WiMIR Mentoring Program Report 2017: the many faces of diversity

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Poster design: Julia Wilkins

Blog post by Anja Volk (Utrecht University), Co-Founder of the WiMIR Mentoring Program

We started the mentoring program in 2016, after many years of regular meetings of the Women in MIR group, which is dedicated to promoting the role of, and increasing opportunities for, women in the MIR field. The mentoring program was founded to connect women students, postdocs, early-stage researchers, industry employees, and faculty to more senior women and men in MIR. The program encourages and supports women in pursuing a career in MIR, raises an awareness on issues often faced by women in our field, and establishes networks between different generations, genders, and disciplines within MIR in academia and industry.

In this second round of the program in 2017, the number of participants has more than doubled. We have asked participants for anonymous feedback on their experience with the program after the closing in June 2017, in order to help the Mentoring Program Committee (Emilia Gómez, Blair Kaneshiro, and Anja Volk) to gain insights into what has worked well or less well for participants. With this blog post we share the outcomes of the mentoring round in 2017 as reflected by participants. We hope to provide a general overview on the benefits of this community effort to increase diversity in MIR, and to give an idea of the gains for individual participants.  

Participants

Around 50 mentees signed up for the program, residing in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They ranged from high school student to associate professor, coming from a diverse field of interests and backgrounds, such as digital signal processing, computer music, computer science, music theory, computational musicology, music psychology, music performance, music and mathematics, music perception and cognition, computational ethnomusicology, composition, computational neuroscience, digital media, information science and human computer interaction. Mentors came from equally diverse backgrounds and different stages of career, residing in North America, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand, with roughly 1/3 working in industry and 2/3 in academia. Compared to the first round in 2016, we have seen a strong increase in the number of mentors from industry. As in 2016, an equal number of male and female mentors participated.

Matching procedure

We considered a number of different aspects when establishing the matches, such as general research interest and background, language, time zone, level of seniority, and specific requests from mentees on certain research or career topics. While it was often impossible to find a perfect match on all points, we strived to find the best possible overlap in commonalities. Participants were in general happy with their matches according to the feedback (on a scale between 0 and 5, 87% mentees rated the fitness of their match with a 4 or 5, so did 67% of the mentors). We do feel ready for the next MIREX challenge for helping us to solve this big puzzle: what would be the best algorithm for automatically matching the participants? One big challenge was the difference in time zones, as it is not always possible to find mentor and mentee within the same time zone, or even same continent.  Participants commented that both the commonalities in the matches were helpful, but also the differences for gaining new perspectives, such as discovering how research is organized in different countries.

Mentoring sessions

Participants had signed up for maximal 4 remote meetings in total between January and June 2017, while 42 % of mentees reported 4 and more meetings, others reported fewer meetings.

The following topics have been discussed in the mentoring sessions according to the feedback, with decreasing order of importance:

  • Career paths in academia
  • Career paths in industry
  • Work/life balance
  • Graduate school
  • Dealing with sexism
  • Balancing career with family/children

What did mentees gain

Overall, the mentees were very positive about the mentoring sessions – check out the gratitude wall – and have fun! Mentees reported very different aspects as important gains, from getting a general overview on research in music and technology, to getting a clearer picture on different career options, but also in receiving very concrete help in writing a paper or grant proposal. Here we report some examples on what they have taken home from the program:

  • Cooperation on a conference article
  • Feedback on research
  • Sharing questions and concerns
  • Getting a bigger perspective
  • Better understanding of priority of funders
  • Useful advice about internship
  • Gain a different perspective than those of my immediate colleagues
  • Getting to know a very wide field of research in music and technology fields
  • Better confidence in my abilities and professional options
  • Better understanding of different career paths in industry and academia

Examples of what mentees say about the program:

I saw possibilities and perspectives of people who ‘know better’ about that world in which I’m moving towards to but not quite there.

The gender disproportionality somehow to me brings fear of not choosing a secure career option. The mentorship program has been a confidence booster to me.

The WiMIR mentoring program clearly helps to create a better network among the members of the field, because it introduces people that otherwise would probably have never met.

For more detailed descriptions of benefits for mentees, please check out the blog posts by Stefanie Acevedo, Magdalena Fuentes and Iris Yuping Ren.

