The condition of women in the workplace has not always been easy. Even though the mentality of the people is changing towards inclusion and equality, it is a long way before things really change. We always observe unbalanced number of women versus number of men, unbalanced competition among colleagues for career promotion and responsibility and unequal wages between women and men in many places. Moreover, the situation can even take a turn for the worse when the woman becomes pregnant and needs to handle her family life and her professional career at the same time. In this context the support of female colleagues in sharing experience becomes very important. By developing networking, we can get information about how to manage professional but also personal situation, discuss about inclusive workplace environment and relationship with colleagues.
Recently, WOMEESA (Women in Earth and Environmental Science Australasia) network organized a meeting at Macquarie University in Sydney for sharing experiences among different generations of women geoscientists ranging from industry to academia. The meeting started first with two invited speakers from Oil search (Julianne Lamb) and Pells Sullivan Meynink (Felicia Weir) representing industry. They shared their own experience from undergraduate to professional life and how they managed the difficulties -professional and personal- met during their lives. Then, the discussion focused on the career pathways of 4 different generations of geoscientists: Jessica Walsh (PhD candidate, University of Wollongong), Shari Gallop (Lecturer in Environmental science, Macquarie University), Kelsie Dadd (Curious Minds) and Anita Andrew (Environmental Isotopes). The panel showed the obstacles and complications that a female geoscientist can face (as for instance, competition with a male colleague, promotion/monitoring PhD candidate, find a balance between professional career and family life). The panel tried to reply these questions from their own experiences. Their conclusion pointed out the importance of developing a strong female network where to speak up, share and provide advices to common issues.
In the last part of the evening, working groups were formed to think at how WOMEESA can help the new generation of geoscientists. Among the suggestions: to encourage girls to study Earth Sciences during events such as the National Science Week, to organize social and gathering events where female geoscientists can develop a strong network, to let female students be monitored by female professors. Some of these ideas have already been implemented in other institutions such as the EGU or the AGU. Our wish is to have the opportunity to exchange in the future with WOMEESA.
This event was proposed by Heather Handley, Volcanologist at Macquarie University and co-founder of WOMEESA. We got the chance to ask her some questions:
Q: Why and when was the idea of WOMEESA born?
Heather : The idea to form a network of women working in the fields of earth and environmental sciences was born at the Dorothy Hill Women in Earth Science Symposium held at the University of Queensland in November 2017. We realised that despite some existing industry and field-specific networks, there was not a single overall network that included everyone working in these fields across industry, academia and government.
Q: In your opinion, how long will it take it to change the situation?
Heather: We need to change the present culture of equity and inclusion and so this will likely be a gradual change, but hopefully we will get there by providing continued pressure for change.
Q: What do we need to change the situation:
Heather: We need continued and greater support at national and institutional levels to ensure a culture of equity is supported and implemented. Initiatives such as Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE; http://www.sciencegenderequity.org.au/) and Superstars of STEM (https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/what-we-do/superstars-of-stem/) are critical to this cause and are definitely making a positive difference.
Q: What is the most important thought we need to change first?
Heather: There has been much recent media coverage of the challenges and issues facing women in STEM careers and now it is time to see change. We need to see innovative solutions and support for women at all career stages, as well as those in the early stages in their career. Through our networking events, WOMEESA aims to identify these solutions and then work to bring them to reality.
Q: What will be the impact of WOMEESA on the evolution of the situation of women in academia or industry?
Heather: We hope that through the WOMEESA network we can do a multitude of things to improve the situation of women in academia, industry and government. We aim to:
Create a supportive network for all women in Earth and Environmental Sciences in Australasia
Develop new nodes in the region without current support and link to existing networks/societies
Facilitate greater collaboration between academia, government and industry in these fields
Provide role models of women in Earth and Environmental Sciences
Provide key support for women in the early stages of their career and those with carer responsibilities
Raise awareness of current gender equity issues
Develop strategies to support indigenous Australasians (in Australia, NZ and beyond)
Promote the importance of Earth and Environmental Science research and activities through social networks and the media
Q: Which public are you targeting and are you happy so far about the first events of WOMEESA?
Heather: Those interested in a career in earth and environmental sciences are encouraged to join WOMEESA. We support diversity and welcome all genders to the network. The network will be defined by the needs of its members and so this will be dynamic based upon our growing member profile. We currently have 280 members from 6 countries, with 96% being women. The majority of our members are postgraduate students and those at early to mid-career stage (75%) but we also have undergraduate students and members with greater than 15 years experience. At present, 64% of WOMEESA members are from academia, 17% from industry, 13% from government with the remainder employed in other sectors.
We are thrilled to have held the first WOMEESA networking event in Sydney. We are also hosting networking events at the inaugural Australian Geoscience Council Convention, AGCC 2018, in Adelaide, Australia in October 2018 and at the Geoscience Society of New Zealand (GSNZ) conference in Napier, New Zealand in November 2018. We are excited that the NZ Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Juliet Gerrard will be attending our event in New Zealand.
Q: A last word to encourage people to join WOMEESA?
Heather: We will be much more effective to create change and support women in earth and environmental sciences if we form a critical mass with a unified voice. Through the hard work of some of its members, WOMEESA have already shown the power of the network by successfully lobbying for the provision of childcare at the Australian Geoscience Council Convention (AGCC 2018) in October.
If you want to learn more about WOMEESA do not hesitate to check their website (https://www.womeesa.net).
This post was written by Walid Ben Mansour, with revisions from Maria Tsekhmistrenko and Marina Corradini
Walid Ben Mansour is a post-doctoral research fellow at Macquarie University. He works on multi-observable probabilistic tomography for different targets (mining, seismic hazard). You can reach him at walid.benmansour[at]mq.edu.au
Maria Tsekhmistrenko is a PhD student at the University of Oxford. She works on the velocity structures beneath the La Reunion Island from the surface to the core mantle boundary. You can reach her at mariat[at]earth.ox.ac.uk