Vienna, April 9, 2013
It has been a few years since I last attended the EGU General Assembly, which has always been an excellent forum for me to catch up on latest research results, to learn more about new research directions, and of course to meet colleagues. This year I am attending the EGU General Assembly again, mainly because the Earth Science Women’s Network had invited me to give a lecture.
Having lived in Sweden for the past 20 years, gender and gender biases are no longer very big issues, because we employ (at least at universities and in research) the principle of an even gender balance at all levels. 15 to 20 years ago, when fewer women had high academic positions, it was sometimes a bit difficult to find enough qualified women to fill the 50%, but given the focus on and awareness of the problem, concerted and successful efforts have been made.
However the situation seems to be slightly different in other European countries, where gender and gender biases still seem to be little discussed and/or are not addressed at all. Very little seems to have changed since I left Switzerland more than 20 years ago. And actually, whenever I raise this question for example as a committee member, the answers are bleak excuses and almost always the same: all efforts have been made, but there simply are not enough qualified women. Given the example from Sweden, I cannot buy this excuse anymore.
This year at EGU, I see so many talented young female PhD students and researchers, who are giving excellent talks, are presenting excellent posters and who are doing front research in geosciences. Given these successful young women, it is more than surprising to see the almost complete lack of women in this year’s EGU’s medal list. I thought that this could be a coincidence, so I made a quick check of how many medals had been awarded to male and female scientists over the past years (2004-2013).
What I found did really surprise me. The numbers below don’t need any further comments or statistical analyses. They clearly speak for themselves …. What they tell me is that there are only (or mainly) male scientists who are good enough to receive EGU’s medals! Would you agree with me? I sincerely hope that you do not agree with me!
The complete imbalance in respect to female and male scientists in my list below, made me go a step further and check how the gender balance of the different committees is. And no surprise here either – these committees are made up of male scientists with an occasional female scientist here and there. And of course this is not really surprising, because the researchers who had been awarded the medals make up the committees and as shown below – the medals have gone mainly to men! Unless this viscous circle is broken, nothing will change.
EGU, its executive board, its scientific commissions and its committees are in a position to change this. By doing so EGU could position itself at the forefront of European geosciences research. EGU could make the gender imbalance visible, could discuss it openly, could set up an action plan to resolve it and could actively work towards a change. Without awareness, without a concerted action plan and without a clear determination to change the situation, today’s talented young female researchers will also in the future not be selected as candidates for an EGU medal or award.
EGU has the possibility to make powerful changes and it has the ability to demonstrate that a change is possible.
Professor in Quaternary Geology and Member of the Swedish Royal Academy