What did mentors gain

Many of the mentors indicated that they have taken valuable insights from the conversations, here are some examples:

  • Evaluating their own career path and reflecting on their own priorities
  • Gaining perspectives on struggles and concerns of junior staff in industry
  • Learning about differences in academic systems between North America and Europe
  • Mentees brought new ideas, mentors learnt something new about themselves
  • Good experience that their background and skills are useful for someone else
  • Being inspired by young researchers in the field
  • Gaining a friend

Examples of what mentors say about the program:

There are few things during my academic work day that take less time and have such immediate and longer-term impacts.

It was exciting to me to see my mentee being eager to proudly tell me about new accomplishments and insights and me being proud on these accomplishments as well. I got the feeling that I may have had a positive impact on the mentee and that both sides actually likewise benefited from the mentoring program.

I got to know brilliant people whom I wouldn’t have a chance to know otherwise.

For more: check out the gratitude wall from the mentors, and Ryan Groves’ blog post on the perspective of a mentor!

General feedback on the program

Both mentors and mentees reported a positive overall experience of the mentoring program: 88% of mentees gave it a 4 or 5 (on a scale between 0 and 5); 73% of mentors gave it a 4 or 5. The majority considered the time span between January and June appropriate, though 46% of the mentees and 32% of the mentors would have preferred a longer time span. Some participants reported difficulties in scheduling meetings, sometimes due to time zone differences.

Importance of the program for increasing diversity in MIR

Participants considered the extra support and push for women in our gender-imbalanced area as an important point of the program for increasing diversity, along with the factor of helping to make women in the field more visible, as well as attracting people from other fields who might learn more about MIR through this program. Participants also commented on the potential of the program to provide (male) mentors with a better understanding on how to make their institutions and themselves more accessible and inclusive.

New ideas by participants :

Participants mentioned a number of new ideas in the feedback form, such as

  • Make peer mentoring accessible for mutual support of mentors, such as on discussing papers or proposals
  • Connect mentees with each other through mailing list or chat platforms for exchanging ideas with others in a similar situation
  • Create profiles of women who have participated in the program on website for visibility
  • Get together at conferences, organize local networking
  • Establish contacts to high schools for early information on MIR

Conclusions by mentoring program committee for next round

We are in the process of discussing how to implement the new ideas mentioned by participants. Here are some ideas:

  • Mentors can indicate in sign up form whether they are interested in peer mentoring and what they would be interested in discussing with a peer. We will establish email contact between all mentors who are interested in peer mentoring, including information what they want to discuss, and then mentors can contact each other. Mentors can also indicate whether they would be interested in participating in a forum with other mentors.
  • Mentees can indicate in signup form whether they want to be part of email group or group chat with other mentees on exchanging ideas with peers. We establish the contact between all mentees who are interested, and then leave the mentee group to organize themselves.
  • We need volunteers for creating profiles of women for the website.
  • For anyone being in contact with high schools in their local area, we can provide a Power Point presentation about the mentoring program.
  • If anyone would like to organize a local networking event, please let us know for helping to spread the word about it. 

Note: If anybody has a comment or different suggestion, and wants to get involved in organizing, please contact us at wimir-mentoring@ismir.net.

A note from the program committee

We would like to thank all participants for making this round of the mentoring program happen! The doubts and concerns that are often mentioned by mentees when they sign up for this program — on whether or not there might be a career for them in this field — have been openly discussed in the mentoring sessions. We are happy that this community pays an invaluable contribution of encouragement to meet these concerns. Moreover, participants help to introduce MIR with its different disciplinary facets to people who have sometimes hardly heard about this field before, or to those with a different disciplinary background. Both mentees and mentors appreciated a new perspective on a different discipline, generation, gender, career path, country or continent – as a testament to the fact that “Mentoring is a two-way street” (Steve Washington) which considers many different facets of diversity. Or, as Amy V Beeston has put it in her blog post, we find courage through encouraging others, such that mentoring is a mutual gain. And in our case, we extend the gain to the third dimension of the mentoring program committee: by organizing this program, we provide a frame to be filled in by the participants, as it is up to the mentors and mentees to conceptualize whatever support is helpful in their individual sessions. Learning about the diverse outcomes, new emerging connections and ideas resulting from these individual cases means for us to see our efforts creatively multiplied into all kinds of directions – a moment of great joy, which we would like to share with all participants.

