It is the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science!

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Today we celebrate gender diversity in Science, as the 11th of February is celebrated as the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an international day of recognition for the adversity women face in the industry which aims to empower women and girls in science.
 
Women in science are incredibly underrepresented, making up rough 12% of the STEM work force. In some parts of STEM, women make up a negligible portion of employees, for example only 3% of Engineers are female.
 
UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science aims to celebrate the work of women who are working in an incredibly male dominated industry, which, by its nature, can throw up huge barriers for the women working in them. Research has proven that if women are made aware of the barriers they face, not just in science but in society in general, they are less likely to be effected by them and are more likely to overcome these issues.
 
Days like today are vital in addressing the gender imbalance in science, as it will help to generate discussion and raise awareness for gender issues in STEM industries. However, I cross my fingers that the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science does not face the backlash that International Women’s Day gets.
 
Next month, we will be celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th, a day which aims to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Despite its positive message, every year the international awareness day receives a great deal of backlash, with the conversation of the day often interrupted with ‘but why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?!’.
 
(For reference, anyone asking that question, please look up November 19th)
 
International Women’s Day exists to address the balance and raise awareness for gender inequality in society which prevents women from being equal culturally, economically and politically. The gender issues that are deeply ingrained in society mean that women are more likely to receive a lower wage than a man, more likely to have to give up their careers after starting a family and a more likely to suffer sexual abuse and domestic violence in their lifetime.
 
The main reason that International Women’s Day get the reaction it does is because people assume that when you talk about the issues that face women, you are ignoring the issues that face men in society, for example, men are more likely to commit suicide than women.
 
But by raising awareness for women’s issues, we aren’t ignoring societal problems that face men. What we are doing is talking about one side of the same coin, as the gender roles that our society is built on, effect both men and women. However, women particularly loose out in this social model.
 
By talking about women’s issues, it doesn’t mean that we are not talking about men. When we address the issues that bring women in society down, we aren’t proposing to ‘demote’ men, we are asking to promote women. 

Moreover, when we address the issues that face women, such as domestic violence, we aren’t saying that they don’t happen to men.
 
When we attempt to address the issues that face women in society, we are looking at why women are more likely to experience these issues, we are not saying that they don’t happen to men.
 
Many of the issues that hold women back politically, economically and culturally are the same issues that hold women back in science, and the validity of these international awareness days are an integral part of addressing gender issues to better the lives of women should be recognised.
 
I really hope that  the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science doesn’t experience the same amount of ‘what about a day for men?’ that International Women’s Day receives.
 
Because, to put it simply, when men make up almost all members of an industry, when men are more likely to receive research funding and when men are more likely to receive recognition for their work, every day is International Day of Men in Science.
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Sexism in STEM, the 2015 edition

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In October last year I was mentioned on the BBC’s #100Women project, which was a list of inspirational women from 2015. It doesn’t need to be said that I was incredibly pleased to be mentioned on the list, not only to be recognised for my work, but because I was surrounded by 99 amazing women. Ten scientists featured in the BBC’s #100Women list, and this made me want to reflect back on the last year and how women in science faired in 2015.
 
During 2015, there were a few big events that drew attention to the discrimination women face in STEM industries. Unfortunately, these events were negative and the discussion regarding women in science wasn’t generated by people listening to women, but attention was drawn to the topic because of some obvious and horrendous examples of sexism towards scientists.
 
In June of last year, a large social media campaign helped to direct attention to the issues women face in science, when scientists responded to sexist comments from a senior scientist. Sir Tim Hunt resigned from his post at University College London after he made comments regarding women in the laboratory in front of a group of journalist. He referred to them as ‘distracting’ and was quoted as saying:
 
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!”
 
In response to this thousands of scientists took to social media to counteract his argument, tweeting pictures of themselves ‘being distracting’ with the perfect amount of satire and passive aggression. Scientists donned their work attire (including Hazmat Suits) to illustrate exactly how ‘distracting’ women are in the lab.
 
Later in the year, an all-female group of Russian astronauts were asked how they were going to cope in space without men or make-up. 
 
During a press conference, six outstanding scientists were belittled in front of television cameras, and their qualifications were forgotten. When they sat on a panel regarding Russia’s preparation for their space mission to the moon with an all-female crew, instead of the press asking the scientist panel relevant questions about their journey ahead, they were asked trivial questions about their personal appearances.
 
These questions (and their fantastic sarcastic responses) helped to draw attention to the issues women have in STEM, but yet again, the discussion is not directed this way because people are listening to what women have to say.
 
