Gender Equality

Ocean research lacks female leaders

The picture shows a discussion in a crowded room, with Beatrice Crona speaking in the middle.

Women are underrepresented in academic leadership positions. Picture taken from a staff meeting at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Photo: E-L. Jansson/Azote

In senior academic positions women are still struggling to break the glass ceiling, new study shows

Story highlights

  • Men are dominating in senior academic positions and ocean research is no exception
  • Most of the 34 female leaders interviewed explained how they faced more obstacles than their male colleagues
  • The study highlights a number of common enablers of women leadership

WHERE HAVE ALL THE WOMEN GONE? Only with multifaceted scientific work will we be able to overcome the sustainability challenges that lie ahead. Yet, academic contexts are far from diverse. In fact, too often the people in charge of academic work are men.

Despite the fact that women and men are evenly represented in undergraduate, graduate programmes and postdoctoral positions, men are still dominating in senior academic positions. Ocean research is no exception, according to a recent study published in One Earth.

“Women often have shorter careers, receive more manuscript rejections and are less likely to publish in prestigious journals”, says Rebecca J. Shellock, lead author.

Most of the 34 female leaders interviewed (including centre researcher Beatrice Crona) explained how they faced more obstacles than their male colleagues.

Men get away with it

Social barriers were a common theme. The participants felt isolated, overly scrutinized and forced to cope with stereotypes much more than men.

I think that the expectations for women are higher. If a woman does something wrong, it’s like: well, they should know better. Men get away with it because they’re men, but women should know better.

Interviewee in the study

On top of that come practical barriers, many of them related to parenthood. As women are oftentimes doing more of the care work at home, their careers suffer.

But even personal challenges enter the equation. Over 60 per cent of the participants in the study felt that it was more difficult for them to gain credibility than it is for male scientists: “We don’t get recognition as fast”, says one of the interviewees.

How to enable change

The study highlights a number of common enablers of women leadership.

  • Personal support is a big one; from supervisors, but even from peers or informal networks. “A leader that embraces and supports you makes a big difference”, says one of the participants.
  • Strategies aimed at practical and process issues can also be valuable. Examples are mentoring schemes, leadership training, or career coaching.
  • Institutional support is needed through e.g., diversity policies, gender sensitivity training, quotas, equal pay, and an environment that makes it easier to combine family and career.

Shining a light on these persistent problems in academia in general – and marine science in particular – is important to keep the conversation about how to improve gender equality alive. The authors hope that the list of enablers can be used by aspiring female leaders as well as heir mentors and peers to get more women into academic leadership positions– something which will benefit all.

As lead author Rebecca J. Shellock puts it:

“A diversity of leaders, perspectives, and disciplines are essential for navigating the complexity of environmental problems.”

Published: 2022-06-21