Anja Volk (Utrecht University), holds master degrees in both mathematics and musicology, and a PhD in the field of computational musicology. The results of her research have substantially contributed to areas such as music information retrieval, computational musicology, digital cultural heritage, music cognition, and mathematical music theory.  In 2010 she has been invited to join AcademiaNet: The Portal to Excellent Women Academics. She is founding board member of the International Society for Mathematics and Computation in Music (SMCM).  Between 2013 and 2015 she served as a board member of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval. In 2016 she launched together with Amélie Anglade, Emilia Gómez and Blair Kaneshiro the Women in MIR (WIMIR) Mentoring Program.  She co-organized the launch of the Transactions of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval, the open access journal of the ISMIR society, and is serving as Co-Editor-in-Chief for the journal’s first term.

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WiMIR Mentoring 2017 Gratitude Wall

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Poster design: Julia Wilkins

This blog post displays notions of mutual gratitude from participants of the WiMIR Mentoring Program in 2017. The program run between January and June 2017, with four remote sessions between mentee and mentor. Participants from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand came from a wide range of disciplinary background in music and technology. With this gratitude wall we share some of the benefits participants have experienced. Thanks everyone who has contributed to this wall! Have fun reading!

Mentees’ gratitude towards mentors

Thank you for your time, enthusiasm, and intelligence in accompanying me in this important transition from student to independent researcher! Your words about the method of work, interdisciplinary connections, and trust for the job search are very important and I am so grateful to you for these. Thank you so much!

Hi A. I see this opportunity to thank you publicly. You have been a great mentor and I will always be thankful to you for your help in making such a huge transition. All those DSP sessions have now enhanced my confidence and I hope to contribute to the MIR domain in the near future. Of course, I am going to continue to have sessions. Thank you once again ! 🙂

I am grateful for my mentor to take time out of his schedule to connect with me.

Thank you very much for taking your time, and for sharing your resources generously!

Thank you so much for your time, patience, answering all my questions and sharing your experience with me. It was a great program and it helped me get a more complete picture of the life after the PhD.

Thanks so much for the sessions! It’s always been a pleasure to talk to you. Very important to have someone’s opinions from the outside world. I learned a lot!

I feel very grateful for being part of the WiMIR program and to have an awesome mentor. It passes on skills, shares experience, and simply doubles the joy during research.

Thank you very much for your time and effort. You helped me in being more secure and better understanding what I was moving towards to. It’s funny how it may seem a simple conversation, but actually has a great effect.

Thank you for generously sharing your time and experience, and for giving me the opportunity to air uncertain thoughts in a low-pressure environment.

Thank you so much for all the advice that you gave me about both my academia and industry path. I truly valued your input as I was choosing a summer internship, and I would not feel confident in my choice without your help. Your openness and willingness to help and discuss anything was much appreciated, and I also loved hearing about your experience at your job and past institutions. I look up to you in many ways an aspire to follow a similar path to yours. You inspire me to want to be a great mentor to another young woman someday! Thanks for everything!

Grateful for the support and the motivation!

Thank you for your great understanding regarding all the doubts and concerns I had (and still have) in relation to a career path and life. Our conversations have been a great comfort and I am very grateful for your advice.

Thanks for being open and helpful from the very beginning!

My mentor was kind, encouraging, and easy to talk to. I could not have asked for a better mentor!

Hi, very glad to know and talk with H. Though I could not go through all the tracks and had short term to discuss our subject, it was impressive enough.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and insight into ways to get more immersed in the field of MIR. You showed me how it’s done.

It was great to talk to him! He’s an outstanding researcher and above all he was very humble and nice in all the meetings. I would like to thank him very much for his patience and time!

Thank you for taking the time to engage me like a colleague, sharing your knowledge and giving support. Your aid was indispensable.

Thank you so much! Having an open mind and willingness to help people is so important and you have truly left an impact. I know now that I will always have someone I can look to for guidance and support and it really means a lot.

