A group of international female geoscientists including NUI Galway, 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 revealing results are published today (4 September) in Nature Publishing Group’s social sciences journal, Palgrave Communications.
The researchers are part of the committee for the international network working for Women in Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (WICGE), spanning Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Spain. They found that although women make up almost a third of the coastal geoscience and engineering community, they represent only about one in five of its prestige roles.
Coastal geoscience and engineering (CGE) encompasses professionals working on coastal processes, integrating expertise across physics, geomorphology, engineering, planning and management. This study presents novel results of gender inequality and experiences of gender bias in CGE, and proposes practical steps to address it.
The study entitled ‘Steps to improve gender diversity in coastal geoscience and engineering’ saw the international team of researchers analyse the gender representation in the boards and committees of nine societies, 25 journals, and 10 conferences. Additionally, the scientists launched a global survey and obtained responses from 314 people.
Co-author of the study, Dr Siddhi Joshi from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway, said: “Robust data on gender diversity is often scarce and studies like this are key building blocks for change. As a new female post-doctoral researcher in the coastal geosciences and engineering, it’s very important to get the support you need to deal with challenges such as microagressions (derogative comments or actions that are indirect). Networks such as WICGE and the Irish Association for Women in Geoscience, provides this support.”
• Women represent 30% of the international coastal geoscience engineering community, yet there is underrepresentation in prestige roles such as journal editorial board members (15% women) and conference organisers (18% women).
• 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% male, 65% female, and 1% ‘other’), the study found that 81% perceive the lack of female role models as a key hurdle for gender equity, and a significantly larger proportion of females (47%) felt held back in their career due to gender in comparison with males (9%)
Lead and corresponding author of the study, Professor Ana Vila-Concejo, Associate Professor and co-leader of the University of Sydney’s Geocoastal Research Group and deputy director of the One Tree Island Research Station on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, said the solutions and suggestions were relevant for women in science and more generally.
Professor Ana Vila-Concejo, commented: “Our findings are important not only for our field of research but also for other fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and beyond. Reading the survey responses was harder than we had anticipated. We found flagrant examples of inequality that included dramatic decisions such as an early career researcher deciding to undergo an abortion out of fear of jeopardising her chances of securing an academic position.”
Gender stereotyping was amongst the most common manifestation of inequality in coastal geoscience and engineering roles. Stereotyping of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as not being as competent (or being incompetent), and not being taken seriously, is a key theme.
The existence of 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-doctoral – 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”.
Shari Gallop from Macquarie University, said: “The first four steps we recommend can be successfully implemented immediately, while others need institutional engagement and represent major societal overhauls.”
To read the full study in Palgrave Communications, visit: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-018-0154-0
We are a network of women working in coastal geoscience, engineering across academia, industry and government. While gender equality is an issue across many disciplines, it is a particular problem in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In marine-related sciences, anecdotal evidence suggests that gender inequality may be most prevalent in coastal geoscience and engineering. This is often apparent at conferences with no female keynotes, a general lack of representation on committees and panels, and few women in senior positions in academia and industry.
The contributing organisations for this study include the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, NUI Galway, University of Wollongong, Bournemouth University, University of Waikato, Edge Hill University, University of Seville, Flinders University, University of Baja California, University of Newcastle, University of Bordeaux, UNSW Sydney. This blog post is based on the NUI Galway/University of Sydney joint press release.
Guest Post by Dr. Joel C. Gill
Executive Director, Geology for Global Development
Joel is an interdisciplinary geoscientist, integrating natural and social science methods to address issues relating to sustainable development and disaster risk reduction (DRR). Joel has a keen interest in improving the application of geology to international development, founding the charity “Geology for Global Development” in 2011. He has organised conferences, events and workshops on geoscience and sustainable development in the UK, Guatemala, India, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa.
The agreement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 reflects ‘a global consensus that business as usual is no option any longer, that changing the development trajectory is necessary’ (Spangenberg, 2016, p.1). The 17 SDGs and their 169 targets will be at the forefront of national and international policy discourse for the next 15 years. Collectively they aim to eradicate global poverty, end unsustainable consumption patterns, and facilitate sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.
