Dr. Fiona S. Tweed (Staffordshire University)
Principal Investigator, Icelandic Glaciers
Despite many advances made towards equality for, and on behalf of, women during the Twentieth Century, women are still under-represented in scientific research as a whole. Data presented and discussed in the last few years suggests that fewer women are engaged in science than would be expected, given the number of women in the workforce (e.g., Dumayne-Peaty & Wellens, 1998; Luzzadder-Beach & McFarlane, 2000; Lane, 1999). This under-representation of women is felt not only in the absolute numbers employed, but also in issues such as securing office space, salaries, promotion, access to resources and importantly, obtaining grants (Lane, 1999).
A male-dominated culture exists in many centers of research and higher education that prevents women from achieving on many levels: gender bias is still very much a part of the education system. Many now believe that the under-representation of women is not necessarily due to overt or premeditated prejudice, but to subconscious behavior that perpetuates the status quo (Spertus, 1991). This has come to be regarded as ‘institutionalized discrimination' (Madge & Bee, 1999). I have felt this form of discrimination in my own field (see Women in Earth Sciences), and I applaud Earthwatch's valuable role in setting a more positive example.
Earthwatch has a culture of female involvement that has been very obvious to me during my six years as an Earthwatch-supported principal investigator on the Icelandic Glaciers research project. Earthwatch is unique in many ways, and perhaps one of the most apparent is the organization's ability to dismantle the perceived barriers of gender and culture in science.
There are several issues worthy of comment. As a young academic (by this I mean having just started on a research career) it is extraordinarily difficult to obtain research support in the increasingly competitive environment of science funding. In the context of many awards, funding bodies want to see evidence of a track-record before even dreaming of awarding funding. This becomes a ‘chicken and egg' situation - how do I get a track record without the funding and how can I hope to get funding without a track record? This is the case for many people and given the ideas articulated above, I assert that the problem is underscored for women.
In supporting women at the start of their research careers (or those who have recently returned to academia after caring for children, for example) as well as women with a track-record, Earthwatch is performing a valuable role for the research community. As many will know, there is a magnetic quality to funding, and being in receipt of Earthwatch support can be a positive advantage in attracting or obtaining further funding from other sources.
One of Earthwatch's principal tenets is that of environmental education. In funding women as researchers on projects, Earthwatch is widening participation and reinforcing the perception of women as active players in the research arena. Female principal investigators and researchers can be valuable role models for both female and male volunteers with whom they interact (see My Personal Experience: Icelandic Glaciers).
In an environment that seems to be gradually adjusting to the wider participation of women, it is important to have organizations that are actively engaged in supporting women and in recognizing the difficulties that many of us face. By not making a big deal of what they are doing, or employing some kind of tokenism as an antidote to the perceived ‘over-representation' of men, Earthwatch is helping to engender a culture of female academic equality.
Earthwatch is clearly leading by example; I am continually surprised by the number of women involved in the organization, whether they are employees, field representatives, or volunteers. However, there may be some extent to which the charitable status of the organization makes the workforce self-selecting and shapes its culture. As an environmental charity, Earthwatch has different objectives to those championed by government or industry; does the ethos of the organization attract proportionally more women? I suspect that the jury may still be out on this. What is clear is that a four-way support system exists - researchers, volunteers, Earthwatch, and the community - helping to foster and support gender equality. In research, as in so many other areas, wealth happens by exchange rather than acquisition.
I encourage Earthwatch to continue to support high-quality, innovative, sustainable, equitable environmental research. By so doing, I believe that Earthwatch will be helping women to achieve equal representation in many research fields. I am against overtly positive discrimination in favor of women; however, some pro-activity may be required to raise awareness of such truly equitable funding sources in the current research climate. One thing is certain: as an Earthwatch principal investigator, I will continue to enthuse about my research and to participate in the crucial exchange of ideas with volunteers, the public, and the scientific community, irrespective of gender or culture.
Dr. Peggy Rismiller (University of Adelaide)
Principal Investigator, Echidnas and Goannas of Kangaroo Island
It is not the fact that women cannot get support for research, but that they are not encouraged to go into research in the first place. You really have to be a self-starter to get and stay in research.
Earthwatch gives equal opportunity to all researchers working in sometimes unusual fields and unusual circumstances. Women often have a different/uncoventional approach to science that is not always supported by funding agencies with less broad views on how science and research should be approached.
I would encourage Earthwatch to reach out to more women scientists, primarily for the function of providing Positive Role Models for young women. Science, and particularly field research, is still a male dominated area, again because young women are not encouraged to take that path in their lives. Across the world there is concern that not enough young people are going into the sciences. Encouraging young women to consider a career in science is step in the right direction for the future.
