Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Ending Old Boys Clubs in Science

Geophysical Lab Senior staff, 1990


I am a member of several Old Boys Clubs. I am now old, but have never been and will never be a boy.


What’s it like for a Girl to be part of such a Club?

How did I end up in more than one such Club?


As a woman in science in the 1970s, about 80% of my co-students were guys. By grad school in marine science from 1974 to 1977, almost 90% were men.


In 1979, at the Geophysical Lab as a Staff Scientist, I became the only female among a total of 15 staff (7%) for 30 years until Anat Shahar, a high pressure/temperature geochemist, joined the Staff. Staff members of Carnegie’s Geophysical Lab were, indeed, part of an Old Boys Club. At the annual Geological Society of America meeting in San Diego in November of 1979, I felt like a freak. Prominent geochemists came up to meet the “woman Hat Yoder had hired.” Hatten S. Yoder, lab director and member of the National Academy of Sciences, was well known as an old fashioned geochemist who addressed women with PhDs as “Missus” even though they may or may not have been married. I received this treatment for years. Until he stepped down as director, I was in an Old Boys Club, but a sidelined member.


What did that mean? I had to battle for suitable lab space, argue for research funding, and accept 70 cents on the dollar for my salary. It made me tougher, but still a member of the Club with little voice.


Geophysical Lab: front row: staff scientists, 1991



When Charlie Prewitt became lab director in 1986, he recognized the slights and made sure my new lab was what I wanted and needed to be successful. He also adjusted my salary substantially, probably to 95 cents on the dollar. Further, Charlie gave each Senior staff scientist equal research dollars so that I had an equal shot at internal funding. I was finally addressed as Dr. Fogel. Some of my best work was done during his reign as director.


As part of Carnegie’s Old Boys Club, doors did open for me based on the Lab’s reputation. I was treated to a pool of postdoc applicants that was first-rate. My offers were almost always accepted. The Geophysical Lab paid me a 12-month salary and let me figure out what to do with my time—an incredible gift.


When colleague George Cody was hired in 1995 to replace Tom Hoering as an organic geochemist, Charlie had me lead the search. By changing the lab’s climate, at least somewhat, I became a full member of the Club. My confidence soared. I entered the international circuit as a geochemist in 2003, when I was elected Fellow of the Geochemical Society—yet another Old Boys Club—only the 3rd woman to join this group.


Formal recognition of one’s accomplishments by others does wonders for a woman’s world, but also opens up a realization that she needs to do something about gender inequalities that persist, even today. I became a pesty, persistent voice on awards selection committees. I paid more attention to mentoring—both women and men. I encouraged women whenever I could. It was probably not nearly enough. I felt that I needed to keep pushing myself and kept up a competitive research program.


UC Merced Professors Peggy O'Day and Jessica Blois


In 2013, I made a major move leaving the Geophysical Lab’s Old Boys Club for a position at the University of California Merced, a startup school in the Central Valley and a far cry from an Old Boys Club type of place. What joy to have so many female colleagues! They were a tough bunch, having to negotiate Merced’s growing pains, battling lab space issues and fighting to get good grad students. I still encountered gender put-downs from some administrators, something now considered to be sexual harassment (Clancy et al., PNAS, 2020). In the company of students, I recognized that it was easy for both men and women to downplay the accomplishments of women, particularly underrepresented minority women. When searching for people to write tenure letters, it was not easy to find women of the needed stature to write them.


In 2019, the United States’ ultimate Old Boys Club for scientists, the National Academy of Sciences, elected me as a member of the Geology section, which along with the Geophysics section, represents the earth sciences. Before joining the group, I had little idea how election to the Academy actually happened. How was a person nominated and voted into this distinguished group?


I learned the process from bottom up. The details of anyone’s election are kept secret. [I’d love to find out about mine…] Basically, four or five members write a simple 2-page nomination with a simple format: key papers, other awards, date of birth, and a paragraph on the importance of a candidate’s work. Multiple secret ballots take place over the course of a year with a few folks eventually reaching the top of a list of notable scientists—all of whom you have heard of or know.

Since the Academy was created in 1863 by a decree from Abraham Lincoln, only 10% of the members in earth sciences have been women. In fact, it was not until 1986, that the first woman, Susan Kieffer, was elected to the Geology section for her multi-disciplinary work extending from mineral physics to river dynamics. In 1992, Susan Solomon, who discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica, was the first woman to join the Geophysics section at the young age of 36! In 1993, Alexandra Navrotsky (called Mrs. Navrotsky by Hat Yoder) was the 2nd woman to be elected in the Geology section for her work on nanogeoscience. Today, women make up roughly 20% of the earth sciences membership—some progress but nothing to crow about.

GL Visiting Committee (circa 1986)


This year I participated in the penultimate step in the process. I am pleased to write that it was a process chaired by women, composed of a diverse group of scientists who, in my opinion, were sensitive to inclusion and diversity. During our deliberations, no one mansplained or was a jerk. I hope that what I saw is evidence that this Old Boys Club intends to widen its membership and thereby lose its reputation as an “Old Boys Club”.


When my husband asked me yesterday what I was blogging about and I told him, he said, “I hate to burst your bubble, but everyone knows that women have needed to be a part of men’s Old Boy Clubs if they were to be recognized in science.”


I bristled at this. On reflection, of course I knew it.


I’d lived it.

And now hope for things to change for women and under represented minorities in creating fairness going forward.


Recently, I was awarded the Viktor Moritz Goldschmidt medal in geochemistry, the Geochemical Society’s highest honor, just the 5th woman to receive the medal in 50 years. I was nominated by a cadre of my female geoscience colleagues, some evidence that women can have a direct influence on who is chosen for recognition.


From the Geochemical Society’s website: “Nominations of people from underrepresented groups are encouraged (e.g., women, non-white researchers and/or researchers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, disabled scientists, those who have led diversified careers, other historically minoritized groups, and intersections thereof).”


Matt McCarthy, Seth Newsome, Paul Koch, 2022



We’re heading in the right direction.


Over the past few years, I’ve served on numerous award committees and wrote many nomination letters for my colleagues. From what I have seen, although gender disparities still exist, those who are choosing who will receive recognition are all considering the impact of selecting a diverse group. This is a good sign.


Today, Carnegie’s combined Geophysical Lab and DTM, the Earth and Planets Laboratory, has eight women Senior staff scientists—30% of the group—a far cry from two decades ago. Ethnic and racial diversity still remains an elusive goal with nearly all of their Senior staff being White. Carnegie’s next generation of earth scientists, postdoctoral fellows, however, are a very diverse group that I hope will be the future of this lab and other earth science departments around the world.


with Professor Maryjo Brounce, 2017



Making sure this crop of new intellect is nurtured and supported properly is a challenge that those in positions of power should place as their highest priority for a vision of the future that is inclusive, equitable, and diverse.


No more Old Boys Clubs for science.


Let’s move on.

Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

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