, would be my own voice, my own set of experiences, earning a degree in a STEM field and working in a tech field.

What’s odd is what happened next.  I started drafting a series of approaches.  Describing my positive experience in undergraduate and graduate statistics programs that were predominantly female.  Comparing and contrasting my experiences in the statistics community versus the tech community.  I kept asking myself, who am I to write about these topics?  I’m not well-versed in gender politics, and I’m not a writer.  Discussions of women in STEM, in my experience, become so loaded so fast, that I kept asking myself why I wanted to risk making any sort of public statement that could inevitably come back to bite me in the ass.

And I guess that’s my answer right there.  When these conversations go from calm to heated in less than a sentence, when discussants on all sides attempt to censor speech with which they disagree (be it through formal rules limiting speech or threats of violence),  we all lose.  Because it shrinks the conversation down to those brave enough to risk the threats or angry enough to issue them.  It makes it hard to find a place to tell mundane stories about learning statistics with a bunch of other women in a predominantly female department.  About the sadly everyday feeling that I need to exert and prove myself in tech communities that I don’t experience in stats communities.  About that time that I organized a roundtable to discuss technological tools for reproducible research and, despite a sign clearly identifying me as the speaker and organizer, some dude walked up to the table and assumed the one other guy at the table was the speaker.  And then finally glanced over at me, surprised, and said, ‘Wait.  You’re the organizer?’  It makes it hard to reflect on the happy exceptions, like the R meet-up where I always feel welcome and included, and ponder, what makes that community different?

So that’s my blog for Lady Ada Day.  Let’s make room in our histories and our current stories for STEM folks of all genders, and let’s also make room in our conversations for everyone.

Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.