The SDGs, together with various thematic frameworks (e.g., Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris Agreement, New Urban Agenda), all relate to the interaction of human activities with the natural environment. The ‘planet’ is a central pillar of sustainable development, alongside people and prosperity. Advances in science and technology, including geoscience (the study of the Earth), are therefore central to each framework. For example, managing natural resources, characterising natural hazards, or modelling future climate all require multiscale (spatial and temporal) understanding of Earth materials and/or processes. This requirement for geoscience input presents an opportunity for the geoscience community. Scientific business as usual, however, will not be sufficient, with changes to geoscience practice required for successful engagement (Lubchenco et al., 2015).
Geoscience and the SDGs
The environmental focus of the SDGs means geoscience is essential to their success. The matrix below (from Gill, 2017) illustrates the role of geoscience in the 17 SDGs. The matrix was populated by analysing the SDG sub-goals and targets, identifying links between SDG requirements and geoscience. Interconnections between many SDGs results in this approach giving a conservative estimate of the true impact of geoscience interventions. For example, goals on education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5) do not specifically refer to access to water/sanitation (SDG 6), but increased access to water/sanitation can support both. This matrix shows a role for geoscience within all 17 of the SDGs.
Contributions will be required from all sectors and sub-disciplines of geoscience, including those working in research, industry, the public sector and civil society. Examples of geoscience activities helping to deliver the SDGs include research projects, industry engagement, and civil society activities. Gill and Bullough (2017) listed examples of diverse activities geoscientists are undertaking that support the delivery of the SDGs.
Improving Geoscience Engagement in Sustainable Development
Engagement by geoscientists must be effective, culturally appropriate, and sustainable. Poor quality engagement (e.g., weak understanding of the social context of a project, or limited dialogue with stakeholders) can hinder development progress, may detrimentally affect a project, and does not serve society well. Effective engagement is rooted in understanding the science-policy-practice interface. This includes, for example, determining the information needs of stakeholders (e.g., policy makers, community groups, development NGOs), how they will use this information, and how best to present it to support policymakers. This requires the ability to build positive partnerships between geoscientists and diverse stakeholders, with engagement prioritised early in the research process. Increased dialogue, critical to our contributions being relevant, may also require the geoscience community to invest in additional and complementary skills. The geoscience community readily embraces advances in technology, informatics, and other physical sciences to advance their science. In contrast, whereas cultural and ethical understanding, cross-disciplinary communication, and social science research approaches can also support effective engagement and enhance our science, they are rarely included in a geoscientist’s education.
An exciting new project involving field work has begun at NUI Galway School of Geography, which focuses on quantifying the impacts of storminess on maerl beach morphodynamics. Rhodolith (maerl) beds are unique, relatively rare, free-living, non-geniculate coralline red algae forming biodiverse habitats and dense biogenic debris beaches. These beds provide hard habitat for other marine algae on their surface and for invertebrates living on and in the rhodoliths. This one year field research project investigates the response of offshore maerl beds and maerl debris beaches to storminess. Specifically, the morpho-sedimentary evolution of maerl beaches over timescales of seconds (swash dynamics) to months (seasonal weather) will be measured using a suite of integrated, multi-disciplinary field and laboratory methods based on hydrodynamic modelling, bathymetric and topographic mapping, and groundwater fluxes. The experiments will utilise results from previous research. The impact of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios on the regional hydrodynamic model will be made to quantify possible impacts of climate change on maerl. Using XBeach, an open-source numerical model with a domain size of kilometres, on the time scales of storms, outputs will be compared with nearshore-beach DEMs derived from UAV surveys (water and land), and supplemented with baseline INFOMAR LiDAR data from Greatman’s Bay. This project will integrate oceanographic observations (waves, currents, tide) to compliment habitat mapping. A poster of this work was presented at the Irish Geomorphology Group Meeting at the Geological Survey Ireland in Dublin. The poster is available for download here: Siddhi Joshi Eugene Farrell Poster Final
This project is funded by the Geological Survey Ireland Short call 2017-SC-043.