Thank you to all who organized this program! It was truly a great experience and allowed me to talk to someone working in the field first-hand.

Thank you to my mentor for helping me explore different career paths within the MIR field.

Mentors’ gratitude towards mentees

Dear mentee, thank you for being my mentee for the last six months. During the course of the mentoring program, we got to know each other bit by bit and found that we do have a lot in common. This made it really easy to talk and to me, our telephone conferences simply flew by. I watched you taking a number of important steps and hope that you continue your path. I hope that you did enjoy it as much as I did and that you could actually gain from the program as much as I did.

Thanks for participating! Keep the good work up 🙂

Thank you for sharing how your love of music performance informs your research!

Thank you for being such an enjoyable companion. I was surprised by how much I looked forward to our discussions, and how quickly they went by.

I am glad that you worked hard to complete an ISMIR manuscript even though it was not ready. Sometime you just need to press on.

Thanks for all of our conversations!

Thank you for different view points and the research directions in Indian classical music.

It was a pleasure talking to a young and motivated student following an academic path.

Thank you for your curiosity and interest!

I’m so glad this initiative exists. Thanks a ton, organizers!

Thank you for your commitment to MIR despite the lack of encouragement from several quarters!

Keep on rockin’ mentee! Keep connected to MIR, and enrich MIR with these new tools you are learning in a neighboring field.

Thank you for your trust and patience while I learn the ropes of being a more effective mentor!

Follow your dreams!

Thank you for the nice chat on the thrilling steps of learning playing music instruments and enjoying music in general. I hope I will see you some day fulfilling your musical dreams!

Thanks so much for the honest, open and good-hearted sharing of experiences, ideas, questions and the occasional doubt. I saw myself reflected on your hopes and concerns more than expected, and I believe the experience not only to improve as a mentor, but as a member of the MIR community too. Thanks!

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss your research and your aspiration on pursuing scientific inquires!

I look forward to mentoring future MIR researchers!

Approaching Feminism as a Male Data Scientist

Blog post by WiMIR mentor Ryan Groves, co-founder of Melodrive

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Painting Equality used with permission from artist Osnat Tzadok, find original here.

The internet has provided a new platform for an obscene amount of information. Anyone with a computer and a connection can now be heard in the international community. Through the accessibility of information, citizens have become journalists, comedians, celebrities, laughing stocks, community leaders and even scientists just through the means of access to this information tsunami. One particular aspect of this is the ability for marginalized groups to directly confront those who are more privileged, or even perpetrate that marginalization.

I am a man. I had a relatively privileged upbringing–good schools and active parents. When I first started reading about feminism, I had the knee-jerk reaction that most men have: “They couldn’t be talking about me”. Surely I was a more-informed member of the opposite sex. Surely all of my accomplishments were based on my merit, and not on some advantage bestowed unto me. Surely I wasn’t gaining those advantages through the disadvantages of my peers.

As a data scientist, I teach machines how to understand human problems, and to perform human-like solutions. I decided to do what a good data scientist would do–to gather evidence, form a hypothesis, train the model to solve that problem, and test. Only this time, I’d be the subject.

Gathering Evidence

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Mansplaining. According to the New Republic [1], the essay that kicked off the whole idea was by the decorated author, Rebecca Solnit, in her piece, “Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way”. In it, she says that “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men”. Even in my marginally-more-enlightened state, after having opened myself up to this issue, I still find my instinctual male reaction kicking in when I read this sentence, which is to reject this notion outright. But that is exactly the point–why would I not approach this as evidence, as opposed to rejecting it as opinion? The author continues:

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

As a man, this was initially a foreign idea to me–an issue of which I was totally unaware.

The problem goes beyond Mansplaining. More recently, I read a really insightful blog post by a female engineer & designer, Nikki Lee, titled “Ride Like a Girl”. In it, she relates the experience of living as a woman in a world designed for men to being a biker in a world designed for cars. In it, she says:

Maybe you’ve noticed that cars are kind of scary. They are more or less scary depending on where you live — if you’re on a nice calm street in Seattle, drivers will give you plenty of room and wait patiently for you. Other places, drivers will try to run you off the road. And no matter where you are, you know that the cars around you could really mess you up if something went wrong.

