BYU's women-in-math session poster features, oh, all men

Commentary: A Brigham Young University invitation for women to come and learn more about math has a singular focus. And it gives the math department a good laugh.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

It all stems from a certain gender bias, I fear.

Women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields are heavily outnumbered by men. Attempting to change that -- which would seem to be a good thing, given these fields' vital importance to the world -- isn't exactly easy.

As Verizon painfully pointed out a few years ago, the bias starts very young.

Some might feel it continues at college. At least, on seeing a poster from Brigham Young University. 

Here it is in all its contemporary splendor.

It's not a good look, is it?

Even if you happen to believe that math is a male preserve, it's a painful piece of marketing.

Or are these math boffins supposed to be, oh, the sexiest members of the department?

I contacted the BYU math department to ask whether this was a slight faux-pas on its part. I will update, should I hear.

On the math department's Facebook page, however, they all think this is funny.

"The poster featured the pictures of four of our department faculty. It was done with good intentions but with poor judgment and was not meant to be satire, though we did all get a good laugh here at the department," said the department. 

They all got a good laugh? Even the female members of the department? There are some. Well, when I say "some"..

Many of you have probably seen a poster circulating around the internet from our Women in Math Organization! The poster...

Posted by BYU Math on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A glance at the list of the permanent faculty members shows just one woman: Denise Halverson. 

A peek at the visiting/temporary faculty reveals one more: Martha Kilpack. 

Neither Halverson nor Kilpack immediately responded to a request for comment.

The faculty said on Facebook that it has removed the posters and replaced them with "a more appropriate message." 

Still, who would not have been enticed by the promise of "there will be treats," as well as by the cheery, confident headshots of the male faculty?

Naturally, when 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday rolls along, and the (edible) treats are laid out, I wonder how many women will attend. 

I wonder, too, how many will find their interest in "research done in data science, topology, number theory and dynamical systems" increases.

Of course, even if it does, that's not quite the end of the issue. A recent Pew survey showed that half of the women working in STEM fields experienced gender discrimination.  

And at the BYU math faculty, they presumably continue to titter.

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