Sexual Harassment and How to be an Ally

I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism and women in tech recently. HR departments focus their efforts on how to avoid punishment and on documenting bad behavior. What I feel they lack is training employees how to be an ally. When you are an ally, you speak up when you see someone being treated unjustly. You are an ally when you notice that someone is feeling isolated, not just when you are aware of obvious abuse. If you’re a manager, you regularly check in with your reports to give them an open space to report problems instead of expecting them to come to you. You are an ally when you encourage a colleague to speak up when they want to let something go.

Do you wonder what you can do to help women succeed in science and technology fields? Do you wonder how to make your office a warm and happy environment? Do you want to put an end to toxic behavior? The answer is to foster relationships. Do what you can to let your co-workers know that you’re looking out for them. There are a lot of ways to do this.

The public way to do this is to call out good work that’s being ignored as well as discouraging bad behavior. You can support someone in private by letting them know when you disagree with how they’re being treated or by getting them help if they don’t know what to do. Maybe they can’t speak up to their manager, so you go to yours for help. You can let them know when they do good work and let them know of ways to improve when they can do better. Did you notice that they solved a problem in a really interesting way? Tell them. Did you notice that they struggled with something, but got help at the right time or you were impressed with how they persevered? Tell them.

When someone is being sexist or abusive, speak up. It’s not only important for the person being abused, it can be important to anyone that happens to be listening. If it’s intimidating to chastise a co-worker in front of a large group, another option is to tell them privately that you’re disappointed with their behavior. If this is the route you take, it’s also important to let the abused person know that you support them. A feeling of isolation can be worse than any public shame. Let them know that they aren’t isolated.

There was a long time when I felt alone as a woman in tech and I didn’t even realize it. I suffered for years because of this. It would have really helped me if our sexual harassment training was used as an opportunity to show what it looks like to be a good person instead of dwelling on the salacious details of the bad examples.

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Building Bonds

With the advent of social networks it can be easy to get caught up in building communities by interacting with people online. It makes it trivial to connect to someone you have lost touch with or to find someone with common interests that you may not have found before we had Facebook or Twitter. But does it really help you bond with people? The Atlantic has a really good take on this.

I’ve been thinking about that in terms of my own attempts at building community in Charlotte and have gotten a lot of good ideas recently from friends and what I read. The three things that have stuck with me are how to use social media effectively, great leaders create other leaders, and being a good leader also means being a good host.

When building a community around a particular value or interest, it’s not enough to simply make a connection. You need to reach out personally to people and create a bond. It’s just as important to cultivate new connections as it is a keep older ones going. And if you use social networks, interact with people! Don’t just click “Like” or “Share” buttons. Write something to your friends. Use all of these wonderful tools we have to meet up with people face to face instead of just sending ideas into the ether.

If you’re a leader of a community, it’s important to create other leaders in your group. Many local communities come and go with whomever is in charge. In college I was part of a wonderful philosophy club that fizzled as soon as the president left. If you have more than one person creating and managing events then it’s less likely that all of those people will leave with no one to fill the void.

A compelling way to create more leaders is to find out about the passions and interests of the other members of your group and have them talk about those. Encourage them to create an event around what they love. It’s easy for people to do that. And then give them help in the form of co-hosting an event if that makes them more comfortable. Mentor them into becoming good leaders.

And lastly, learn how to be a good host or hostess. That’s something that I work on quite a bit! I tend to get caught up in day to day stress, so much so that I don’t think I can handle doing something like making dinner for a friend with a newborn or having a dinner party. But I’ve done both of these things recently and it was quite rejuvenating. I may have been physically tired from being the hostess, but my soul was filled. I also thought of many things that I could improve on, and instead of making me feel bad I was looking forward to what I could plan next.

The most important part of being a hostess is to enjoy your guests.  Surround yourself with people that you value. Make them feel as comfortable as you can. Be kind. Be generous. This goes for friends as well as members of a club. The reason it’s valuable to have community in the first place is to find like-minded people, spread good ideas, and support each other. I try to remember this when I’m feeling the stress of providing for people or managing a social event.

I hope to use all of these ideas to create wonderful communities in Charlotte. I think it’s a great city, but it could be stronger. What better way to create strength than by building bonds between the people here?

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An Influx of Inspiration

Tim and I attended ATLOSCon a few weeks ago, and ever since then I’ve been chewing on all of the ideas that I learned about there. I learned things about temperament, style, the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset, and building community.

The first class that really stuck with me was the temperament class. It was all about the ways in which people are different and how to take that into consideration in our relationships. They used Myers-Brigg personality types to help explain this, and the Thinking/Feeling dichotomy was really relevant to where Tim and I disagree the most. The main difference in these types is that the “thinking” type of person prefers to take a step back and judge things from a distance whereas the “feeling” type of person doesn’t hesitate to talk about how they’re feeling.

