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, https://doi.org/10.5194/adgeo-53-117-2020, 2020. )
To learn more about the barriers to diversity and equality in STEM and the geosciences follow the links below:
- Hostile climates are barriers to diversifying the geosciences by Erika Marin-Spiotta et. al. 2020. ‘The geosciences are one of the least diverse disciplines in the United States, despite the field's relevance to livelihoods and local and global economies. Bias, discrimination, and harassment present serious hurdles to diversifying the field. These behaviors persist due to historical structures of exclusion, severe power imbalances, unique challenges associated with geoscientist stereotypes, and a culture of impunity that tolerates exclusionary behaviors and marginalization of scholars from underserved groups. We summarize recent research on exclusionary behaviors that create hostile climates and contribute to persistent low retention of diverse groups in the geosciences and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields’
- Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954: An Intellectual History by Stephanie Y. Evans. Historical context of Black women in higher education, free with the Kindle App
- Invisible Labor by Eric Anthony Grollman. Discusses the exploitation of scholars of color in academia
- No progress on diversity in 40 years by Rachel E. Bernard and Emily H.G. Cooperdock. Discusses the low ethnic and racial diversity of doctorates in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, and the lack of improvement over the last 40 years
- Recognizing and addressing bias from ADVANCEGeo. A great resource linking to papers exploring bias in science and how implicit bias affects self-perception. A few selected references below:
- Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women in Science by Joan C. Williams, Katherine W. Phillips, and Erika V. Hall
- Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. Bertrand and Mullainathan
- Imposter syndrome isn’t the problem - toxic workplaces are by Christine Liu
- Gender imbalance in US geoscience academia by Holmes et al. 2008
- Journals invite too few women to referee by Lerback and Hanson 2017
- Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans by Steele and Aronson 1995
- We are not okay. And you shouldn’t be either by Meg K. Guliford 2020. Blog post discussing being Black in academia during the COVID-19 pandemic and extrajudicial killings of Black people in the US
- What Black scientists want from colleagues and their institutions. Outline by Black researchers of steps for action to overcome systemic racism in the science community
- Retention and promotion of women and underrepresented minority faculty in science and engineering at four large land grant institutions by Gumpertz et al 2017. Study analyzing the tenure attainment, retention, and time to promotion to full professor for women and URM faculty STEM.
- Science has a racism problem Cell editorial team 2020. ‘Science has a racism problem. And it is not limited to scientific discoveries and their attendant usage. The scientific establishment, scientific education, and the metrics used to define scientific success have a racism problem as well.’