By Suzie Henderson, Ecology major and Horticulture minor
This past weekend I participated in the Women and Girls in Georgia (WAGG) 2015 conference on sustainability as a member of Women in Science (WiSci) at UGA.
As a woman coming from the science field, the inclusive atmosphere at the WAGG conference was a refreshing avenue to address sustainability head on, delving often beyond the scope of science. I knew from the first few sessions that we would be hearing very little empirical facts that day, but rather dialoging with other women on abstract and sometimes more concrete, values.
From the presentations and panels to dynamic keynote speakers, a few values that came into the dialogue were: health of the environment and people, culture, community, family, and food security to more abstract values like inclusivity, responsibility, persistence, and justice. Let’s just say we had much to discuss! Women tend to share and relate through their values, that more often than not, might be overlooked by men, no matter what field they work in. Men obviously possess common values with women, but it seems more tension arises because of how we differ in prioritizing these values.
During the STEM for sustainability session, a group of WiSci members and myself entered into dialogue with other women (and men!) about the role of mentors for women in the science field. A woman attending the panel chimed in with the point that men and women tend to think in significantly different ways and women are often known for the capacity to think about many things at once (turns out our neural wiring really is quite different!). She asked how we, as women in the science field, related to this characteristic.
Perhaps many, but not all women would agree with this view on the woman’s mind. Nevertheless, possessing a uniquely complex thought process can totally be an advantage. Some of us may fall into a trap of constantly finding fault in our thoughts and not wanting to voice them or act on them. However, if we are outward and confrontational with our thoughts, we can better address environmental concerns both locally and globally. We may be more likely to consider broader implications of scientific research and desire to communicate that to the scientific community and beyond. As women in science are faced with opportunities to inform this recent and urgent environmental movement, we are also invited to join the ever-widening discussion on sustainability with fellow women and men of different disciplines.
Here are some questions and food for thought you may be pondering after reading this blog. Comments and further dialogue are certainly welcome!
How can women incorporate their education, values, and convictions into their work as scientists (or other profession) to meet the challenges we face with sustainability?
What are some challenges women face in the field of science that relate to the environmental issues?
Are women scientists afraid of being taken seriously when addressing topics that involve human values that surpass the field of empirical science (such as sustainability)?
By Laura Early, Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development graduate student
With recent social media explosions around trends like #DistractinglySexy, #LikeAGirl, and #ShirtStorm, challenges faced by women in historically male-dominated science fields are getting more attention. For decades, women have been underrepresented in science, engineering, and math career fields, and there are many root causes to this gender gap that have been identified and are beginning to be addressed. Around the world and across sectors, the emergence of policies, campaigns, and strategies to increase numbers of women in these fields are beginning to be seen.
WiSci: Women in Science is a student-led organization here at UGA that formed in 2014 in response to these challenges. WiSci aims to create a campus-wide community of scientists interested in promoting equality in the sciences, as well as a support network among undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, faculty and other science professionals.
On September 14, WiSci hosted two discussions with Dr. Katherine (Kay) Gross, Director of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). Dr. Gross’s successful career as a plant community ecologist has led her into an administration position where she continues to do research, and also promotes programs that provide undergraduates with research experiences and mentoring opportunities.
At KBS, Dr. Gross strives to offer opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in ecological research early in their academic careers in a way that facilitates their continued success in a scientific career path and positively contributes to the research going on at KBS. Over a lunch discussion with WiSci members, Dr. Gross shared what KBS has found to work well for its program- good mentoring and increasing diversity within the program. To support these practices, KBS offers training and financial incentives to graduate students and researchers who are willing to mentor undergraduates. Because undergraduate students from under-represented groups in the sciences do not always have access to the same resume-building opportunities as their peers, KBS has also adjusted their graduate student application process to focus more heavily on what participants aspire to achieve, not necessarily just their past achievements.
“What is the worst predictor of success in graduate school?” Dr. Gross asked the group of students who joined her for lunch in the Ecology courtyard. “Test scores.” The best predictor, she said, is not giving up. Figuring out why students want to pursue these experiences, and choosing candidates that show a drive and desire to learn and work hard is good for the science community as a whole.
In recent years, there has been a shift in which at several universities, females make up the majority of undergraduate enrollment, and more specifically, female enrollment in science majors is increasing as well. However, there is still a “leaky pipeline,” in that those numbers are not translating all the way through to representative numbers of women in tenured faculty positions across the sciences, or even more so, in leadership positions in the sciences.
In her talk Monday afternoon, Dr. Gross addressed students, post-docs, and faculty - both male and female - about the challenges women face in becoming leaders in science, and how we can all help lessen these challenges. First, we have to recognize the traits of a good leader, and we have to recognize gender differences, Dr. Gross explained. There are some personality traits that are more common to females and some that are more common to males, although each individual is going to differ. Figuring out how these traits in each person complement those of others to build good leadership and research teams is key, Dr. Gross pointed out.
Dr. Gross acknowledged that there are stereotypes against women in science careers, and that people have implicit gender biases. “You need to have a sense of humor,” Dr. Gross said. In order to succeed, she offered, you need to identify the hindrances and figure out how to work around them. At the same time, though, she encouraged all scientists to create a supportive network for peers as well as scientists early in their careers.
“This is everybody’s issue,” Ecology faculty, Dr. Amy Rosemond contributed to the discussion. Men, as well as women, need to stand up to their peers to change these implicit biases against women in the sciences.
As graduate student, Caitlin Conn, brought up: How do we balance fitting in enough to navigate the system in place, and fighting the current system and its inherent biases to change things for the next generation of women scientists?
WiSci: Women in Science addresses these questions and more through our discussions, panels, workshops and mentoring program. To become part of our campus-wide network and take advantage of upcoming events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or explore our website wisciuga.weebly.com
Women in Science Leadership: Pathways and Potentials by Kay Gross, Director W.K. Kellogg Biological Station
Originally posted on February 14, 2015 on Cecilia Sanchez' blog. Read what the WiSci President and founder has to say about the journey of starting a student organization that builds a network of support for women in the sciences across campus: ceciliaasanchez.weebly.com/blog/women-in-science-making-stride_s