Feelings are hard for me, whereas Tim is very comfortable with them. He knows what he feels and why and wants to talk about it right away. I need a little while to even figure out why I’m feeling a certain way and if it’s ok to feel that way. Only after that can I approach a conflict or problem solve. I had usually tried to talk about conflicts right away because I thought I would be hiding things if I didn’t. This class really encouraged me to recognize when distance was actually better for me. Of course, Tim is still really great at making sure I don’t overanalyze :)

The other idea that was new to me was the fixed mindset versus a growth mindset (this comes from the psychologist Carol Dweck). A fixed mindset is when you think people are inherently talented or intelligent and can do nothing to change those innate skills. The growth mindset is when you believe you can train yourself in a skill and get better and better.

You can have one of these mindsets overall, or you can have a fixed mindset about certain things and a growth mindset about others. The speaker mentioned that she typically had a growth mindset when it came to learning and found it easy to study even when a subject was difficult to her at first. But she had a fixed mindset when it came to sports. She used to believe that she just wasn’t athletic and never attempted to get better in that area. Once she was introduced to the idea of these two mindsets, she could break out of that mold and use the same persistence she had used with her studies in improving her fitness.

There’s so much more I want to share from this conference, but I think I’ll save them for their own posts. I’m especially excited about how to build a better community. But I’ll talk about that later. Oh, the suspense!

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Harsh Discipline

I always try to explore why certain ideas resonate with me emotionally. I believe in reason and that it is our only means of knowledge, but emotions are equally important. Emotions are automatic responses to values (thanks, Ayn Rand!). Emotions are ways for our subconscious to take in vast amounts of information and experiences and boil them down into feelings that help us make decisions (thanks, Malcolm Gladwell!).

I read a book called Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (which is a great book, by the way) and came across the following quote:

Instead of fostering the development of internal controls, harsh discipline reinforces the idea that discipline comes from external forces – from parents, principals, the cops, or the courts. Instead of leading a boy toward better decision making, it prevents him from internalizing the values – and learning the lessons of empathy, respect, and reason – that lead to responsible, moral behavior and emotional accountability. Those lost links weaken the chain of conscience as a boy moves through life.

This passage really moved me and stuck with me. It also got me thinking about how we raise Henry. I’ve been drawn to a two particular philosophies, namely Montessori and Positive Discipline. Both of these foster the independence of the child. They both are a wonderful principled approach to raising children; very scientific in a certain way. I also think I was drawn to these things because of the cultivation of that internal value system.

I’m constantly cultivating my own values and learning how best to do that. I try to ask myself the following questions: “Does spending time on this pursue a value of mine? What value is this action related to? Does spending time on this take time away from a value that I’ve been neglecting?”. It’s really easy to get distracted with TV and social media and other things and these questions help me stay focused.

It took me a while to learn to do this for myself, which is why I want to start early with Henry. It’s not just easy to get distracted by technology, it’s easy to get distracted by what other people value. Highschool is a great example of this. I remember my days and many of my peers days being filled with the question “Will this look good for college?” versus “Is this pursuing my values?”. And I’ve encountered many people who get spit out of the college system, look around, and realize they’re lost.

How is this related to discipline? Think about how we normally discipline children. We punish and reward. We reward them when they do things we like and punish or shame them for the things that bother us. It’s all based on the values of the parents and on other external forces. Positive Discipline is a non-reward and non-punitive philosophy. Montessori is an educational philosophy that focuses on learning the child’s will. And both of these move from putting external pressure on children towards giving them a framework to make their own decisions.

Something to think about the next time you deal with your toddler that’s hitting and throwing everything in sight!

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iPhone Addiction

So…remember when I posted that Henry has forced me to use technology? Or, more accurately, how he was the impetus for me to find new uses for my iPhone? Well, now I’m addicted to the damn thing! Crap.

I do love my “space phone”, as someone called it the other day, but I’ve been reminded recently that you have to be mindful of how you use technology. I think the social applications are the worst. On the one hand, they’re fantastic for keeping up with friends and family, finding fascinating news from unexpected places, and in general being connected with people that aren’t near you geographically. On the other, it’s a time suck!

How many of those links you follow will genuinely improve your life and mind? Are you staying in touch with your friends or passing idle time? Do you really need to know that your friends in Atlanta are going to happy hour next Tuesday? Oh wait…I do, I might be there…

I thought about all this last night when Tim and I just sat and played with Henry after dinner. We didn’t watch TV. We weren’t playing Kickin’ Momma on our phones or checking our Twitter feed. We all just sat together. Henry was so content. He didn’t try to grab at our speakers or pull the books out of the shelves, which is what he normally does if we’re with him but not really paying attention. I guess he’s been trying to tell us something.

