Over the past 15 years, there has been great effort to inspire and engage women and girls in science. However, according to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability of women graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and PhD in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while those percentages for male students are 37%, 18% and 6%. In order to promote equal access to and participation in science, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
To celebrate this day, we asked our fantastic remote sensing scientists to respond to the question “What’s the most common assumption that people make about you as a woman in science?” The obvious problem with this question, of course, is that it assumes that everyone identifies with a binary gender in the first place. At RSEC we are strongly committed to creating an inclusive space for everyone who has an interest in remote sensing science at the interface of ecology and conservation and will use an inclusive definition of “woman” and “female” to mean everyone who is significantly female-identified, regardless of gender identity.
Associate Editor Kylie Scales “Sometimes, it seems as though people assume that women in science do what we do because we must be trying to prove something – to prove that we are equal to our male colleagues. I don’t feel that I’ve anything to prove. As I see it, I’m following a path that allows me to spend time thinking about the incredible world in which we live, and to share those thoughts with other people, regardless of gender.”
Associate Editor Natalie Kelly “The most common assumption people make about me as a woman in science is probably that my male colleagues must know more about a topic than I do.”
Associate Editor Clare Duncan “Sometimes I see cogs turning and the “realisation” of a female scientist meaning that all is now solved – that the glass ceiling must have disappeared and we’ve achieved equality in the profession. Of course in reality there are a lot of hurdles remaining that a lot of great people and scientists are working very hard to overcome. And I think that this, as well as also being a challenge, is one of the things that makes being a female scientist today a very exciting thing!”
Associate Editor Anna Carter “We have focused a lot of energy on removing gender-based barriers to participation in science, but we continue to use a binary concept of gender to define those efforts. So the most common assumption that people make about me is that ‘woman in science’ is an accurate descriptor in the first place. But whenever a group is called Women Scientists Unite For Something or Ladies Do Some Science, it isn’t really for me.” Photo credit Ayla Murray
Associate Editor Nicola Quick “The most common assumption is that I am a female marine mammal scientist, when actually I am just a marine mammal scientist. Here I am with three other marine mammal scientists studying whales from a small boat in a big ocean.”
Associate Editor Anna Cord “The most common assumption was “this woman will not ride 1,000 km on a single-pedal bike in Burkina Faso to collect field data”. I did this some time ago for my master’s thesis. The bike is seen in the background of the picture.”
Associate Editor Doreen Boyd “Until RSEC asked me this question I’d never really thought about assumptions per se. It is true that women in Earth Observation were few and far between when I started my career over 20 years ago and at times I was very aware of this. Happily this has changed. I stumbled across this recently – written about the same time of my first academic – The Gendered Eye in the Sky. Certainly food for thought.”
Associate Editor Dolors Armenteras (left) “On the one hand, if they have not met me in person, most people just assume I am a man. On the other hand, my research is often undermined and the assumption is that I must have gotten my ideas from a male colleague or researcher etc. Furthermore, in Latin America, any male is a Dr and I am a Mrs!”
Associate Editor Kate He “People tend to think that by being a successful female scientist, she must have worked harder and sacrificed more than her male colleagues. I do think that these kind of assumptions have some merit even in today’s society.”
Associate Editor Sadie Ryan “Assumptions? People are often surprised to find out I am a mother (my son Yuri is 8 this month), much less that I am a couple of decades out of my twenties! They also assume I’m American, because that’s the accent I use most of the time, but I actually have both passports (US and UK). People are often astonished to find out I’m a professor at all! I think they expect someone grey and dour. Our lab group motto is Be kind, and do good science.”
Associate Editor Rahel Sollmann “I consider myself lucky to have made it this far in science without people assuming things about me (at least not openly) because I am a woman. Sure, I’ve been called “girl” by older male colleagues; but I have never faced the more toxic attitudes that I know many women in science have to contend with. A lot of that luck I owe to my mentors, supervisors and colleagues. But some of it I’d like to attribute to the fact that things have started to change for the better, at least in some places.”
Associate Editor Stephanie Bohlman “Common assumptions…I am “just” a teacher, research assistant, or lab manager, not a researcher with a Ph.D. Because I ask questions, I need to be told answers. You need to carry my equipment for me.”
Associate Editor Helen De Klerk “When I started as the GIS Scientist at CapeNature (a parastatal (semi-governmental) conservation organisation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa), many saw me as ‘just a young girl’ and were not quite sure what to make of me. When I started providing workshops on what GIS is and what it can do to help Reserve Managers (with Tim Sutton, and colleagues from Stellenbosch Uni), and Tim and I started presenting tailor-made training for Reserve Managers and Conservation Extension Officers, people realised that I delivered on what I promised and that GIS and basic RS could revolutionise their daily work. From then on I was taken seriously and the CapeNature GIS grew to be one of the first around the world that implemented GIS on the ground in protected areas to help managers with their daily work.”
Senior Editor Harini Nagendra “The most common assumption about me as a woman in science is that I must be good at multi-tasking and balancing family with work. I am, and I love it – but why on earth shouldn’t the same assumption hold for men?”