[…]

In places with great cycling infrastructure, it’s really easy to get around just as efficiently as driving. But most cities don’t have that. These environments aren’t just not built for you, they’re constructed in a way that actively excludes you.

This analogy really resonated with me, because, like most people, I’ve had this experience while biking. I have indeed witnessed negligent drivers who impose the risk of real physical harm on bikers through their negligence. I have been held to a double-standard by having those same negligent drivers call me out for minor traffic infractions.

In industry, there are plenty of examples of the same disadvantages. I recently attended a Meetup event for gaming and game development in Berlin, and had the honor to hear a talk given by Brie Code. Brie Code is a speaker, writer, and the CEO of a new game studio, Tru Luv Media. She has worked for years in the games industry as a game AI developer and designer. Brie had always found that she had a very different response to games than traditional gamers. As she presents in her blog post on the topic:

[M]ultitudes of white masculine gamers who dominate the games industry have made experiences that are relevant to them but not to most people.

Brie often didn’t feel the “fight-or-flight” response to dangerous in-game situations. When she tried to explain this to other game developers and executives, they would confront her about it, even indicating that her own experience was wrong. Brie decided to do some research into the underlying assumptions that fuel those opinions. The research she discovered was compelling.

The most-commonly-known physiological response to threatening situations in games is fight-or-flight. As Brie Code puts it:

With fight-or-flight, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in and releases adrenaline followed by dopamine. If you like games like this, it’s probably because adrenaline and dopamine are very enjoyable. Your pupils dilate. Your heart beats faster. Your airways open up. And you feel exhilarated. You feel alive. You feel powerful.

Because Brie (as well as many of her friends) did not respond to games in this way, she dug up the psychological research around these responses, and found a completely different, competing response: tend-and-befriend. As Brie describes:

If you experience tend-and-befriend, it’s because your body releases oxytocin or vasopressin when you’re stressed, followed by opioids. This calms your sympathetic nervous system so you don’t get the flood of adrenaline. Instead of wanting to fight or to flee, you stay relatively calm, but aware. Your pupils dilate, you become fearless, and you are less sensitive to pain. You instinctively want to protect your loved ones, to seek out your allies, and to form new alliances. Oxytocin intensifies social feelings, and opioids feel extremely warm and lovely.

Research shows that oxytocin is involved in the physiological response to these threatening situations more-so for women than for men. In order to discover why this tend-and-befriend response was so overlooked, Brie did even more research. Prior to 1995, only 17% of the participants of psychological stress studies were female. In addition, according to an article by Think Progress, a 2014 review of sports and exercise studies showed that only 39% of 6 million participants were women. Brie found that this bias existed in things such as air-bag deployment, or identifying the signs of heart attacks.

However, it’s not only women that respond to games with tend-and-befriend. It seems that there is simply more to the picture than the traditional fight-or-flight response, which is exactly what Brie set out to prove.

Even in the highest office of the (American) land, female staffers were feeling overrun by their male counterparts. So much so, that they devised a strategy of mutual affirmation.

If we’re forming our opinions based on biased information, and excluding opposing opinions, then even what we consider to be fact is potentially false. It certainly seemed there was a common theme in all of these examples, which was succinctly described in the previously-mentioned article by Nikki Lee: These environments aren’t just not built for you, they’re constructed in a way that actively excludes you.

Forming a Hypothesis

I decided to challenge myself. Perhaps, rather than hypothesizing that all of this evidence was untrue, and trying to prove that, I should do exactly the opposite: I chose to hypothesize that all of this was true, and challenged myself to prove that it was.

Training myself to be aware

Since making this decision I’ve tried to be more aware of the issues facing women specifically. But how does one really change her own perspective? It isn’t solvable with a single bout of effort. It needs to be as consistent of an effort as it is for those who are not at a natural advantage in society’s constructed environments–one needs to be as aware as a biker in a city. As has been evident with the recent political happenings in the USA, sources of information can have a huge effect on your thoughts, habits, and perspectives. The two camps for Clinton and Trump were both guilty of consuming information that supported their own perspectives, which was why it was such a rude awakening for the Clinton supporters when Trump was elected. In general, we think of receiving information as a passive process, and in many cases it is hard to avoid consuming certain information. However, there are ways to customize your acquisition of information, and to control the perspectives that you choose to expose yourself to. In effect, you can run your own self-inflicted propaganda campaign.

