A coastal scientist from Edge Hill University has taken a look beyond the glass ceiling in a revealing study of gender equality in coastal research.

Credit: Hosahng Rew

Irene Delgado-Fernandez, Reader in Coastal Processes at Edge Hill University, is one of a group of international female scientists who have taken a close look at their profession and discovered the barriers to success – while also pinpointing the sometimes simple changes that can be made to attract more women into innovative industries.

The researchers are part of the committee for Women in Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (WICGE) which spans Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Spain. Their paper, Steps to improve gender diversity in coastal geoscience and engineering, found that although women make up almost a third of the Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (CGE) community, they represent only about one in five of its prestige roles.

Irene, from Edge Hill’s Coastal Studies Lab, said: “The coastal science community is incredibly diverse worldwide, something we are very proud of. The steps recommended in our article should help making that positive diversity more visible. It is about removing barriers that limit the success of individuals within the community because of their gender, which will result in a fairer and better representation of who we are.”

Ana Vila Concejo in the Maldives

Credit: Tracy Turner, Auckland University

Published in Nature social sciences journal, Palgrave Communications, on 4 September, the research analysed the gender representation in the boards and committees of nine societies, 25 journals, and 10 conferences, as well as the results of a global survey

The international research, which was led by the University of Sydney, made the following discoveries and offered solutions for tackling them:

SOME THINGS HOLDING WOMEN BACK

Gender stereotyping – was among the most common manifestation of inequality in CGE. Stereotyping of women in STEM as not being as competent (or being incompetent), and not being taken seriously, is a key theme.

The “boys club” – in the experience of one survey respondent: “During a job interview, the lead engineer (male) was explaining how they have the ‘boys club’ here at the office. They did offer me the job, but I didn’t want to work in that type of environment.”

The “maternal wall” results from expectations that a woman’s job performance is affected by her having children.

Microaggressions and harassment – being overlooked and ignored in favour of male colleagues was a key issue, for example, one respondent noted: “Getting my first big grant and employing a male post doc – our project partners treated him as the boss”; while another recalled comments about looks, such as “comments on my ‘pretty face’ being an asset for attracting clients”.

The key findings of the article are:

  • Women represent 30 per cent of the international CGE community, yet there is under representation in prestige roles such as journal editorial board members (15 per cent women) and conference organisers (18 per cent women).
  • Our data show that female underrepresentation is less prominent when the path to prestige roles is clearly outlined and candidates can self-nominate or volunteer instead of the traditional invitation-only pathway
  • By analysing the views of 314 survey respondents (34 per cent male, 65 per cent female, and 1 per cent ‘other’), we found that 81 per cent perceive the lack of female role models as a key hurdle for gender equity, and a significantly larger proportion of females (47 per cent) felt held back in their career due to gender in comparison with males (9 per cent)

SOLUTIONS:

  1. Advocate for more women in prestige roles.
  2. Promote high-achieving females.
  3. Create awareness of gender bias.
  4. Speak up.
  5. Get better support for return-to-work.
  6. Redefine success.
  7. Encourage more women to enter the discipline at a young age.

Irene added: “The results have implications not just for my research area but for women in science more generally.”

Find out more about studying Geography at Edge Hill here.