Fear in the Field: Now is the time for the fisheries field to act.
|A mixed group of fisheries field workers - Gary Peeples/USFWS|
"If not me, who? If not now, when?" - Emma Watson, UN General Assembly, 2014As a male graduate student I rarely have to think about gender issues, at least not in terms of their affect on me directly. Still, I have a fiancé who is a professor in geology, a sister who spends plenty of time abroad for her work, and numerous women in my lab and department. It doesn't take long to hear stories about how gender affects your experience as a scientist, how comments about appearance or femininity undermine confidence, or how double standards often surround the expectations of female scientists.
I have seen this, and dealt with the fallout of these gender issues fairly frequently. Still, it appears that there is a large segment of male scientists who don't get it. The same problems seem to persist year after year and I rarely if ever hear anything about it from those in authority. When I do it's invariably vague and comes without any concrete action. With Emma Watson's excellent and moving speech before the UN last Saturday there has been a groundswell of media coverage surrounding her statement that gender equality is everyone's problem to solve, most positive and some proving her point.
Those of us in field-based sciences face some very specific gender related issues to solve; problems that have been put in stark relief by another recent event, a paper released in July in PloS One showing that field research can be a forbidding and abusing experience for trainees. The abstract of this recent paper in PloS One by Clancy et al. should be shocking to scientists of all genders:
"...harassment and assault were commonly experienced by respondents during trainee career stages. Women trainees were the primary targets; their perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team. Male trainees were more often targeted by their peers at the research site. Few respondents were aware of mechanisms to report incidents; most who did report were unsatisfied with the outcome." - Clancy et al., 2014Most of us who work in fish ecology, or natural resources in general, are here because we fell in love with working outdoors, in the field. We all have memories of great times with new friends at field sites during college courses, summer internships, or technician positions. These are often the formative experiences in our pursuit of this as a career. But this graphic from the paper indicates that more than half of the women, and a good share of the men, I've been in the field with haven't had such a great experience.
spotlights of the prominent females in the field and discussion of more philosophical approaches to including female perspective in fisheries writ large.
There hasn't been a pointed discussion of the inherent problems that field-based fisheries research creates for women. I haven't, for example, heard a peep out of my own department about this. This could easily be because it hasn't been visible, but with the Clancy paper including almost 50% of it's respondents in biological and other related sciences this can't be ignored. I feel like it requires a concerted response, and not just another online sexual harassment training. It cuts directly to the core of the culture of field work in a way that needs to be addressed by the field at large as well as university departments and government agencies.
Most undergraduate programs require some sort of internship or field experience to graduate. At University of Idaho an internship is required and many students take part in summer field experiences with faculty researchers and government agencies to fulfill this requirement. This means that UofI is requiring students to take part in field experience that, if this paper can be generalized, is exposing women undergraduates to harmful interactions. Further, these experiences are often outside of the control of the University; students might never spend enough time with their employer to fully understand how to report inappropriate behavior and yet reporting through the University might not result in any help. Even if mechanisms are in place at the University they may be hundreds or thousands of miles distant, effectively useless as Christie Aschwanden makes clear in her essay in the New York Times.
"Reflecting back, I’m struck by how ill equipped I was to deal with this kind of situation, especially at 19. My university undoubtedly had a harassment policy, but such resources were thousands of miles away. I was alone in a foreign country and had never received any training on my rights and resources in the field."Remember, not only did the paper show that harassment and assault happens, it showed that the ability to report it is often not even there for victims and when it is the results are poor. It's time for departments, agencies and individual labs to step up, take charge.
I know from my experiences that fieldwork tends to have a loose, relaxed vibe. It's a time when we can get out of the office and into the field, away from the strict expectations of office work. There is usually plenty of time for socializing after a long day of work. Depending on the work there might be alcohol around a campfire or at a local watering hole. It feels more like a camping trip than a job sometimes. But, as the superiors of (often younger) students we need to realize that it's not ok to adopt the, "what happens in the hunting camp stays in hunting camp," mentality. Lets face it, that mentality isn't healthy even in most hunting camps we shouldn't expect it to be healthy on the job. This is a job, and for the undergraduates and graduate students this is a necessary route to a career. We need to understand and respect the power dynamics at play in the field. We also need to explicitly clarify how to report problems and then make sure that reports are followed up and those who break the rules get punished.
A recent article entitled "Science's Sexual Assault Problem," by A. Hope Jaheren in the New York Times both sums up the problem well:
"I listen to my colleagues talk endlessly about recruiting more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, and postulate what the barriers might be. Sexual assault is a pernicious and formidable barrier to women in science, partly because we have consistently gifted to it our silence. I have given it 18 years of my silence and I will not give it one day more."It also provides a sobering reminder of what it means if we don't act and fix these problems and instead decide to sweep it under the rug.
"In August, Lego began selling a set called “Research Institute” that features three female scientist minifigures: a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. I am well qualified in two of those fields, and I am here to say that playing with a different set of dolls will not adequately prepare your daughters for a career in science. You must teach them, rather, to manage their dreams. They need to know that daring to act upon their dreams of science can be both a beautiful and a dangerous thing."I, for one, don't like the idea that anyone should have to manage their dreams. The very idea disgusts me. I hope the rest of my peers feel the same way and are willing to speak up and pro-actively do something about it.
This article shows that just because there haven't been any reported incidents of harassment or assault reported to supervisors doesn't mean it isn't happening. We can't wait until something happens, because it is already happening, we just don't have the tools or culture in place that lets the news get out. We need to act decisively, vocally and openly to make sure that everyone can enjoy their field experiences. Nobody should ever have to balance a future career against the despicable actions of their superiors in the field. I think Christie Aschwanden gives us something to aspire to.
"It will take chief executives, department heads, laboratory directors, professors, publishers and editors in chief to take a stand and say: Not on my watch. I don’t care if you’re my friend or my favorite colleague; we don’t treat women like that."As Emma Watson made clear, gender equality affects all of us and all of us must stand up and make it right. There is already a nascent conversation in fisheries and natural resources surrounding the need for more female perspective in our data and in our field, and there is a much broader conversation across the sciences as a whole. Clancy et al. make it clear that it is high time to ensure we aren't driving away that positive perspective through willful blindness of what happens in the field.
“How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” - Emma Watson, Emma Watson, UN General Assembly, 2014Clancy et al. are showing, in cold, hard data, that we may indeed be driving away a very large percentage of entry level women in field-based sciences like our own. Other professional societies have led the way, and I would like to see my fields do the same. The Southeastern Archeology Conference has done a self study which shows much the same results as Clancy et al. and is drafting clear field policies for members to follow. The American Geophysical Union and American Anthropological Association have issued strict policies. Closer to my own field, the Ecological Society of America will host a panel discussion at the upcoming meeting in Baltimore.
Meanwhile Fisheries, the monthly publication for the fisheries field, has mentioned gender discrimination only a handful of times over the last decade and has neglected to respond to this study at its meetings or within its covers. Its time for all of us to stand up and make clear that we won't stand for any mistreatment of women and trainees, in any form, in fisheries sciences.
Here is the entirety of Emma Watsons speech, introducing the He for She Campaign for gender equality.