The “Glass Obstacle Course” Facing Women in Marine Science

Major changes are needed to address the lack of gender equality in marine science, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).

The study authors say this is not just a diversity issue, but a barrier to achieving our global ocean sustainability goals.

The research collated data from 34 women leaders in 27 countries, highlighting not only the gendered barriers to women’s leadership, but also concrete actions that could help overcome them.

“To solve the biggest problems facing our oceans, we need to bring together diverse people from different disciplines,” said lead researcher Dr Rebecca Shellock of ANU.

“It’s important to have female leaders because with diversity comes new ideas, new opinions and innovation. Without women and other minority groups, we lack all of this.

The research found that 70% of research participants perceived that, in their own experience, interdisciplinary marine research was more difficult for female leaders than for their male counterparts.

This is due to a range of social barriers including isolation, under-representation and stereotyping.

“Our female leaders have said these barriers affect their mental well-being, job satisfaction, success and career progression,” Shellock said.

“All of these elements together form a glass obstacle course, where gendered processes create obstacles and barriers that female scientists must constantly dodge.”

Professor Gretta Pecl, director of the Center for Marine Sociecology at the University of Tasmania, was one of the women leaders in marine research interviewed for the article.

“When it comes to interdisciplinary research, collaborative and consultative leadership is often the most effective,” Pecl said.

“It’s not always the case, but the skills of listening, creativity, and innovation can lend themselves to leadership styles more common among women,” Pecl said.

The research identified several actions suggested by current leaders to support and promote more women in leadership positions.

This included creating family-friendly environments at academic institutions, informal networking opportunities, and support and engagement from superiors and peers.

“We need to make changes in the way women and men work, not just women. This involves institutional reforms such as changing university culture, improving parental leave and adopting flexible work practices,” Shellock said.

“I hope this document can provide a roadmap for institutions and the scientific community, allowing them to think about the type of strategies they can use to promote and support women’s leadership. Ultimately, it’s not a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s responsibility in society to make this change. We are at a crucial moment where we are facing some of the biggest issues such as climate change and food security. We need women in leadership positions more than ever.

– This press release was originally published on the Australian National University website

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