The 1st International Women in Science Day.
On the RRS James Cook today there are 5 women and 47 men. The women are : Professor Christine Peirce – Professor of Geophysics at Durham University, Rachel Marlow – Autosub Engineer, Anna Bird – Ocean Bottom Seismics Technician and Marine Mammal Observer, Christina Coates – Deck Cadet and me, Angela Bentley – Teacher at Sea. We all have our distinct roles and all find ourselves labelled in some way as inspirational women, whether we wish for the mantle or not. Is there a sisterhood amongst us, a camaraderie uniting five individuals together as a female unit on the ship? No. We are all friendly and chat occasionally, we have been 4 weeks at sea and my first real conversation with Christina was today, about her profile for the careers section of my blog. Christine Peirce works a strange shift pattern as co-Chief Scientist – sometimes I don’t see her for days. Anna is busy elsewhere on the ship ‘OBSing’ – she and Matt made me a coffee this morning whilst I was on watch. Rachel is in the same room as me a lot of the time but busy getting on with her work with the Autosub team. No we don’t get together to have a chat and laugh as group. Infact, it was impossible to get the five of us together for a group picture – we each have jobs to do. We are all part of our own teams. Christina is having a great time on board learning the practicalities of her course, she is starting out on a very exciting career journey that could culminate in her becoming the Captain of a ship. Anna is part of a well-oiled team working together smoothly each performing their roles with accuracy and dedication. Christine is head of Anna’s team co-ordinating all the OBS experiments and her experience and ability is second to none, it is obvious that Christine’s team all like, respect and admire her. Rachel spends her time with James and James in the Autosub team. Me, well I take lots of pictures, ask lots of questions and spend most of my time with the Birmingham University Post Docs (as I’m part of the same watch team) and Professor Roger Searle who helps me with the scientific content of my blogs. Everyone on the ship gets on well, everyone is professional, everyone is respectful and pleasant to each other, regardless of gender. I do not feel like one of five women on a ship, I feel like part of a larger team.
Yet, I am only one of five women on board. Why are there only five of us? Is it that not many women do geophysics? Would there be more women on, say, a biology expedition? Why are there not more women in the crew? The fact that this is the first International Women in Science Day would suggest that the problem is not inherently a British or a geophysics issue. How do we overcome the challenge of equalising the ratio of males to females on research ship? I find it incredible that here we are in 2016 and the ratio is 47:5 male:female. Is it considered socially unacceptable for a woman to leave her family for six weeks to do research, to pursue her career? Is it that old double standard? On board, I don’t detect an ‘old boys’ network keeping women out, I don’t feel any resentment or animosity towards me from the men. I don’t feel it in my day to day life either, even though women are in the minority at many of the exam board meetings I go to, sometimes I’m the only woman at these meetings. I’m always made to feel welcome. The conversation is wide and varied though it inevitably reverts to geology. So why are there not more women at these meetings? Why are there only 5 women on board the RRS James Cook today?
I think the answer is – time. Change is starting. In 2014 ( according www.bbc.com) 34% of 18 year old women were allocated university places compared with 26% of 18 year old men. It will take time for women to take their rightful place in society after thousands of years of being told that their place is in the home, to stand by their man – women have always worked to support their families but often in an unrecognised capacity. Not so long ago women who went to study at university were not awarded degrees for their efforts (a travesty that would not be allowed to occur in today’s modern world). As a result, women scientists were virtually unheard of, if you are asked to name 10 well known women scientists and 10 well known male scientists it is much easier to rattle of a list of the latter. Very few science TV programmes are presented by women. This will change, is changing. Putting children into full time childcare is acceptable, women are valued in the work place. I feel valued on this ship, I feel valued in my day job as Head of Department of Earth Sciences at Aquinas 6th Form College. All women who work in STEM industries are role models, inspirational to the next generation, we just have to be us, doing our jobs well, that’s all.
I do hope that the Teacher at Sea in ten years’ time will not feel the need to write about women in science, that it becomes the norm, that there is no need for an International Women in Science Day. Yet, on this first IWISD I want to stand at the bow of this ship and shout ‘Come on girls, jump aboard, there are great opportunities for you here, you too can live life on the ocean waves!’ That ratio of 5:47 has GOT to change!
10 well known women scientists off the top of my head:
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
(Actually, I managed 1-7 off the top of my head – cheated for the last 3!!!)
Did you know there is only one statue in the whole of Manchester that is of a woman? It is of Queen Victoria. For true equality it is not just women in science that need promoting but all women.
(Just my own opinion)