Avoiding ‘Manels’

At ZS, our firm-wide Inclusion and Diversity initiative is picking up steam, and it’s generating a lot of interesting and thought-provoking discussion about how we can continue to improve and evolve as a firm.

Just this week, my friend Arun Shastri sent me a short piece written by Francis Collins, who is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (where Arun’s wife is a practicing physician). Collins stated that “it is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as ‘manels’.” He goes on to say that if the agenda and panel do not appear inclusive, he will decline to participate. In a follow up piece by the New York Times, Collins also expressed his concerns about the growing evidence of sexual harrassment in biomedicine.

The original piece by Collins generated some good dialogue internally, and I wanted to share an excerpt of that exchange here, and hopefully broaden the discussion.

In the internal communities for our Unconscious Bias training, an article from the Economist was shared, which described some of the challenges facing women in academia. The article states:

On average, half of each seminar’s audience was female. Men, however, were over 2.5 times more likely to pose questions to the speakers—an action that may be viewed (rightly or wrongly) as a sign of greater competence.

This male skew in question-asking was observable, however, only in those seminars in which a man asked the first question. When a woman did so, the gender split in question-asking was, on average, proportional to that of the audience. Simply handing the microphone to a woman rather than a man when the floor is opened for questions may make a difference, however small, to one of academia’s most intractable problems.

It is discouraging to learn that women question-askers at conferences are underrepresented even in in subfields where women make up the majority of attendees. You can read more about that in this Science Magazine article, which also goes on to say that:

… if fewer women raise their hands in the first place, that could indicate women feeling their questions need to be flawlessly formulated before they can ask them, which leads to them not asking at all, Kaatz says. Women may fear that a poorly worded question gives the impression that they are less competent, she notes. Because women are often evaluated by higher standards, men “don’t have the same consequences as women do for saying things that aren’t perfect.”

There are so many things we’re proud of at ZS – our gender parity in salaries, raises, promotion rates and more. It is a wonderful place to work in many respects. But, there is always more we can do, and I’m pleased to be part of a team that is working to make bold and ambitious changes to both our firm demographics and our practices over time.

So, how do we take these insights from The Economist and Science Magazine forward in our own lives? For goodness sake, find qualified women for your public speaking engagements! Call on women first, or perhaps helping women formulate questions before opening the floor, which in turn might help them see the value in contributing to the conversation.

What else do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts …

Design Ops 2018 – Recap

This post is a brief recap of all the presentations at the 2018 Design Operations Summit, and includes links to the full length blog posts.  At the end of this post I share a few thoughts about the presentations that I most enjoyed, and why.

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Beadie Dreams

Some time ago I wrote a post about the beadwork I do for fun. As I’ve mentioned in my health-related posts, I’m working a reduced schedule at the moment, which has afforded me a bit more quiet time at home for one of my favorite hobbies.   It’s been good for me because I find myself dreaming about bead projects rather than work!  I’m going to share some of what I’ve been working on, as well as the patterns or kits I’ve completed from designers whose work I enjoy.

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of my paternal grandmother’s necklace. This is a piece my mother gave me, and I just love how simple, beautiful, and supple it is. It appears to have been crocheted, and it is the piece that inspired me to learn the technique a number of years ago.

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Chelation Chronicles – 2H 2018

This blog post is focused on my chronic health issues, specifically, learning to detox heavy metals using the Andy Cutler Chelation (ACC) protocol.  In early July I posted about my first six months of learning about and starting ACC.  I was unsure whether I would continue to track my chelation progress, but given that my brain fog comes and goes, it has been helpful for me to write things down.  It has been enough of a rollercoaster that I think others would benefit from following my experience, so I am going to continue where I left off with my first Chelation Chronicles blog post.


18 July.  I am feeling like crap – the worst I can remember since starting chelation.  I posted to the ACC group on Facebook looking for advice, and it’s pretty clear that I’m dealing with redistribution from my dose of ALA being too high.  I just have to do everything I can to mitigate the discomfort (manage the headaches, rest as much as possible).  One good suggestion was to do just DMSA on my next round, to clean up my system and get back to a good place. Read More

An Uneasy Truce

JBA Cover

I am pleased to share that the latest issue of the Journal of Business Anthropology was just released, and I have an article in it.  The piece is called “An Uneasy Truce: Navigating Interdisciplinary Collaboration in the Software Industry”.

A download is available here – An Uneasy Truce.

This is a special issue about Anthropology and Design, which is an outcome of a panel I was a part of at the American Anthropology Association meetings in 2016.  You can learn more about the original AAA panel here, or peruse the complete table of contents for this issue on the JBA website.