Scuba Diver Australasia - - Cristina Zenato -

Gen­der-re­lated top­ics al­most in­vari­ably come up when I talk about my work as a sci­en­tist. Con­ver­sa­tions that start about my work with manta rays al­ways seem to cir­cle around to prob­ing ques­tions about the chal­lenges of be­ing a fe­male re­searcher. I find peo­ple’s in­ter­est in this sub­ject per­plex­ing. Sure, be­ing a field re­searcher is hard… but what does be­ing a woman have to do with that? I fight the same de­fen­sive feel­ing when I see eye­brows raise upon learn­ing that I am the CEO of an in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion... like for a mo­ment they find this fact hard to be­lieve. Have we se­ri­ously not moved past this?

While this line of ques­tion­ing can some­times get a bit te­dious, I have started to rec­on­cile my­self to the fact that this is­sue is in­deed im­por­tant and wor­thy of ad­dress­ing. The main rea­son for this con­clu­sion is the hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands, of young girls that have con­tacted me through­out my ca­reer look­ing for ad­vice – girls who see me as a role model, that as­pire to have a ca­reer like mine, or that want to work in the field like I do; young women of all ages that are look­ing for rec­om­men­da­tions or for ad­vice; ones need­ing to hear first-hand that they can make it. Some­times I can tell that they are look­ing to re­as­sure them­selves; oth­ers are look­ing for ways to as­suage the fears of their fam­ily or friends. Strangely, I never get th­ese kinds of let­ters/e-mail/ques­tions from boys. Is that be­cause I am not a role model for them, de­spite be­ing an au­thor­ity in my field? Or is it rather be­cause they do not have the same reser­va­tions that young girls do. Logic tells me it is the lat­ter and I see ev­i­dence all the time that young girls are some­how less con­fi­dent about ca­reer paths in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics (STEM) fields than young boys.

When I was young, it never oc­curred to me that as a girl I would face dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place or that that I might be dis­cour­aged from pur­su­ing my dream of be­ing a sci­en­tist. I kindly blame my par­ents for this ig­no­rance. I blame them be­cause they raised me to be­lieve that I could be any­thing when I grew up; that no goal, how­ever im­pos­si­ble it seemed, was unattain­able.

De­spite be­ing an only child, I had a won­der­fully ful­fill­ing child­hood chock-full

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