WOMEN IN DIVING
exists between males and females in STEM fields, women are often not proportionally represented as leaders, paid equally or advance as quickly through the ranks. This topic has been discussed by seemingly everyone from the NY Times, American Scientist and National Geographic to the Huffington Post and Nature. So what’s the deal? Is it because women are less capable or productive as scientists?
Nope (and I am not just saying that; it has been well demonstrated), but it does represent a dangerous cultural trend, one where we devalue women or put limitations on their abilities.
I have to admit I caught myself daydreaming about Emma Watson’s “He for She” speech while reviewing some current statistics online, all the while thinking to myself, “When are men going to start giving women more credit? How could gender still be such a big issue in this day and age?” Then I stumbled across a recent study by Yale scientists (Racusin et al 2012 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), which captured clear gender biases in favour of male students within a department at the University. That result in itself was not so surprising. What did catch me off guard is that the gender bias was exhibited by both men and women. Could it be that even women are undervaluing and underrating our sex? Is it true that we too have been conditioned into thinking that we cannot perform on par with men or that we might not be a suitable in certain roles? I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but suddenly it’s not that surprising that young women are having reservations about pursuing scientific careers. We’re certainly not inspiring a lot of confidence in them, are we?
Still, this was something that I could work with. This was a way that I personally could give back as a woman, and I have spent the better part of the last decade choosing not just to invest in outreach and education but in particular focusing on encouraging young women into STEM fields. Luckily there are many other men and women out there doing the same thing.
One of my personal favourites is Ocean GEMS, a multimedia outreach initiative that hopes to target particularly young girls and steer them towards careers in marine science by encouraging them with real life role models and affording them with opportunities to help jump-start their careers. Just like it is the responsibility of teachers and advisors out there to relinquish their biases and support students equally along their academic paths, it is the responsibility of scientists to make themselves more accessible to youth and to inspire and mentor those that need some extra encouragement.
THE “BIOLOGICAL BARRIER”?
Still, as I have grown older, I have realised that it is not just younger girls that need encouragement or that need to be supported in science. Midway into my own career I find myself surrounded by capable women who are expressing frustrations or doubts about being able to reconcile their careers as scientists with their abilities to be good wives and mothers. It has been said that one of the most persistent problems is that a disproportionate fraction of qualified women drop out of science
Since that significant spike, I was disappointed to learn that there had only been a three percent rise in female employment in STEM fields