International Women’s Day

I’m not normally one to comment on sexism in science, because for the most part I like to think that people are hired and promoted on their merits. However, since changing jobs last year, it’s become glaringly obvious that not all geology departments are created equally.

It has come to my attention that I am literally the only female academic staff member in our research group. There’s a few female PhD students, and our group’s administrative team are all female. But I am the only female academic staff member.

What does that say?

I know females in geology struggle in academia. Geology, predictably, requires a not insignificant amount of fieldwork. It is nigh on impossible to juggle fieldwork and a family, unless you’ve got a stay at home partner – which as you might expect is usually the female. Of the few females that I have seen succeed as academics in geology, few are married, and even fewer have kids. Like myself, most have an “it’s complicated” relationship status, and are childfree. Of the ones that do have kids, the kids are older, and they were all born before the women decided to go into geology in the first place.

The reality is that there’s no escaping fieldwork as a geologist, and one has to make a judgement call on what’s more important. Having a family (and foregoing fieldwork, and thus limiting employment opportunities), or doing the fieldwork (and foregoing the family). For me, this was not a hard decision – I hate kids and never wanted a family in the first place. However, I know for others that this has been a nightmare decision. I’ve had friends who finished their PhD’s, started postdocs, got pregnant, had kids, and never returned to geology because they couldn’t commit to the requisite fieldwork. It’s quite sad to see such talent wasted because of the necessity of fieldwork. Every job advertisement for academic geologists that I’ve seen stipulates that they must be able to undertake fieldwork. I know so many people who never even bother to lodge applications due to that one requirement. It is not something that hiring committees are prepared to overlook. And as much as some people don’t want to hear it, they won’t overlook it for a good reason. Fieldwork is an absolute necessity in geology – you can’t avoid it.

So when I look around our research group and see that I’m the only female, it makes me wonder. Is it actually an inherent bias in hiring? Because at the end of the day, I’m female, and I got hired…Or is it just one of the consequences of the necessity of fieldwork in geology and females opting themselves out by prioritizing family?

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