How stereotypical environments

There was that panel Saturday morning.

One question Greta gave us was “does affirmative action work?”

I don’t think I started by saying it depends what we mean by “work” but I think I did indicate that that’s what I meant. Maybe I started with “Yes in the sense that” and went on from there. I think it does work in the (familiar) sense that if you always see X job or vocation or career full of all or mostly men (or white people or rich people and so on) then if you are not a man (or white etc) you will conclude, without deciding to conclude it, that you’re not supposed to be there.

This thought irritates the bejesus out of a lot of people. That’s sad for them but that doesn’t make it not true.

Ok, they perhaps think, but you can’t do anything about it without a lot of Professional Victimhood and Social Engineering and paying attention and all kinds of shit we don’t want to do. The hell with that. Don’t do anything, because.


That’s called laissez faire, and it’s libertarian crap. The way things are right now isn’t just magically the best way they could be, so yes we do too so get to tinker with them. No we don’t want to draft everyone until all the numbers come out even, but we do want to get rid of obstacles, including subtle ones that take digging and research to discover.

I talked about that a little, via the work of a University of Washington psychologist whose name I couldn’t remember. She is Sapna Cheryan, and she works on things like stereotypes and environments. I said her research had found that tiny cues in a lab can make a difference to whether or not women feel as if they’re supposed to be there – something as small as a plant. Debbie Goddard expressed surprise at that but Elisabeth Cornwell next to me muttered that it’s true. It’s very interesting stuff. A title:

Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient
belonging: How stereotypical environments impact gender participation in
computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97,

It’s optimistic research, really, because tiny inexpensive things can make a real difference.

So, we know this, so why pretend we don’t? Why pretend it’s all aready just everyone’s totally free preference? Maybe some day it will be, but we’re not there yet. (Actually it won’t be, because totally free would mean totally uninfluenced, and how the hell would that be possible?)

I enjoyed that panel. It was interesting and collegial and fun.

I’ll probably say more about it. I’m doing this slowly.