Later that night I thought about all the books I’ve been meaning to read and how they’ve been piling up. Blogs and stories I’ve been meaning to write and haven’t gotten to. Tasks that have been languishing on my todo list. Basically, my life. And then I thought about all the levels on Cut the Rope I’ve beaten.

Watch out for that idle time. Stop and think about how you really want to be using it.

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My Baby Is Forcing Me to Use Technology

I’m such a luddite, which is funny, because I’m a Computer Science major. It’s mostly the influence of my parents. My dad doesn’t even have a cell phone. I don’t usually stay on top of new technologies, but that’s all changing now that I have a baby.

I barely have time (or the free hands) to brush my teeth let alone hop on the computer. However, since I have an iPhone, there’s a lot I have at my fingertips now that I never explored before. I didn’t have to explore, so I just didn’t. Now my phone is one of the few links I have to the adult world.

It all started when I’d hop on my iPhone while nursing. I use an application (which I didn’t even download myself; Tim did) called Total Baby to keep track of diapers, nursing, and other various baby things. So I started using that. And then I started just reading my e-mail or checking Facebook while occupied with Henry. Because I was nursing so much in the beginning, it was the easiest way for me to do anything, so I started exploring what I could do on my phone. I remembered that there was a Kindle application, so I could read books on it. I could play games on it. I could update my blog on it. I even went and got a Twitter account. Oh my goodness, would you look at that! Technology is useful :p

So, thank you, Henry. Thank you for forcing Mommy to use the interwebs ‘n stuff.

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A gay Christopher Plummer : They had some wonderfully loud music in the club tonight! *nnn st nnn st nnn st* What kinda music’s that?
Ewan McGregor as his son : It’s probably house music…
Christopher Pummer : House music…hehe…ok… [writes it down on notepad]

I want to see this movie for that scene and that scene alone. Plus there’s a dog that speaks in subtitles.

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Ann Druyan and the Separation of the Mind and the Spirit

Ann Druyan cowrote the Cosmos television series with Carl Sagan, and was his wife for the last 15 years of his life.  I don’t recall how I came across this speech, but it’s great.  It’s a talk she gave to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.  She describes the prevalent schism between material reality and the spiritual just beautifully.  Have a look!

What happened four or five hundred years ago? During this period there was a great bifurcation. We made a kind of settlement with ourselves. We said, okay, so much of what we believed and what our parents and our ancestors taught us has been rendered untenable. The Bible says that the Earth is flat. The Bible says that we were created separately from the rest of life. If you look at it honestly, you have to give up these basic ideas, you have to admit that the Bible is not infallible, it’s not the gospel truth of the creator of the universe. So what did we do? We made a corrupt treaty that resulted in a troubled peace: We built a wall inside ourselves.

It made us sick. In our souls we cherished a myth that was rootless in nature. What we actually knew of nature we compartmentalized into a place that could not touch our souls. The churches agreed to stop torturing and murdering scientists. The scientists pretended that knowledge of the universe has no spiritual implications.

It’s a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and it’s preciousness on this tiny world.

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The Vegetarian Myth

Hi Everyone!  Here’s a little review of a book I finished recently.  It’s adapted from a short speech I made in Toastmasters:

After 20 years as a vegan, author Lierre Keith sat at her kitchen table, distraught.  Her health was in shambles, and she had just been told by her doctor that needs to eat meat again to heal.  It was an emotional experience for her, but she was at the end of her rope.  She had caved in and bought a can of tuna fish.  Ms. Keith describes this scene herself in her book, The Vegetarian Myth.

I sat at my kitchen table with a plastic fork.  I didn’t use my silverware or my dishes.  I opened the can.  How could I actually do this?  I broke it down into the tiniest steps.  Pick up the fork. Put the fork in the tuna. I was so desperate.  Pain was the inhabitant of my body, and I was only the shadow it cast.  Lift the fork toward you. I had come to the end.  Open your mouth. And I was so, so tired.

I ate it.

I don’t know how to describe what happened next.  ”I felt like I was coming out of a coma,” one ex-vegan told me.  ”It was like being plugged into a low-voltage battery,” another friend said.  I could feel every cell in my body — literally, every cell — pulsing. And finally, finally being fed.

Oh, god, I thought: this is what if feels like to be alive.

I put my head down and sobbed.

Ms. Keith’s journey started at 16, when she decided to become a vegan.  She grew up in the 60s and 70s, looking up to environmentalist icons like Iron Eyes Cody and Rachel Carson. She had rejected the factory farming model for it’s inhumane treatment of animals and the harm it does to the environment.  However, after twenty years with episodes of low blood sugar, an absent menstrual period, and debilitating back problems, her deteriorating health was one of the main reasons she began to question whether or not it was right for her to be a vegan.  In addition, the difficulties of raising her own garden without the use of animal products led her to see the real consequences of her choices.

