Magnifying the Voices of Women in Political Science

Aug. 13, 2019

UA political scientist Samara Klar created the website Women Also Know Stuff, which makes it easier for reporters and academics to identify and connect with women in political science. The site has inspired spin-off sites in other disciplines.

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Samara Klar in front of computer
Photo by Miles Fujimoto Samara Klar

 

Samara Klar, an associate professor in the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy, is a whirlwind of activity. Her 2016 co-authored book “Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction” made her a go-to media contact. She teaches classes, organizes conferences and serves on boards. Her recent article “When Common Identities Decrease Trust: An Experimental Study of Partisan Women” tied for the best article of 2019 in the American Journal of Political Science.

In the midst of all that, Klar helps run Women Also Know Stuff, or WAKS, a website that Klar founded in 2016 that promotes the work and expertise of scholars in political science who identify as women. The searchable database is designed to make it easier to find these scholars when searching for experts for news articles, syllabi, and conferences.

The site has made waves in the industry, including ripples into other academic fields.

Frustrated into Action

Implicit and explicit gender biases mean that women are often underrepresented as experts in academics and in media. 

“In the 2016 election, in particular, the only time women political scientist were being asked about the election was when the issue was Hillary Clinton facing sexism. As though women political scientist only study sexism. It was frustrating,” Klar said.

In February 2016, Klar decided to do something about it. Home on maternity leave, Klar saw an article asking six political scientists about Bernie Sanders and all six scholars were men. Then she received an email advertising a political science conference featuring 11 men and one woman.

“That is when I thought, OK, this is ridiculous,” Klar said.

Klar created a simple database site in WordPress and emailed 12 women in political science and asked them to add their information and forward to colleagues.

“This was on a Friday at like noon, and I went out for a walk with the baby. When I came back I had hundreds of emails about the project,” Klar said.

“I quickly realized my system where everyone could log in and change information was a terrible idea,” Klar said. She reached out to academics across the country who had exhibited the most excitement about the project and invited them to join a Women Also Know Stuff board.

National Impact

Women Also Know Stuff quickly garnered international coverage. It has been name checked by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Conversation, Huffington Post, BBC News, and other media sites. The site received the Jane Mansbridge Award from the National Women’s Caucus for Political Science.

The WAKS board maintains the database, which now includes more than 2,000 women, and added a twitter account, which has over 25,000 followers. The twitter account promotes and celebrate the research and awards of women in political science.

The WAKS site gets 500 to 1000 site visitors a day, including from major news organizations. Klar has also heard from colleagues from around the world, from professors who realized they didn’t have enough women represented in their syllabi to junior scholars who tell her reporters found them on the site.

“We think part of its success is that it helped change the norms. It is not OK to have an all-male conference panel anymore,” Klar said.

The site has inspired spin-off sites across various disciplines, including Women Also Know History, Women+ Do Philosophy, Women Also Know Literature, Women in Sociology Also Know Stuff, and People of Color Also Know Stuff.

And the spinoffs keep coming.

“I spent about an hour yesterday talking to someone from economics who is going to start a women also know stuff for econ,” Klar said. “Then later in the afternoon I got an email from a woman in data science who wants to start a site for her field.”

With funding received last year from the National Science Foundation, WAKS will launch a new-and-improved website this month. They are also using part of the NSF grant to measure the impact of WAKS.

The board’s next goal is to increase the diversity of the women in the database.

“We are addicted to growing,” Klar said.

Klar says the UA School of Government and Public Policy, or SGPP, has been immensely supportive, covering the cost of hosting the website and viewing the time Klar spends on the project as service to the discipline. Klar also received summer support from the Innovation Fund created as part of the Melody S. Robidoux Foundation Fund Chair in SGPP.

“In addition to working with students, Women Also Know Stuff is probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve done since I became a professor,” Klar said. “You feel like you are making an impact.”