Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let's Throw a Stanford-Oxford Money Party and Invite Only Our Male Friends"

Stanford is throwing a Big Data in Biomedicine conference.  (Link)

I generally try to ignore the pervasive gender imbalance all around me in technology, but in this case, it is so blatant and close to home, that I think I'll say something.

Apparently, the topic of the conference is "driving innovation for a healthier world."

I note that there are only six women speakers to this conference (out of 45, a ratio of less than 15%). [I originally thought it was only two, but recounting, there are six women, out of forty five.]

Given that many of the chosen speakers at the conference are not directly in the field of bioinformatics or statistics, but are in related fields such as public policy, traditional medicine, or radiology, it is inexcusable that the number of women researchers at this conference is not approaching half.  This is conference about health, after all, which impacts women at least as much as men.

Vinod Khosla is an invited speaker, as is John Hennessy, the President of Stanford, and Robert Gentleman, Senior Director of Bioinformatics at Genentech, and David Glazer, Director of Engineering at Google.

The conference is being held in Silicon Valley, where I live and work, as a woman engineer.  The same place where women technology workers struggle to get even three months of maternity leave and struggle mightily to re-start their careers, should they decide to take some time out in order to take longer than three months of maternity leave.  The same place where, as a result of not being able to take maternity leave, most children are not breast fed for more than a few months and therefore do not benefit from the known life long health benefits of breast feeding.

And how about that pay differential between women and men in Silicon Valley?  According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, "as of 2012, men working full time in Santa Clara made a median $91,471 annually, compared to $56,996 for women." 

It is not as if there are not more women qualified to speak at this conference.  True, many of them may not be researchers at Stanford or Oxford, but some are researchers at companies such as Genentech.  I happen to know several who would definitely be more qualified than some of the speakers I see on the list.

It's really shameful.  Oxford and Stanford, Google, Khosla Ventures and Genentech should be ashamed to throw a boys' club money party and call it a "conference" on bioinformatics and "health". Health?  I'll believe it when I see these guys lobbying for at least six months of paid maternity leave across the board, career re-entry paths for women in technology, and gender parity at conferences.


Daniel and Lior, thanks for your comments.  Personally, I think it would be a shame for anyone to withdraw from the conference. 
I don't believe in tokenism, but I think the conference is really missing out by not having more women and more diversity in the mix.  I'm not in bioinformatics, but obviously, writing this blog, I've run across so many great papers this year from a very broad mix of researchers.  Many are not at Stanford or Oxford, but more women and a broader mix of people from different cultural backgrounds would richen and strengthen the conversation about future directions in bioinformatics, health and innovation. 
OK, Good.  Thanks Daniel and Lior.

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