I also endeavored to prove the hypothesis by gathering my own data. I found there to be ample evidence of the gender-based slights in my daily life. A female coworker filed a sexual harassment complaint, and the whole company was subjected to a sexual harassment seminar–with the glaring exclusion of the offender. Another female colleague was asked her opinion on her area of expertise, only to have them initially reject her opinion outright, and then claim her idea as their own in the final version. In a pickup basketball game, a female teammate suggests reducing the game to 4 on 4, because we only have teams of 5 and 6, and it would be hard for her team (of 5) to be running for the entire game with no substitutes. A man responds, insisting it be 5 on 5, and shouts “we’re men, and we want to run!”.

I’ve even noticed simple micro-aggressions in the academic world. At a recent conference, I walked up to a particular poster presentation in the middle of a conversation between the presenter and a female participant. Immediately, the presenter’s focus shifted from the woman to me, and it was as if the woman was no longer part of the conversation.

Testing

With the mounting evidence from both personal experience and outside sources, it seems that gender issues are real, and pose a serious barrier to equal opportunity. So how do I use this gained perspective to make a real change?

Spread the Word

One constructive approach is to evangelize my own personal process, and to encourage other men to change their perspective. It is indeed both genders’ responsibility that people are treated fairly. This blog post is my first attempt at that. But it also involves ongoing discussions and dialogue.

Confrontation

Now that I am convinced of my hypothesis, it’s my responsibility to confront micro-aggressions and unfair treatment that occur in my surroundings.

Continue My Personal Awareness Campaign

My perspective is not perfect, and I don’t expect it ever to be. For the last 2 years, I’ve been a mentor for the Women in MIR (WiMIR) mentoring program. It’s a fantastic initiative that is trying to address some of these gender-based discrepancies in academia, with a specific focus on the MIR (Music Information Retrieval) community. Part of the reason that I like to be a WiMIR mentor is to simply be aware of the issues that women face in the workplace from their perspective, since there are always things that I personally overlook coming from the perspective of the opposite gender.

Build a Positive Work Environment

As a business owner in my capacity of co-founder of Melodrive, I have the unique opportunity to sculpt my own business’ work environment, and it’s my responsibility to create an environment that is as inclusive as possible. Recently, the Augmented Reality company Magic Leap had a lawsuit alleging gender-based discrimination. In the lawsuit, there contains a really thoughtful list of recommendations for a company that wants to be more inclusive (written by Tannen Campbell).

  • Creating “parents’ guides” for cities where Magic Leap had offices, and listing recommended doctors, babysitters, etc. for newcomers
  • Establishing internships for female students to code/build for mixed reality
  • Creating an internal mentorship program pairing men with women;
  • Increasing paternity leave to show that Magic Leap values a man’s role in child caregiving and allows busy moms to return to work sooner if they choose;
  • Tying diversity to extra bonuses, e.g., giving a department head an additional bonus for increasing gender diversity
  • Implementing mandatory “unconscious bias training” for leadership;
  • Demonstrating a commitment to encouraging young girls’ interest in tech education by replacing the “swag”–T-shirts, notebooks and the like–handed out to important visitors with a donation in the important visitor’s name to Girls Who Code, and organization devoted to overcoming the gender gap in tech jobs.
  • Creating and appending an “Equal Pay Guarantee” stamp or seal on all Magic Leap’s position descriptions in recruiting material and elsewhere, evidencing Magic Leap’s commitment to equal pay for equal work within the same tier
  • “Fishing where the fish are” by recruiting employees from a list of colleges, provided by Campbell, with the highest number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) departments

With all of these new data points, and my somewhat-improved perspective, it will hopefully be easier to be proactive to create a non-hostile work environment and accommodating employee policies as a small business owner. Additionally, perhaps I’ll be able to move the needle to a society that is more open and inclusive. And while I feel that I have personally made progress in being more in tune with the perspectives of others, I don’t feel that I’ve completed my task. This is an ongoing challenge, just like it is for those who experience disadvantages in their daily lives and beyond.