Nithya Balaji (Nalamdana)
Principal Investigator, Maternal and Child Healthcare in India
Globally, it has been harder for women to get support for research in the past. But things are changing for the better...sometimes the pendulum swings too much to the other extreme, at grass-root levels at least! Having worked in the field for the last 30 years or more, I do not think it is particularly difficult today because of one's gender. It depends on the applicant, his/her credentials and track record.
Having attended the last three Earthwatch annual conferences, I saw many women principal investigators among the projects supported by Earthwatch. In my own experience, this organization has been very supportive and encouraging. Many of the Earthwatch staff are also women...so I see a lot of understanding all around of issues, field related problems, and gender sensitivity.
I would encourage Earthwatch to reach out to women scientists, not because they are women scientists, but because they deserve support.
Dr. Pat Wright (State University of New York, Stony Brook)
Principal Investigator, Madagascar's Lemurs
It's a complicated situation where women often end up doing things in their department that takes more time away from their research. Then their publication list may not be as strong as their male colleagues who refuse to do the service to the department and the university.
Earthwatch plays an important role in supporting all field scientists. But especially women who do long term field work. Many research granting agencies do not fund long term studies, and Earthwatch can fill that gap.
Dr. Joan Whittier (University of Queensland)
Principal Investigator, Green Turtles of Malaysia
I think it is harder for women to get support for research. Getting grants largely relies on networking and having supportive people reviEarthwatch Instituteng the grants and ranking them on the selection panels. Many women are excluded from these support networks and even if their work is good they don't stand a chance. Also, women experience more family-related career interruptions and this hurts their chances due to problems with track records.
Earthwatch has been really great supporting the work on its merits. The extra support that accompanies the project through corporate sponsors has been especially helpful to me. Earthwatch also gives special recognition to the scientists regardless of gender. For example, the first two CGNU Climate Change Awards have gone to projects led by women. Also Earthwatch gives both men and women scientists the opportunity to do more socially-directed research that involves the communities. These aspects just are not funded by government scientific organizations.
I think that women are especially finding it hard to obtain funding (at least in Australia), and many of the high priority research areas tend to be in high technology fields that have been more male dominated. Earthwatch can serve as a boost for women who may find fewer opportunities for organismal and population ecology studies that are long term.
Laurie Marker (Cheetah Conservation Fund)
Principal Investigator, Cheetah
It is harder to get money for research, as a woman, especially in areas such as fieldwork. Organizations don't think that women can do hard fieldwork, or are capable of working in hot or dangerous situations. Personally, I don't believe this to be the case. The design of our research project shows that women are more than capable of working in the field, under extreme conditions. In fact, more than half of our full time staff are women - and almost all of them are involved in field work, animal care, and clinical work.
Earthwatch plays an important role for women, as it does support them. Many of the volunteers that come through Earthwatch are in fact women. So the support from Earthwatch goes two ways - it brings women volunteers to the projects, and it supports projects run by women. Thus, Earthwatch increases the number of women going into research fields.
It's always a good idea to reach out to more women scientists, especially since women have a more difficult time getting support from other organisations.
Ana Cañadas (University of Madrid)
Principal Investigator, Spanish Dolphins
If I compare with other colleagues, male and female, working on cetaceans, I haven't really noticed a big difference. I think that within Spain and other European countries the number of women researchers has been growing steadily over the last couple decades. I must say that in the field of cetology there is probably also a larger proportion of women than in many other research lines.
The type of research Earthwatch supports, dealing with development and conservation, attracts more women than other research fields. I don't think Earthwatch should really focus on whether a researcher is male or female when deciding to support research projects. A different thing is of course if you are looking at countries where women's rights are still not where they should be. In these cases, Earthwatch could of course do a lot of good supporting women scientists.
Dr. Kathleen Sullivan Sealey (University of Miami)
Principal Investigator, Coastal Ecology of the Bahamas
What gets funding for research is new and focused ideas. Sometimes women do not have a good mentor to teach them how to organize and present their ideas. However, the evaluation of grants or scientific papers is really gender-blind. Once you learn to effectively write and communicate what you want to do, there are no barriers to getting funding or support.
Earthwatch presents a unique platform for getting fieldwork done. Women can develop extensive field programs, and find new collaborators through Earthwatch. Earthwatch often funds projects that can be detail-oriented or labor intensive-not cutting edge laboratory technologies-and in this sense, the Earthwatch Institute can promote anyone with a passion for the work they do.
Women are well represented in our colleges and universities as students, but fail to take real leadership roles in science and academia (with a few exceptions). Earthwatch can help women scientists find a voice and venue for their work. I think the Earthwatch annual conferences can play a big role in strengthening women in leadership roles, especially in the field sciences.