Last year’s hat-trick of sexism in STEM finished with a flourish when IBM hosted an awful PR campaign to help encourage women into science, by asking them to ‘Hack a Hairdryer’. The tech company made a crucial mistake in their efforts to draw attention to the discrimination women face in the industry, by making their master plan to generate discourse regarding sexism in science by being sexist towards women in science. 
All of these events over the last year have undoubtedly helped to draw attention to the overt examples of sexism women battle in their STEM careers. But they haven’t helped to illustrate the insidious effects that the more covert forms of sexism can have on the careers of women in science. Hopefully, this year the discussion regarding sexism in STEM industries will be directed by women discussing the problems they are facing, rather than incidents of horrendous sexism.
 
Take a look at the BBC’s 100 Women project here.
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#HackAHairDryer

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The computer giant, IBM, tried to generate discussion about the lack of women in STEM through their latest project #HackAHairDryer, and they did, but not in the way they were hoping.

IBM hoped to ‘blast away the barriers’ for women in the industry by encouraging people to hack their hairdryer, to ultimately prove women’s worth in STEM. Their intentions were good, but their latest project to raise awareness for sexist stereotypes which hold women back in scientific industries relied on sexist stereotypes.


By theming the project around a hairdryer they are lazily falling back on gender stereotypes, and yet again reaffirming the idea that women will only be interested in science if it is based around beauty products. The #HackAHairDryer project echoes the European Commissions attempt to encourage women into science. The ‘Science; it’s a girl thing’ video is 53 seconds sequence of patronising jump cuts between women in high heels, testing make up and male scientists checking the female scientists out, all set to the backdrop of dance music. The video was an attempt to encourage young girls to see science as a job for them and see it as a relatable career choice. They attempted to do so by equating being a female scientist with wanting to work in the cosmetics industry or showing them that science can be ‘girly’.


(If you don’t believe me, you can see it below.)


 
 
The issues with this video and the #HackAHairDryer project is that it is ultimately patronising and belittling. It implies that women who would want to be in the industry would only be interested if the scientific research they were completing was in relation to make up or beauty projects.


IBM tried to break down harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry by relying on harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry. Instead of highlighting the issues women face, such as being belittled, or not being taken seriously as a STEM employee, they belittled the women they were targeting and emphasised some of the factors which make them less likely to be taken seriously as a STEM employee. The flaw in their plan here is fairly obvious.


You can see that the project was poorly thought out, and although it has generated discussion, it is not at all in their favour. Women have been responding to the failed publicity stunt with understandable distain, and IBM were forced to close the project.


I find myself endlessly frustrated with the projects which are rolled out by companies and organisations such as IBM and the European Commission. Instead of addressing the stereotypes which hold women back in STEM, they play into them and essentially further the problem.


And lastly, why on earth would you want to hack a hairdryer?!



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One giant leap for gender equality in space, two giant steps back

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In 2029, Russia aims to complete a space mission to the moon and are trialling the mission by testing out a space simulator using a crew made up entirely of women. To prepare for the mission, the six outstanding scientists will be locked in a contained environment for six days to simulate the conditions they will experience in the expedition.
 
Prior to be locked inside the simulator, the six women answered questions at a press conference and unfortunately faced a barrage of horrendous sexism. 
 
The women who have carved careers in biophysics and medicine were interrogated about how they were possibly going to cope without being able to do their hair and make-up. The tone for the event was set by the scientific director of the experiment, Sergei Ponomarev, who said: 
 
“We believe women might not only be no worse than men at performing certain tasks in space, but actually better.”
 
Sergei Ponomarev’s comments could be considered poor wording, but the series of questions the women faced from the media were certainly not the result of miss-phrasing. The group of scientists were asked how they would cope without men or makeup for the next week, and the all-women group of scientists greeted the sexist comments with suitably sarcastic remarks.
 
As shocked as people are about these comments, these are patterns of opinion that women regularly have to face.
 
The perceived successfulness and the perceived aptitude of women is heavily intertwined with their physical appearance. Women who are attractive are often seen as intellectually incapable and women who aren’t considered physically attractive are often seen as ‘unfeminine’; it is a double edged double standard.
 
These attitudes towards women worm their way into all aspects of their lives, and women in STEM industries also face these stereotypes.
 