Historically, when fishermen in Brittany would land maërl, not only would they land more fish, they would also be able to use the maërl to condition their soils as fertiliser. This meant not only would they get fish, but also a fertile harvest. Hence, this was such a prized commodity; there is a cultural festival of maerl which happens every four years in Brittany- Fête du Maërl. Commercial extraction no longer occurs in Brittany, where it is banned. A friend in Brittany sent me this lovely poster of this year’s fête, which happened in August. Thank you so much Andre!
Just by going to the beach, I had been fascinated by how maerl was freely moving, carried, mobilised and transported by almost every wave. The beach, composed almost entirely of “coral” is actually made of branched free-living coralline algal gravels (maerl). I was intrigued to see these concentric patterns, almost like “beach cusps,” observed at Trá an Doilín maerl beach in Carraroe, County Galway. Furthermore, large maerl megaripples (or sub-aqueous dunes) had been observed subtidally, such as those in Northern Ireland (video). The flow strength required for initiation of motion is a classical problem in fluid dynamics and we found very little work had been done on maerl and the conditions under which it is mobilised and transported.
Our new study entitled “Critical bed shear stress and threshold of motion of maerl biogenic gravel” has just been published in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science (in press). The critical bed shear stress is a fundamental sediment dynamics quantity – a measure of the threshold of motion of sediment. When we began our study on modelling the sediment mobility of maerl in Galway Bay, we found that this quantity for maerl coralline alga was an unknown which had largely been overlooked in classical sediment transport experiments. Its knowledge was a prerequisite for quantifying maerl mobility, rate of erosion and deposition in conservation management. Through as series of lab (flume) experiments on biogenic free-living maerl beds, our study determines the critical Shields parameter for maerl in three contrasting environments (open marine, intertidal and beach) in Galway Bay, west of Ireland.
The bed shear stress was determined using two methods, Law of the Wall and Turbulent Kinetic Energy, in a rotating annular flume and in a linear flume. The velocity profile of flowing water above a bed of natural maerl grains was measured in four runs of progressively increasing flow velocity until the flow exceeded the critical shear stress of grains on the bed (from Abstract, Joshi et.al 2017b).
The critical Shields parameter and the mobility number are estimated and compared with the equivalent curves for natural quartz sand. The critical Shields parameters for the maerl particles from all three environments fall below the Shields curve. Along with a previously reported correlation between maerl grain shape and settling velocity, these results suggest that the highly irregular shapes also allow maerl grains to be mobilised more easily than quartz grains with the same sieve diameter (from Abstract, Joshi et.al 2017b).
The intertidal beds with the roughest particles exhibit the greatest critical shear stress because the particle thalli interlock and resist entrainment. In samples with a high percentage of maerl and low percentage of siliciclastic sand, the lower density, lower settling velocity and lower critical bed shear stress of maerl results in its preferential transport over the siliciclastic sediment. At velocities ∼10 cm s−1 higher than the threshold velocity of grain motion, rarely-documented subaqueous maerl dunes formed in the annular flume (from Abstract, Joshi et.al 2017b).
The full research paper can be found here, as well as the related papers in the full study below.
Joshi, S., Duffy, G., & Brown, C. (2014). Settling Velocity and Grain Shape of Maerl Biogenic Gravel Journal of Sedimentary Research, 84 (8), 718-727 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2110/jsr.2014.51 (Paper 1)
Joshi, S., Duffy, G., & Brown, C. (2017a). Mobility of maerl-siliciclastic mixtures: Impact of waves, currents and storm events Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2017.03.018 (Paper 3)
Joshi, S., Duffy, G., & Brown, C. (2017b), Critical bed shear stress and threshold of motion of maerl biogenic gravel, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2017.06.010 (Paper 2)