Women in geoscience study reveal disparity

A University of South Australia (UniSA) research project has found that only 3 per cent of women in the geosciences sector have achieved their career goals.

The interview-based study, which was aimed at investigating the lack of gender diversity in geosciences, asked participants to provide a visual metaphor to describe their career and the opposite gender’s career.

The metaphors provided by female geoscientists suggested they found their careers both challenging and incomplete, according to UniSA associate professor Caroline Tiddy.

“Nearly 40 per cent of men felt they ‘had achieved’ in their geosciences career yet only three per cent of women felt the same way,” Tiddy said.

According to Tiddy, over 80 per cent of Australia’s mining workforce are male and only  7 per cent of professors in Earth sciences in academia are female.

Metaphors such as “an uphill battle” and “hacking through the jungle” were given by participants when describing female geoscience careers.

By using perception as the basis of the study, the research was able to provide details about why gender equality existed in geosciences.

“We are still drilling down to uncover the harm such differences in perception might be doing, but these early results suggest women are justified in feeling their career path involves more challenges than men,” Tiddy says.

“Looking at the perceptions that exist, it is no wonder girls aren’t choosing careers in the geosciences. If these relatively negative perceptions do reflect reality, it’s not surprising female talent is being lost along the way in this so-called ‘leaky pipeline’.”

UniSA associate professor Shruti Sardeshmukh and doctor Sanjee Perera are also studying why female talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs is not widespread.

According Sardeshmukh, job sectors are male dominated due to women not choosing to work in the same sectors or not staying in male dominated careers long-term.

However, Sardeshmukh said diversity in the workplace could lead to organisational performance and innovation.

“Gender in STEM research often revolves around attracting women to the field, and that is important work. But it is equally important to make sure women stay and progress in their STEM careers,” she said.

“Women’s career journeys in STEM appear to be more onerous and uphill than men’s paths, which our initial analysis of perceptions clearly shows. Our early findings indicate the challenges women face relate to the job characteristics and workplace culture.

“As we continue our project, we hope to find tangible ways to improve workplace culture and in turn, shift perceptions and boost gender diversity in geosciences and hopefully in STEM more broadly.”

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