It would be excellent if the questions these Russian Scientists faced were an anomaly, but sadly they are not. Earlier this year we heard Nobel prize winning chemist Tim Hunt publicly state his sexist opinions regarding women in science, referring to them as a distraction and stating:
 
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”
Like Newton’s third law, whenever women make progress economically, socially or politically, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. It truly saddens me that these fantastic scientists cannot do their job without their gender and appearance being bought up as a relevant factor. However, these events do bring the opportunity to encourage discussion about the issues women face in STEM and these comments make it hard for the issues to be ignored.
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Sir Tim Hunt: The Tip of the Iceberg

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Sir Tim Hunt hit the headlines this week, but not for a scientific breakthrough, but by making incredibly sexist comments regarding women in science. Alongside his accolades for cell duplication, the honorary professor at UCL has a well established reputation as a chauvinist.

He told the World Conference of Science Journalists that he thinks that labs should be segregated by gender and is quoted to say:



“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!”



These comments sparked outrage, however, unfortunately he is not an anomaly. There is a strong undercurrent of sexism throughout the STEM industries, both overt and covert. This can range from comments like the ones made by Sir Tim Hunt, to subtler forms of sexism which are deeply entrenched in society. For example, despite the massive advances made by the women’s movement, 70% of the world still associate being a scientist with being a man.

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Other influential figures have been heard to openly discredit women in science. Michaela Strachen, a BBC presenter who presents Autumnwatch and (rather worryingly) the  children’s television programme The Really Wild Show, has publicly said that:

 
“Men are ‘wired’ differently, making it easier for them to learn the names and categories of animal species.”



Sir Tim Hunt suggests that ‘girls’ should stay out of the laboratory because they distract men. This concept is unfortunately also well established in many areas of society, including the classroom. 

Social Media led activism has highlighted that many schools use dress codes to shame the way girls dress, and many school girls are speaking out about how these sexist school dress codes have effected their education. Reports have shown that girls have been sent home from school for wearing summer clothing during hot weather, and have even been asked to leave final year exams, because their vest tops are ‘distracting male students from their education’. 

Comments like the one’s made by Sir Tim Hunt and Michaela Strachen are therefore not uncommon, and ultimately effect the education and the careers of women in science. And though their public notoriety does allow a public conversation to develop, exposure to these sorts of comments can have an effect on the careers young girls think they are capable of.

The public discussion resulting from this event can hopefully draw attention to the institutional sexism within science and raise awareness for the amazing work organisations are doing to support women in science, and increase the representation of women in STEM.

Excellent organisations which help to address these issues that face women in STEM include; STEMettes,  Wise,  ScienceGrrl, Women in nuclear and WiSET.


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LEGO Science Minifigure Set, to celebrate or exasperate?

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In August 2014, LEGO launched a new set of toys, female scientist figures. Though these toys may be small, the impact made is not. They follow this fascinating movement that is currently happening, by organisations such as Let Toys Be Toys, which are addressing issues that occur in gendering of toys for boys and girls.

These toys are a landmark for more than one reason, they are not only a mainstream example of a toy aimed at all genders that feature strong female representation but they also represent women in a non-sexualised form. Most examples of female scientists in general media shows them in an aesthetically pleasing or sexualised form, and you can also see this in a lot of the toys representing women in science, such as the rather famous doll toy shown below. In this depiction of a female scientist, the white coat has been altered and shortened to hug the unobtainable figure of the doll and the stiletto heels are clearly not regulation laboratory footwear and would not pass health and safety policy!

The science toys for girls also don’t seem to reflect typical science areas in a similar way to the science toys marketed towards boys. The science toys for girls often are belittling depictions of ‘science for girls’, where the impression is that girls would only be interested in the scientific topics that revolve around the beauty industry, such as make up or perfume (see examples below). Even the traditional science toys for children are altered to needlessly also market them towards girls, most often changing them to pink alternatives, giving the impression that girls can only fathom how to use a microscope if it is pink.

The new LEGO toys show female scientists as actual human beings (imaging that?!), and show ‘true’ depictions of realistic women that also exhibit them in various areas of science including astronomy, chemistry and geology. 
 
Toys like this are incredibly important as children begin to develop an idea of what boys and girls are capable of from a very young age. They absorb these ideas from the media and the world around them. The current representation of women in a variety of role and occupations is lacking (and this is especially poor for women of colour), contributing to the idea that young girls cannot aspire to these roles as they can’t see themselves doing them. Therefore the impact of these toys is more than a statement. They are toys suitable for all genders and therefore can introduce the ideas the ideas of female potential to all children.
 
However, there are also problems with these new additions to the toy shelves. Firstly, none of the figures represent a women of colour. So, even though the toys do an excellent job of introducing the idea of female potential to young girls, they fail to also address the poor representation of women of colour in science. These toys are also limited edition, therefore their potential influence will also only be limited. This raises the question whether LEGO released these toys as a statement of improving the toy market or whether they are simply riding on the back of the current (and incredibly important) movement to improve gender toys as a form of self-promotion.