  1. https://newrepublic.com/article/118555/rebecca-solnits-men-explain-things-me-scourge-mansplaining

Ryan Groves is a computational music theorist, composer and data scientist. He received his B.S. in Computer Science from UCLA, and continued on to complete a Master’s in Music Technology from McGill University. As the former Director of R&D for Zya, he developed a musical messenger app that automatically sings your texts, called Ditty. Ditty won the Best Music App of 2015 from the Appy Awards. In 2016, his research in computational music theory was awarded the Best Paper at the prominent music technology conference, ISMIR. With his new venture, Melodrive, he and his co-founding team of two PhDs in Music and AI are looking to build the world’s best artificially intelligent composer, and to change the way music is experienced in video games and virtual environments.

“Finding courage in encouragement” by Amy V Beeston (WiMIR mentee)

Post by Amy V Beeston, one of the mentees of our mentoring program:

I am happy to have been invited by Women in MIR to blog about a recent paper, co-authored with Lucy Cheesman and Liz Dobson, which I presented at the last Digital Music Research Network (DMRN) meeting in London. Our paper reported on a community-building project underway in the north of England, which aims to support and encourage women and girls in (and into) academic and industrial careers relating to music technology.

We were recently awarded a Catalyst: Festival of Creativity grant as part of a city-wide Year of Making celebration in Sheffield. This allowed us to run a series of 8 expert-led workshops, peer-learning maker-space days and a monthly social gathering. These provided ongoing opportunities for women and girls who may have felt excluded or uncomfortable in male-dominated environments to meet, share knowledge formally and informally, and thereby develop their technical and creative skills. Averaging 10 registrations per workshop, our sessions covered a wide range of topics: sound synthesis, machine listening, performance hardware, electronic prototyping, live coding, data sonification, looping and DJing. Despite being labelled as beginners’ workshops, over two-thirds of participants reported some pre-existing familiarity with the topic through their work or studies. Though participants’ lack of confidence was further apparent in their self-rated knowledge of the topic on arrival to the workshop, by the end of the session, these scores had improved in every case (Beeston et al., 2016).

It is clear from the statistics that more work to encourage women and girls is needed in the UK as well as elsewhere. UK national and international publication patterns, for instance, look very similar. We found that female-led contributions to DMRN meetings averaged around 12% of all contributions in the period 2011 to 2015 (Beeston et al., 2016), comparable to the 14% level reported internationally at recent ISMIR conferences (Hu et al., 2016). Indeed, since so few girls have been applying to study music technology in recent years (Born and Devine, 2015) or have been following careers in related industries (see e.g. female:pressure’s recent reports), a lot of energy is being spent now, worldwide, on discussions of gender and diversity in our field.

Being one of many women with an interest in both music and technology, I am of course very happy to add my own energy to this movement. But on a personal level, I felt somewhat underqualified to tell this story: I have worked with sound all my life, not with questions of gender and diversity! Nonetheless, I felt it was important to present our work at DMRN – speaking to a room comprised mostly of men – since we otherwise risk the issue being viewed as a ‘women’s problem’ rather than a problem to be tackled by our research community as a whole.

I hope therefore that our DMRN presentation will provide a useful starting point for a fruitful discussion about what the UK research community as a whole can do to help provide greater support for women and girls both entering and staying in this field. Furthermore, I am pleased to share our story with the international community too via this WiMIR blogpost, and hope that the community-building approach we have followed with the Yorkshire Sound Women Network may provide a useful model for others to adopt in order to increase the participation of women and girls in sound and music technology in other localities.

REFERENCES

Born, G. and Devine, K. (2015). Music technology, gender, and class: Digitization, educational and social change in Britain. Twentieth-Century Music, 12(02), 135–172.

Hu, X., Choi, K., Lee, J. H., Laplante, A., Hao, Y., Cunningham, S. J., & Downie, J. S. (2016). WiMIR – An informetric study on women authors in ISMIR. In Proc. 17th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference, 765–771.

Beeston, A.V., Cheesman, L. and Dobson, E. D. (2016). Community-building to support and encourage women and girls in music technology. Digital Music Research Network One-day Workshop (DMRN+11), London, 20 Dec.