More women would enter tech fields if workplaces eliminated 'Star Trek' posters, claims MIT librarian

Over the course of its 51-year history, Star Trek has celebrated and championed cultural diversity (see, for instance, the new Star Trek: Discovery, headlined by Sonequa Martin-Green, who is African-American). As a result, it has built a global fan base of men and women of every race, creed, and culture. But for one outspoken critic, the series does more harm than good when it comes to encouraging women to pursue certain academic careers.

Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery (Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS)

As first reported by The College Fix, Chris Bourg, director of libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), believes that office walls decorated with Star Trek posters and other nerd-culture items serve to discourage women from entering professional technology fields. As she said during her keynote speech at last month’s code{4}lib convention in Washington, D.C. (according to her blog):

“There is research that shows that workplaces that are plastered with stereotypically ‘tech or nerd guy’ cultural images — think Star Trek — have negative impact on women’s likelihood of pursuing tech work and of staying in tech work in general or in that particular work environment. Replace the Star Trek posters with travel posters, don’t name your projects or your printers or your domains after only male figures from Greek mythology, and just generally avoid geek references and inside nerd jokes. Those kinds of things reinforce the stereotypes about who does tech; and that stereotype is the male nerd stereotype.”

When confronted by The College Fix about the fact that statistics suggest many, many women are Star Trek fans (e.g. at the Creation 40th Anniversary Star Trek convention, general admission attendees were split 51% male, 49% female), Bourg cited a 2009 research study (“Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science”) in which only 52 people participated. That study recommends that such workplaces replace “toxic” items (like Star Trek memorabilia) with “nature posters, art [and] general purpose books and magazines” — although how one might guarantee that those items remain gender-neutral is unclear. In her keynote, Bourg also decried “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining,” while also implying — via a quote — that “a f**king reckoning” was needed to correct the pain caused by Caucasians.

Is Bourg combating exclusionary behavior, or is she herself reinforcing stereotypes — about men, women, and Star Trek fans — by making such claims? Let us know in the comments below.

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