 

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The gender pay gap and science.

If you google ‘gender pay gap’, these are the results you will see.

The second most searched term surrounding the gender pay gap has the word ‘myth’ in it. But unfortunately, it is not a myth. In fact, the gender pay gap has widened, meaning that women earn 15.7% less than men for full time employment in the UK. Furthermore, the gender pay gap gets wider in areas of employment that are mainly occupied by women, such as part-time employment or the public sector, where the gender pay gap stands at 35%.


But what about science?


Women are incredibly underrepresented in science, with over 80% of employees in science being male. Not only are women less likely to make a career in science, but they are also likely to be effected by the gender pay gap. In SET (Science, Engineering and Technology), the gender pay gap in 2008 was 12.6%. This is lower than some other occupations, but it is still a significant difference that should not be ignored because of this.


Generally in part-time work across the UK, the gender pay gap is incredibly high. But we see a large difference not only between the part-time wage of men and women in science, but a huge difference in the wages of part-time female employees and full-time female employees in science. Women in part-time employment in Science, Engineering and Technology will infect earn 21.8% less than women in SET working full-time. 


A lot of the contributing factors that exacerbate the gender pay gap are alive and kicking in science. As well as women earning less for the same job as men, there are other factors that worsen the gender pay gap. For example, women are more likely to work in lower paid jobs than men, women are less likely to continue their career after children, women are more likely to take a career break related to family and women are more likely to work part-time. These factors are related to a lot of social issues that surround gender stereotypes, such as women are assumed to be the primary carer and men are less likely to be expected to stop working after having children, as well as women being subconsciously taught from a young age to consider their future career based on their future family and are less likely to see themselves in highly paid careers and strive to achieve that. These are also seen in science and this can have tremendous effect on their career and wage. For example, women are more likely to have a career break for family reasons and then are left behind, meaning that STEM educated women enter an alternative workforce that does not utilise their skills and usually part-time. 



Science is not exempt from the issues that face women in the workforce, in fact not only does it echo these issues but sometimes it worsens them. And, for a community that strives to imagine the future, it  is crucial that it becomes aware of its issues with gender and addresses them, to make sure that the future it is imagining is best for all of us.

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Why do we need STEMinism?

Women are incredibly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), not only this, but the women in these industries are also less likely to submit research funding proposals and are more likely to be left behind by career breaks. Furthermore, young girls are less likely to view themselves as capable of doing well in STEM subjects or viewing themselves as able to pursue a STEM career in the future.
 
Some people, including Richard Dawkins, are concerned about the integration of the women’s rights movement or feminism into science and readily question whether it even matters if there is under-representation of women in science or if the issues for women in STEM are addressed.
 
So why do we need STEMinism?
 
STEM industries are often thought of as a distant, separate medium, when they are in fact a form of business. The issues for women found in business are echoed within STEM, such as underrepresentation of women in higher paid jobs in these industries, issues surrounding the idea of women’s abilities within these industries and the gender pay gap. Moreover, most FTSE business boards have a very low proportion of women on them, and this is seen in FTSE STEM boards too. In fact, they have found that when a board has broader representation (having one women on the board), the profits of that business or company will increase dramatically. This is due to the diversifying of the experiences and opinions on the board, allowing alternative inputs and perspectives to be taken into account in dicision making. If fact, this profit increases even more if two women are featured on a company’s board, and even more so as you increase the diversity. Thus, due to the similar nature of STEM and the business world, the same effect would take place if diversity and equality was increased on FTSE STEM boards.
 
Furthermore, science as a community can often view itself as holding the correct view for the future, and (whether or not that is correct) we need to make sure that this view for the future includes everybody. So by increasing the representation of women and other marginalised groups on FTSE STEM boards and within STEM industries generally, we will be able to produce better science as it will bring in more perspectives and experience than those of the current majority (white, middle class men) and generate economic growth.
 
The potential for economic growth is high already for STEM, but this increases more as diversity is addressed. Current figures show that most women are employed below their skillset and their full potential is not being utilised in the economy. In fact, it is thought that if the UK started using women in the workforce to their full potential, this could generate £2.3 billion (2% GDP).
 
Thus, not only does diversity add to the efforts in science in contributing new ways of thinking and perspectives to a problem to be solved, but it also harbours tremendous economic potential for the money generated in science as well as society as a whole.
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Women in STEM, Jaz Rabadia



Jaz Rabadia is Energy Manager at Debenhams Plc, a leading international multichannel retailer operating in over 160 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Jaz was the youngest person in the UK to be awarded Chartered Energy Manager status from the Energy Institute. Through her role as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador, she is keen to raise the awareness of energy and engineering management careers with students, to create a pipeline of future energy professionals.