The most important elements for healthy soil are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.  You can get all of these things contained in a simple bag of fertilizer.  Simple, that is, unless you’re a vegan.  Lierre Keith read the label on her fertilizer.  There she saw two important ingredients: blood meal and bone meal.  A traditional source for Nitrogen is blood meal or manure, but using these would violate Ms. Keith’s vegan ethics.  She could get nitrogen synthetically, but the fossil fuels needed to produce it would thwart her desire to be ecologically sustainable.  Phosphorus is another problem.  The traditional source of phosphorus?  Bone meal.  The non-animal source?  Sedimentary rock.  But again, this non-animal source has to be mined and transported, which isn’t exactly a green solution.  Finally, to enrich the earth with Potassium you can use wood ash or cover crops, which are both sustainable and from non-animal sources, but this is a moot point without the other two elements of this important trio.

And then there were the slugs.  They would destroy her garden and eat everything that she tried to plant.  She couldn’t use pesticides, again, because of her moral and ecological views.  Her first solution was something called diatomaceous earth.  It’s organic, so at first glance it seems ok.  However, then Ms. Keith found out how it worked.  It kills soft bellied slugs by cutting them repeatedly, after which they die from dehydration.  So that was out.  There were also copper barriers, but that was much too expensive.  Next, the author tried to pick them off herself and release them to the woods, but she was faced with yet another problem.  The whole reason they were in her garden was because that’s where the food was.  If she put them in the woods, she wouldn’t have to see it, but they would die there too.  The solution she stuck with was this: ducks and chickens.  The chickens she brought in ate anything that moved, including the slugs.  Her duck, whom she named Miracle…well, this is how she described what happened, “One bite of bug and she exploded into quacks of joy: this is what I was born for!  The slugs were history.”

This was the beginning of Ms. Keith’s moral conundrum.  Every life form on this earth evolved in a relationship with other forms of life.  There are predators and prey, grazers and the plants that they graze.  What do animals eat?  Either other animals or plants, or a combination of both.  And what do plants eat?  They don’t just get their energy from the sun, they get their energy from us.  Plants essentially eat animals.  And this is what Ms. Keith learned from her garden.  The food chain is not a line, but a cycle.  To put it very simply, an animal eats a plant, it gets eaten by another animal or dies on it’s own, it decomposes and the plants use this material to nourish themselves and grow, and the cycle starts all over again.  The author had accepted a way of life where she didn’t believe that death was necessary to eat.  However, in growing her garden, she discovered that she had been flouting the cycle of life, and of nature, for years.  In order to grow her food, she realized that it begged for the blood of animals.  In order to save her lettuce from slugs, she had to either kill them herself or have her ducks and chickens root them out and do the killing for her.  Every plant and animal has it’s place in nature, and by industrializing our food supply, we’ve removed ourselves so far from this that we have to relearn where each of these plants and animals should go.  This isn’t just something that meat eaters have to examine, it’s something that vegans and vegetarians must keep in mind as well.

Ms. Keith’s book is split up into three sections, “Moral Vegetarians”, “Political Vegetarians”, and “Nutritional Vegetarians”.  The stories I’ve related above are part of her exploration of the moral reasons to be vegetarian in the first part of her book.  In the sections exploring the political and nutritional reasons for cutting meat out of your diet, she challenges the notions that it’s both environmentally sustainable to eat a vegetarian diet and the fact that it will improve your health.

Do I think it’s impossible to thrive and live on a vegan diet?  I’m not completely convinced of that yet, but I thought this book brought up questions that both vegans and non-vegans should consider.  Questions like, how does an annual crop – like wheat, soybeans, or corn – affect the earth differently than a perennial  - like grass, berries bushes, and trees?  What are the environmental effects of having an industrialized agriculture and farmers only planting one or two crops repeatedly?  How does eating soy affect your body?  What are the nutritional effects of removing animal products from your diet?  This is a fascinating book, and I’ve only told you a portion of it.

As a former vegan herself, Ms. Keith approaches the subject matter with brutal honesty, but also compassion.  I admired this greatly even when I didn’t agree with her politics and values, and she definitely lets you know what these are. This is someone who dedicated herself to a way of life and an ideology that she found crumbling before her eyes.  She could have turned away and ignored the questions that kept coming up in her mind, but instead she bravely faced each one.  We should all use her example to be a little more brave and learn about where our food comes from.

More reviews of this book (some detailing more on the political and nutritional parts of the book):
Review by Dr. Michael Eades
Review at Free the Animal (links to his 4 other mini-reviews as well)

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Spiders are rad…


This is incredible.  And those spiders are awesome.  I love the gold color of the tapestry!  Here’s a link to the NPR story.

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