GeoLog

Early Career Scientists

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Why do I feel uncomfortable as the only woman in a meeting? Why do they gossip about the male postdoc who is supervising three female MSc students? Have I really been asked to give this presentation just because I am a woman? It was thanks to all the work and reading I was doing for our study about gender inequality in the geosciences that I realised it is not ok I have to ask myself these questions.

In early 2018, it was my colleague and friend Andrea who came up with the idea to conduct an online survey about how geoscientists perceive gender stereotypes and inequality in their work environment. This was initially planned as a contribution to a session at the EGU General Assembly 2018. But once we realised how much this topic resonated in our community, we decided to aim for a publication in a scientific journal. ‘We’ are five early career hydrologists: Andrea Popp, Tim van Emmerik, Sina Khatami, Wouter Knoben and myself. None of us had prior experience conducting and analysing surveys, so we had to learn on the fly how to ask unambiguous questions and give the right number of possible answers. In just one month, more than 1200 people had participated in the online survey and we worked hard over the summer to analyse the results and write a story around them.

One and a half years later – after struggling with rejections from several geoscience journals – our study was finally accepted for publication in Earth and Space Science. We are happy to be able to contribute to the current conversation on this topic, which has been receiving more attention online (such as the Nature Geosciences Editorial “Of rocks and social justice” and a blog post from the EGU Hydrological Sciences division blog by Bettina Schaefli from the University of Bern.

The bottom line of our study is that we have serious problems with gender bias and inequality in our scientific community, and that these problems are not generally recognised in our community. Most strikingly, more than a quarter of the female respondents reported experiences with negative gender bias at their workplace (compared to under 10% of their male colleagues; see figure below).

Experiences with bias in scientific organizations among female vs. male respondents. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The respondents generally considered male geoscientists as more gender-biased than female geoscientists, and this became particularly obvious at the level of female professors, nearly half of whom perceive their male colleagues as gender-biased. Among the male respondents, however, it’s the postdocs who seem to feel most affected by negative gender biases. One explanation for this might be that some male postdocs expect disadvantages from policies that support early-career female scientists who might compete with them for the same positions.

Experience with gender bias in institutions by female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to Fisher’s exact tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

A crucial problem with a gender-imbalanced faculty, especially at higher career levels, is the lack of female role models at the workplace and conferences. Most of the female participants (84%) stated that role models are important to them and about a third of them prefer same-gender role models. But how can we make sure to have more female role models in academia? One could argue that gender quotas for academic positions would be a good way to attract and employ more women. However, our survey shows that gender quotas are a controversial issue, even among female respondents, with a quarter of them being rather critical of such quotas.

Approval vs. disapproval of gender quotas for academic positions among female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to χ2-tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The key implication of our study is that those in leading positions – whose actions might have the largest impact – are the least affected by gender inequality in their job and might thus not see a good reason for taking a stand for more diversity and equality. In my own experience, I have had discussions with male senior scientists who are indeed willing to improve the current imbalance, but also believe that by inviting more women for job interviews or waiting for female students to move up the career ladder, the number of female senior scientists will gradually increase and the problem will finally be resolved.

In our paper, we argue that we as a community need to do so much more than this. We stress that, while the science community should certainly make an extra effort to look for qualified women when hiring new staff or awarding prizes, it is at least as important to challenge and improve the way we do research on a daily basis, interact and collaborate with each other and acknowledge our colleagues’ work.

Based on recent must-read literature (for example, Holmes et al., 2015) and personal discussions, we suggest several strategies in our paper to promote gender equality, among which are mandatory gender bias training, a transparent and standardised selection of job candidates and research grant awardees, more gender balance on the decision-making level of research institutions and scientific organisations such as EGU, and more flexible and family-friendly working conditions to support parents and informal caregivers.

And, above all, we should promote an open and continuous discussion about these matters, together with male colleagues of all career levels. Having such discussions can raise more awareness of the negative impact of exclusionary climates that exist in some institutions and scientific communities. These kind of environments can be harmful and daunting not only to female scientists, but also to ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and everyone else who might not fit in with the ‘old white boys club’ culture. By having productive conversations on inappropriate and sexist comments, the feeling of being patronised or even silenced in discussions, or the pressure of having to work twice as hard to be recognised, we can work towards addressing these issues collectively.

So if you care about good science and happy scientists, please try to bring up this topic during meetings or personal conversations, and – if you are a woman scientist – find allies among your male colleagues who fight alongside you. Why should we all make an effort? Because we need a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce that ensures diverse perspectives, a more enjoyable work life and simply better science!

By Stefanie Lutz, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Germany  

References

Holmes, M. A., OConnell, S. and Dutt, K., Eds.: Women in the Geosciences, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

 

Anon: Of rocks and social justice, Nature Geoscience, 9(11), 797–797, doi:10.1038/ngeo2836, 2016.

