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Understanding the Problem in Academia

The problems that geoscientists work on relate to challenges affecting environments, livelihoods, and economies on the local to global scale. Yet, as a STEM field with a broad scope, geosciences are one of the least diverse workforces in the country. Women make up 30% of the STEM workforce with only 20% holding a geoscience faculty position. Similarly disproportionate, Black and African American, Latine, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander, and Alaska Native women together represent only 7% of tenure-track faculty. Efforts to remedy the lack of diversity in STEM disciplines have relied on recruiting individuals from disproportionately represented groups to graduate programs and entry-level positions following the popular ‘leaky pipeline’ metaphor. However, this metaphor erroneously assumes that there is only one pathway into a scientific career, and implies the attrition of women, specifically, Black and Indigenous people of color is a passive process ignoring the documented forms of discrimination, harassment, bias, and exclusionary behaviors actively driving low retention in the academic workforce.

Academic and research environments have been documented to produce workplaces that are hostile towards Black and Indigenous people of color, those who identify as genderqueer, transgender, or non-conforming, religious minorities, white women, academics with disabilities, and foreign-born or international scholars. Sexual harassment affects the advancement and retention of especially, although not exclusively, women in science. Gendered and racialized microaggressions towards faculty and students in STEM, which can occur daily, negatively affect learning, mental and emotional well-being, and engagement resulting in diminished feelings of belonging. 

Biases and hostile workplaces must be addressed in order for recruitment and retention efforts to have long-term impacts that broaden participation in STEM. Critical race theory and Black feminist scholarship provide a means to examine how persons at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities ( gender, age, race, ability, socieoeconomic status, nationality, etc.) face discrimination and exclusion more frequently than others. Reframing the problems of inequitable experiences and underrepresentation in STEM through a lens of intersectionality helps refocus these problems as functions of social injustice rather than individual or collective identities or characteristics.

Key to diversification of STEM is identification of structural and cultural barriers that contribute to hostile climates and documented bias. Historical legacies of exclusion, institutional tolerance for abusive behaviors, assumptions about who is (and who is not) identified as a scientist, and hierarchical power structures stand as impediments to a diverse and equitable field. These challenges will require recognition and removal by all community members, especially those in leadership positions. (Adapted from with further citations therewithin: Marín-Spiotta, E., Barnes, R. T., Berhe, A. A., Hastings, M. G., Mattheis, A., Schneider, B., and Williams, B. M.: Hostile climates are barriers to diversifying the geosciences, Adv. Geosci., 53, 117–127,, 2020. )

To learn more about the barriers to diversity and equality in STEM and the geosciences follow the links below:

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