Thoughts by Dr Su White 

There has been lots of discussion online and in the papers about the impact of filter bubbles. I have recently been reminded of my own personal filter bubbles and have decided to be philosophical about it and work harder to break out of my bubble.

In my little bubble, I have been aware, for many years, of the need to take action to ensure greater equality for women. In fact, I am prepared to say that I actually believe in equality, and equity, across the board.

In academia where we rely on publications and public visibility to act as key indicators when we are seeking promotion, and in turn publications and public visibility are wisely accepted as indicators of prestige and quality. For these reasons, the fact that women in academia find that the acceptance and citation rate for their papers are likely to be lower than that achieved by male colleagues. Furthermore, many events fail to achieve anything approaching a realistic/representative participation rate for women (and equally those from diverse backgrounds).

I got into a bit of a discussion about this with a colleague who was promoting a heavily male dominated line up for a high-profile event they were promoting recently. Their response was a request for me to identify some women, followed by an enquiry as to whether I wanted to speak myself.  Both of these responses tend to leave women like me a little bit cross – there has even been a handy bingo card devised for us to check off the standard responses.

In my bubble, there is widespread acceptance that a realistic objective should be to work towards gender parity in all ways possible – closing the gender pay gap, attaining better representation in events, ensuring that review processes are transparent and enacted in an equitable manner.

It is also fairly widely accepted that 30% women in the mix is sufficient to change the climate and culture of communities ranging from academic departments through to conferences, workshops and seminars. The 30% approach is one which was promoted by the report More women in Informatics Research and Education, a 2014 report from Informatics Europe which has been recently been revised and republished.

In 2015, when mathematician Greg Martin considered the likelihood of there being so few women at the events in which he participated he observed

“Human beings’ notoriously poor sense of probability tempts us to believe that such underrep- resentation of women might just be the result of chance. […]  We mathematicians are well equipped, however, to perform the easy calculations showing how wrong this instinct would be. The appropriate null hypothesis is “the ICM speakers were selected independently of gender from among the pool of people who have received PhDs in mathematics in the last 25 years”. Under our conservative 24% assumption from above, the observation of nineteen male plenary speakers and one female plenary speaker rejects (p < 0.031) this null hypothesis. Indeed, it is 18 times as likely that we would have seen an “overrepresentation” of female plenary speakers (five or more, since 20 × 24% = 4.8) by chance than to have seen at most one. “ (Martin, 2015)

These observations chime with the thrust of work conducted by initiatives which address unconscious or implicit bias, such as Harvard’s Project Implicit. Initiatives to address this type of bias and raise general awareness of the possible impacts of bias and the advantages of greater diversity and inclusion (see for example google video or

Furthermore, people in my bubble are very much aware of activities to shout out sexism and prejudice where it emerges. We are very happy to seek to identify our unconscious bias, and fully support activities like the European ‘Manel’ Watch, the everyday sexism initiative and various ongoing initiatives, social media campaigns and general activities to treat women with greater equity.

Sadly it seems that stereotypes are very much to the fore when it comes to imagining what a mathematician, physicist, computer scientist or indeed any scientist or engineer looks like.  What’s more,  despite the presence of very many notable women in our fields, and many able women researchers and emerging academics, too often our presence and participation in events is overlooked.

Now, when it comes to running events, many organisations provide guidance on how to make events more inclusive – and from the view of getting a valid participation from women, there is no excuse for having all male, or nearly all male panels, committees, keynote speakers or participants.  Furthermore, diversity and inclusion, is actually more nuanced, as was recent embraced by the diversity and inclusion policy at ACM CHI 2016

I will make another blog very soon providing a wide set of references to show folk the issues in my bubble, but I need to cut to make some points right now.

Its diversity fortnight at the university right now, and I have some observations and advice for people who find themselves in the embarrassing position of having organised an event where they have forgotten to consider gender balance ( and probably other sorts of inclusion and diversity …)

If someone points it out to you – don’t expect them to do unpaid and unrecognised work to a make up for your mistake
Don’t assume that they are being a power player and. Trying to get an invitation to participate
Have some humility or respect and actually think about what they have pointed out to you – and thank them
Apply some serious thought to how you are going to solve. The problem – just like you would to any other problem. If your keynote pulls out sick, you don’t expect them to do the work to sort out a new keynote!
If dealing with any current imbalance, understand that since men are likely to be in the majority – there are lots of men available to solve the problem, and the women/other minorities may want to be getting on with their day jobs since they face such difficult odds in succeeding
Resolve never to make that stupid mistake again, and look for examples of good practice that you can adopt so that in future you are a role model
Feel proud that you solved that pesky problem of finding women to participate when you are a mere man

Further readings and references


ACM CHI2016 Diversity and Inclusion statement

Geek Feminism Wiki|women speakers


Martin, G. (2015). Addressing the underrepresentation of women in mathematics conferences. arXiv Preprint arXiv:1502.06326, 26. Retrieved from

Martin, J. L. (2014). Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(11), 11–14.

Lynda Hardman (ed). (2014) More Women in Informatics Research and Education. Retrieved from