 

Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S., Emmerik, T. H. M. and Knoben, W. J. M.: A Global Survey on the Perceptions and Impacts of Gender Inequality in the Earth and Space Sciences, Earth and Space Science, doi:10.1029/2019ea000706, 2019.

Call for new EGU network blogs!

Call for new EGU network blogs!

Here is your chance to join the EGU blog network! Since 2013, the Union’s network blogs have enjoyed thought-provoking and engaging contributions on a range of topics: from the workings of the inner Earth and palaeontology, through to geomorphology and air quality. The network aims to foster a diverse community of geoscience bloggers, sharing accurate information about geoscientific research in a language understandable not only to fellow scientists but also to the broader public. The network blogs complement the EGU official blog and division blogs.

If you are an Earth, planetary or space researcher (whether you’re an early career scientist, or a more established one) with a passion for communicating your work, or a geoscience communicator, we’d like to hear from you!

We currently feature blogs that cover international development (Geology for Global Development), volcanology (VolcanicDegassing), and groundwater (Water Underground). We’d love to receive blog proposals from fields within the Earth, planetary and space sciences we don’t yet feature, including interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary topics (e.g. ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Geoscience and Art’).

The benefits: apart from your site gaining exposure by having its posts listed on the front pages of the EGU website and the EGU blogs, we will also share highlights of your work on our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram) and advertise the blog network at our annual General Assembly, which has over 16,000 attendees. And, of course, you’ll get to join a great community of bloggers (21 blogs run by more than 60 volunteers)!

Having an existing blog is not a requirement for application. However, if you don’t have a blog already, we’d like you to have at least some experience of writing for a broader audience, be it as a guest blogger, or contributing to outlets such as The Conversation. In this case, let us know what you’d like your blog to be called, what topics you would cover, and link to articles you’ve published in the past. Interested in blogging, but don’t want to go solo? We also are accepting applications submitted by a blog team!

If you’d like your blog (or blog idea) to be considered for our network, fill out this form by 16 September.

Network bloggers should be prepared to publish at least 1-3 blog posts a month. Please note that only blogs in English will be considered, as this is the EGU working language, and the language of the EGU blogs. We particularly encourage applications from all European countries, not just English-speaking countries, but bloggers from outside Europe can also apply.

Feel free to contact the EGU Communications Officer Olivia Trani if you have any questions. In the meantime – happy blogging!

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

How can we source and use Earth resources in an ethical and responsible way? And how can we bring different actors and communities together to achieve sustainable resource development? These are just some of the questions that early career researchers from around the world came together to discuss during the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and the Environment International Summer School, held at the University College Dublin last month. In this blog post, Anthea Lacchia, a postdoctoral researcher at the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, and Jen Roberts, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde, share their experience reporting on this summer school.

On the first week of July 2019, we were lucky enough to be part of a very special gathering of geoscientists and social scientists from developed and developing countries at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. The occasion that brought them all together was the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and Environment (ReSToRE) International Summer School.

The goal of the ReSToRE summer school was to enable critical cross-disciplinary discussions around the sustainable sourcing and use of Earth resources now and in the future. Big topic, right? And certainly one that can only be tackled by bringing together different perspectives, as became apparent during the week.

Organised by iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, the summer school included 42 early career researchers and recent graduates from 28 nations including 18 developing countries.

“Moving forward for sustainable development is very complicated,” said Murray Hitzman, Director of iCRAG. “Not only are there technical challenges in terms of Earth resources and energy, but in terms of how people actually perceive both sustainable development and those challenges is even more critical.”

“This summer school is trying to help with this not just in one society, but in multiple societies, and to get those societies to understand one another as well, which is also a huge challenge,” he noted.

The summer school succeeded in creating a stimulating setting for interdisciplinary collaboration, knowledge sharing and network-building. During the week, participants discussed emerging themes pertinent to the future of resourcing and consumption of Earth materials, such as: what drives societal attitudes toward the extraction industry? How can communities have their say in if and how resources near to them are developed? What are the barriers to a circular economy in the resources sector? How can Earth materials be resources in an ethical and responsible way?

Participants took the lead in deliberating these big questions. They were aided by guidance from expert mentors, as well as plenary talks and discussions. The conversations naturally spilled from the workshops into the social events, which included a fieldtrip to Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, the site of an ancient lead, zinc and silver mine, and now a spectacular glacial valley.

And Summer put on a fine performance for the week, allowing the participants to move outside and seek inspiration amongst the fresh air, daisies and curious ducks.

ReSToRE painting by summer school participant and artist, Meenakshi Poti (joint PhD student at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium).

“Deposits of the metals that we need are irregularly distributed across the globe, and their value must be assessed with respect to sustainable development, alleviation of poverty and empowering of communities,” said International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Councillor, Edmund Nickless, at the opening session of the summer school.

“This course is asking the right questions at the right time and the mix of social scientists and geoscientists and environmental scientists together is a triangle we really need,” added Ozlem Adiyaman Lopes from UNESCO’s Earth and Ecological Sciences division, who was able to join the summer school for several days.

