Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Wages and Attitudes for Women Geoscientists

Marilyn and Kate Freeman, AGU Fellows and National Academy Biogeochemists

         The Geoscience workforce was composed of only 21% women as of 2015, a proportion that lags behind other science and math fields (Holmes et al., 2015). Studies have shown that this is not a “pipeline” issue, as there are enough women interested in the field who have started their careers in earth science but don’t continue. Overwhelmingly, those studying the reason for low participation in geoscience feel that it is a “chilly” climate that drives women from sticking with a life of studying Earth and planetary sciences, thus creating a “leaky pipeline”.
Cortina et al., 2006. “Women scientists who perceived the department climate to be sexist reported lower levels of felt influence and job satisfaction...In contrast, women’s perceptions of a positive or supportive department climate were related to higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. A positive academic climate, as measured here, is one in which there is more collaboration and cooperation, respect, and collegiality. Factors such as collaboration are thought to be critically important for increasing positive work outcomes for women scientists.”
Implicit Attitudes
Mary Ann Holmes, 2015. “Our implicit attitudes influence how we evaluate people for jobs, for admission to graduate school, and for awarding fellowships, scholarships, and professional awards without our being aware of them. Implicit associations that form implicit attitudes develop by repeated contact with a given phenomenon. For example, when every nurse we’ve ever seen is a woman, we mentally picture a woman whenever we hear the word “nurse.” Similarly, most scientists portrayed in the media are men, so most people think of a man whenever they hear the word ‘scientist.’ “

         At the Geophysical Lab, the male scientists have a “uniform” of sorts or dress code. During the work week, old khaki pants or jeans with an L.L. Bean shirt typically weathered by 15 years or more of wear with a pair of old sport shoes are de rigeur. For more formal occasions, many kept a tie and a navy blue sport coat hung on the back of their office door that could be put on over the old khakis, if need be. In general, I followed the L.L. Bean code of dress for day-to-day work, but women don’t hang formal clothes behind their doors when they want to dress up and look good.
         In fact, women in science have puzzled about how they should look and present themselves in job interviews, during seminars, and while teaching. For young men going out in the world, I gave them simple advice: comb your hair, wear a belt that matches your shoes, and pick a pair of decent socks. (Men often cross their legs and pull up their pant legs while discussing things. Their socks should look good.) For women, they need to be concerned with skirts vs. pants, purses vs. brief cases, blouses vs. shirts, jackets vs. sweaters, color combinations, hair styles, makeup, heels vs. flats, jewelry and other accessories, necklines and hemlines. As a woman if you’re dressed too informally and are young, people think you’re a student. If you’re too stylish, you might be considered to be a member of the administrative staff. God forbid that a woman scientist should be considered sexy and bring out unwanted advances.
         Early in my career, my mother sewed all of my clothes for meetings and seminars. We chose patterns and fabrics that were different but stylish and classic. In a world where clothes are ordered on-line, this seems impossibly old fashioned. During the past 20 years when I earned a decent salary, I shopped at two or three small women’s clothing stores and had the sales force provide advice.
         One of my colleagues who took a position in the 1980s at a large Midwestern university told this story:
“After receiving poor teaching scores in my first semester, my sister [a University professor] gave me a list of do’s and don’ts including how to dress. I started wearing suits and high heels - spikes even. My scores skyrocketed. Can you imagine what it sounded like as I walked down the hall to my office, passing some of my most difficult colleagues. I never thought about it at that time, but those high heels made a statement in more ways than one and not just to the students.  My sister was right!”

Fortunately these days, working women have many choices for looking professional, although often women’s evaluations often remain low relative to men regardless of dress.
19.1 The Wage Gap
          Cheng et al., 2018. “People often justify the gender wage gap by suggesting that “Women are not doing the same amount of work” “they are opting out” or “they are working fewer hours.” These justifications put the responsibility and blame on women themselves, preventing us from identifying and addressing the real root of the problem: not women’s actions or inactions but systemic inequity within organizations and society. Gender discrimination occurs both subtly and overtly throughout hiring, placement, and promotion processes.”

         I am proud to show my first letter of appointment as a Staff Member of the Geophysical Laboratory to the community. In 1979, I asked the Director of the Lab for a salary of $20,000 and was given $19,500 to start. No one told me that I should have bargained for more, at least $19,750. For the following 18 years, I never asked for a raise. Some years, the Director of the Lab gave a generous 5%, but in other years, all we got was a paltry 2% raise. Unbeknownst to me, my male colleagues regularly went into the Director’s office and demanded a raise. Half the time, I think that tactic worked. By the mid-1990s, my former postdocs now at their own universities were earning a good 20% more per year than I was.
         At lunch one day, a table of “us women”, including National Medal of Science superstar Vera Rubin, discussed salaries. Vera and I had never brought the subject up with our bosses and had no idea what our male counterparts at the Carnegie were paid. But both of us told the postdocs who were negotiating for positions in the 2000s to ask for and expect to receive a fair salary. It turns out that “Women Don’t Ask”, the title of a popular book on salary negotiations (Babcock and Laschever, 2007). Prior to my accepting positions at the University of California, I read the book, asked for five salary considerations, and was given three of them.
         As I transition into retirement, I can see the obvious value of getting paid what you’re worth. Childcare costs are through the roof. The cost of sending children through college is increasing, even in the state of California, which for years had some of the lowest costs in the United States. Money to help out with domestic chores is also something that women need as the burden of housework often falls to them. Having enough resources to hire a cleaning service or purchase meals is often the difference between a happy balanced geoscientist and an overwhelmed one. Women need to pay careful attention to their retirement funds, since most institutions don’t provide pensions. Fortunately, this generation of women geoscientists seems to be savvy with respect to wages.
19.2 Intersectionality
         This past year, I started working with faculty in the Gender and Sexuality studies department at UC Riverside. Most of them women, when we met I often felt like a fish out of water when we discussed areas of common interest. I learned a new term “intersectionality”. The Oxford dictionary defines this as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Women and men of color in geoscience comprise only 6% of total employment as of 2006. Estimating that only 25% of geoscientists are women, this implies that only 1.5% of geoscientists are women of color. This past spring at UC Riverside, I taught a class on Sustainability in the Salton Sea in the Gender and Sexual Studies department. I was the only white person in the classroom, something unfamiliar to me, and I was the only scientist as well. (I may have been the first scientist this group of students had ever met. They were apprehensive of research and science in general.)  Although I was a white scientist, I taught in a wheelchair, which placed me firmly in the ranks of a women, trait #1, with a disability, trait #2. I now know first hand about intersectionality.
         Attending a recent Geochemical Society meeting now in a wheelchair, people that I had known for 30-40 years walked right past me. Do women of color sometimes feel isolated in this same way when walking past thousands of predominantly white men geochemists? The isolation of adding an extra social characterization compounds how people are treated, often unwittingly by those without targeted social backgrounds. Although not strictly in the definition of intersectionality, mothers with infants or small children faced problems at society meetings until recently both AGU and the Geochemical Society have provided spaces for nursing as well as childcare centers.
         The Earth Science Women’s Network for the past 16 years has provided a way for women in the geoscience field to communicate and commiserate. Today there are over 3,000 members from 60 countries. The Network holds social gatherings at conferences, supports workshops, and has published articles and books on women in geoscience. In 2016, five of their 12 leadership board members were women of color. Several years ago, the organization transitioned from daily email bursts to online forums. Women post questions and receive answers and support. As a group, they (we) are a powerful group that is transforming the way women in earth science are regarded.

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