Tell us about your journey to where you are today
Like most students, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’. I chose engineering mainly because I wanted to keep my career options open and it seemed to tie in quite nicely with my A-levels in maths, design technology, chemistry and sports science. 
I knew a degree in engineering would impress future employers and that there was a real shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills in the UK. I read up about engineering and realised how important it is and how it helps better the lives of people all around the world. I knew then that by studying engineering, I could also help to make a difference.


Whilst studying for my degree at City University London, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree I took additional modules in Energy Management and Renewable Energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the worlds future energy demands. When it was time to start writing my dissertation rather than take on the project title I was given (‘’A thermodynamic analysis of the combustion engine’’), I decided to create my own project (‘’The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s’’). It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all I could do my dissertation during paid working hours!


Once complete, I presented my study and its finding to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who saw just how passionate I was; he even included a summary of my project in Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job! It really was that simple and I’ve never looked back since. 


I never imagined that my part time job as a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant would flourish into the role of Group Energy Manager, which ultimately made me responsible for all the electricity and gas used across the 1,000 store portfolio, managing the company’s second biggest controllable cost line; A job that makes environmental and commercial sense.


More Recently I joined Debenhams as Energy Manager. I’m responsible for managing the electricity used to light the stores, the gas used to heat them, and the water used for cleaning and hygiene in stores. Across all the stores, depots and offices in the UK, Debenhams spend over £35million per year on energy and water bills. This is one of their biggest costs and has a big impact on the environment. It’s another demanding, but rewarding job where I get to apply my communication, creativity and engineering skills. 



How do you think your experiences as a woman in STEM have made you who you are today?

Being a woman in STEM has made me an adaptable individual. The beauty of what I do is that every day presents a new and different challenge. This is helped me in my professional and personal life and I now have a pragmatic approach to challenges. Working in STEM has helped me to become confident in what I know, and not be afraid of what I don’t know. 


What have the highlights been in your career as a woman in STEM?

By far the biggest highlight in my career was achieving Chartered Energy Manager recognition from the Energy Institute. I am the youngest to be awarded this in UK. It’s given me a huge amount of confidence and it’s the stamp of approval from my Institution of all that I have achieved. Working in energy management is really rewarding. You can see almost instantly the effect of your work through a decrease in energy usage, lower energy bills and a minimised impact on the environment. 


What do you feel you gain from being a STEM ambassador?

To address the shortage of energy and engineering professionals coming through the pipeline, I have volunteered as a STEM Ambassador. This gives me the opportunity to go to schools, colleges and universities to talk about my career journey and expand on some of the challenges I have faced as a young woman in engineering. By dispelling some of the myths around what an engineer does and looks like, I inspire more students to consider careers in engineering. It also helps me to develop my leadership and presentation skills, I like to get creative and bring energy and engineering to life for the students. 


Have any women influenced you and your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have many women (and men) champion my career progression. This has been in the form of colleagues, friends and family. I’ve always been encouraged to pursue a career of my choice by my parents and when I chose engineering they were delighted. As part of my continued professional development I’ve had a female coach, Helen Sachdev who has been invaluable in helping me develop the leadership behaviours required for me to progress in my career. Focussing on both my professional environment and my personal circumstances, she has helped me to understand how to apply my beliefs and values to achieve my goals. She is a fantastic sounding board and always comes up with a unique perspective and great ideas to overcome challenges. It’s really important for women to reach out to each other and share their experience and wisdom. 

What are the main issues you face as a women in STEM?

As a female in energy/engineering, I often find that I am the only woman in the room. In the earlier stages of my career I saw this as a barrier, being the only woman in a room full of men can be quite intimidating. But as I gained confidence in my abilities, I saw this difference as a huge benefit. I had different ideas, approaches and ways of working that I could bring to the table. I realised that it was me that doubted my abilities, not everyone else in the room! 


What advice would you give to female STEM graduates?

Statistics show that those that study STEM degrees don’t always go on to pursue STEM careers, which is a real shame. The opportunities in STEM are vast. My advice to STEM graduates would be to explore the different careers that you can go into. Ask questions of those already in the industry, read case studies of those that have been on the journey. Be confident in your abilities and the rest will fall into place. 


What one word would you use to describe yourself?

Hungry ! ( usually for food, but also for knowledge)


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