Small Steps Toward Scientific Gender Equity

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Tom Jacobs last week cited current research showing that job applications attributed to female scientists were received less favorably by other scientists than those of applications they believed came from a man. The effect was true for both men and women.

Right now I'm at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World, and a factoid that arose in the first day's opening remarks offers some small hope for greater gender equality (at least in science). Looking over the participants and presenters of all three of these ocean-acidification gatherings—the first in Paris in 2004, the second in Monaco in 2008, and this one in Monterey, California—there has been a steady increase in the visibility of female scientists in this growing field.

In data provided by biologist Ulf Riebesell of the German ocean-research institute GEOMAR, there was exactly one female speaker in Paris, 10 in Monaco, and now 56 in California. The rise in the number of attendees doesn't account for that, having grown a little over four-fold in that time frame to 542. Nor does the explosion of research on ocean acidification; the total number of speakers has grown a little under six-fold, to 146.

These numbers are exactly the same as career opportunities, of course, but it's hard to imagine that this doesn't reflect at least some concurrent rise in employment prospects.

Putting a face on those figures was one of the three speakers at the symposium's opening plenary sessions, Gretchen Hofmann of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "I'm one of the outcomes of the ocean acidification affirmative action—and I thank you," she told a packed auditorium before launching into a deservedly well-received overview of whether sea life can adapt or acclimate to the hotter, sourer and less-oxygen filled oceans mankind is creating.