Amongst participants and expert mentors 33 different nationalities were represented, including from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo (DR), Croatia, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, UK, USA, and Zimbabwe. What an incredible forum!

Some reflections on the way ahead

Some key themes emerged from the conversations amongst the participants, expert mentors and organisers during the week. Firstly, the different actors necessary for resourcing a sustainable future cannot be considered in isolation. Consumer demand, business practices, environmental and societal impacts, community involvement in decision-making and development are all intrinsically interlinked in a non-linear chain which interweaves resource supply use and reuse.

Future resource development in line with global sustainability goals will require interplay between the technical and non-technical worlds, bridging policy, industry, practitioners and academia, and uniting geoscience and engineering, and social and political science, as well as local communities.

Summer school participants admiring the Irish landscape during the ReSToRE fieldtrip, Sally Gap, Co. Wicklow.

The circular economy, which aims to extract the most value out of resources and materials whilst in use, can act as a useful model for the resource sector: wherever one is placed along the supply chain from producer to consumer, we should all be supporting ways of producing resources cleanly and efficiently, with reduced, managed and – where possible – reused waste. And the management of mining waste has had increased profile in the past few years, with several tragic and preventable collapses of tailings dams which have had major societal and environmental consequences.

Our role

As reporters of the ReSToRE summer school, our role was to take note of the event and support the delivery of key outcomes. This meant that we were very busy capturing thoughts from participants, organisers, speakers and mentors through interviews, soaking in the atmosphere at the various social events and workshops, and carving out occasional moments to sit down by the lake at UCD and reflect on the week and how it was going. We relied on a trusted voice recorder and notebook, and quickly became acutely acquainted with the opening hours of cafés around campus. The participants’ WhatsApp group also proved incredibly useful for gaging how participants were feeling, as well as asking people to gather round for a photo, check a nationality or give advice on the best sights in Dublin, or pubs showing the Women’s World Cup.

More importantly, the summer school provided opportunity to create a diverse, international network of like-minded individuals working in the interdisciplinary sphere, as well as enabling everyone involved, including participants, mentors, organisers and ourselves to learn, reflect, and to create potential new avenues for research and collaboration.

One of the highlights has to be the mix of nationalities and cultures represented, as well as a general spirit of openness to new ideas and perspectives. Although the week was intense and the workshop participants were tasked with preparing presentations of their findings for the final day, the support and lack of competition amongst participants was palpable, and paved the way for creativity to emerge. Together, they created a safe space in which to be open, reflective, responsive and curious, and to bravely tackle some very complex questions.

We hope to continue these conversations at the interface of societal issues and geoscience at future conferences, such as the EGU General Assembly 2020. We hope you are inspired to join in. See you there!

By Anthea Lacchia (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences at University College Dublin) and Jen Roberts (University of Strathclyde)

Find out more

A suite of summer school resources, including live-streamed videos of the presentations and discussions by experts in the field and blogs from the delegates, can be found on the ReSTORE webpage: https://www.icrag-centre.org/restore/

iCRAG, the International Union of Geological Sciences and Geological Survey Ireland were the organising sponsors of ReSToRE, which was run under the patronage of UNESCO.

Sponsorship also came from BHP, Boliden, Rio Tinto, Teck, with additional support received from Irish Research Council and UCD College of Business.

About the authors

Anthea Lacchia

Anthea grew up in northern Italy, in a town at the foot of the Alps. Having studied Classics in high school in Italy, she moved to Ireland and obtained a BA in Geology from Trinity College Dublin.  During her undergraduate studies, she developed a keen interest in thinking about the lives of ancient animals preserved in rocks – fossils – which led her to pursue a PhD in palaeontology, specifically looking at extinct relatives of squid and cuttlefish called ammonoids. She spent many seasons of fieldwork perusing the rocks of Co. Clare, in western Ireland. In parallel with her research, she gained experience both in science writing and newspaper editing. Following completion of her PhD, she spent a year working as a press officer for Springer Nature in London. She then returned to Ireland to start postdoctoral research in iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, in University College Dublin, where she is studying public perception and understanding of geosciences, with a focus on the geology and communities of Co. Clare. Her postdoc allows her to combine her passion for geology with that for science communication and public engagement. Anthea also works as a freelance science writer. Anthea took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.

Jen Roberts

Jen is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde. Her research is interdisciplinary and applied, and addresses the social and environmental risk of geological resources – often relating to energy. Jen uses her technical background in geology to tackle questions relevant across geoscience, environmental science, environmental psychology, environmental engineering and political science. These questions relate to the perception, assessment and communication of risks relating to low-carbon energy technologies, which, for many, the subsurface plays a vital role. Ultimately her work aims to inform how the necessary transition to a net zero carbon future can be implemented in a way that is acceptable to society and to the environment. Jen took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.