≡ Menu

Give Me Ideas For A New Professional Women Geoscientists’ Network

I belong to a professional geophysical society whose executive committee has proposed the formation of a women’s network. Similar networks are American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ PROWESS committee and Society of Professional Engineers’ Women’s Network.

Why bother? Who’s going to fulfill your energy requirements, for starters? Consider it a staffing problem.

A large hurdle for geoscience is the growing inability to attract and retain excellent scientists, in general, but women, in particular. If the requirements and perception of women scientists are not acknowledge and acted upon soon, we stand to lose valuable professionals to other more attractive but perhaps not as fulfilling professions. The continuing double standards for women with family and the identifiers used to describe women scientists need addressing, especially in the male-dominated field of geophysics. Women can use mathematics and physics to address the world’s energy needs just as well as men can (some even more so) but refer to us as “sympathetic and nurturing team players” as if that’s a bad thing or “on the mommy track” and see how far that gets us. More critically, how does it grow the profession?

You don’t believe that this happens today? Forget the men (and women) who think women who wish to raise families while working have no place in the workplace and check this: Just a couple of days ago, I had to dispatch a guy who joked that the name of our proposed professional society should include a “snarky reference to Mother Earth, periods and emotionalism” and continued with “Gaian Cretaceous chocolate-bingers.” Why are menstruation, our feelings and pink sparkles the first things to come to professional male minds about professional women, when the known reality is that we, too, are … hold on … professionals who do not operate on these terms when at work?

This is the overt bullshit we’re up against, along with the stealthy and unspoken kind.

Many young female geoscientists have already benefited from the sense of community created by women in the sciences, both through professional and online networks. As they move beyond school and into the workforce, they hope to keep those ties strong. Furthermore, women currently in the geophysical workforce can continue to provide support and growth opportunities to one another.

So, this is my query. In the year 2010, armed with the learnings of various women’s societies to date, research into women’s issues and online tools such as Twitter, Facebook [insert obligatory "Yuk!"] and forums, what would the must-haves of your science-focused women’s professional network be?

Here are some suggestions that have come in so far:

  • Include networking strategies explicitly to identify and support mentoring connections.
  • Partner with an established network.
  • Encourage the mingling of academics and industry professionals.
  • (This one’s mine.) Encourage social media less for recruiting and more for actual conversation like in the geoblogtwitosphere. It’s so much more organic and honest, i.e. what we really need, when it isn’t formal and enforced.

What else? I’m all ears. Oh, and don’t say the network needs women. It’s been done to death and many of the folks proposing the group are actually men. There are male feminists, remember?

Suggested Reading:

3 comments… add one

  • Angelina Souren November 13, 2010, 9:22 AM

    Get in touch with women geoscientists network GAIA in the Netherlands:
    http://www2.vrouwen.net/gaia/

  • Smurfette November 13, 2010, 1:18 PM

    I would say that the first thing that comes to mind is good by-laws. We have 2 girls at my school who have been president and co-president of AWG for all of masters and now PhD. I tried to run and was told I couldn’t, that the only way to participate was basically to get in line and pay homage. I am still on speed dial when they need stuff for a scholarship fundraiser, but other than that, I am persona non grata for not respecting the fiefdom. This has made my PhD a very lonely experience so far. Good by-laws would help with this and turnover keeps the organization fresh.

    We are running a mentor program at KU where the grad students mentor the undergrads (help them learn about opportunities in the geosciences, go out and have fun, have field trips). This is almost entirely run by women, but we have a lot of fun with it and the Dept. is finally kicking in some cash to help out.

    I think there needs to be honest discussions (+/-) about industry and academia so young scientists can make informed decisions. I went to an industry-student breakfast at GSA and the only woman on the panel made industry sound like the most horrid sexist place on the planet that alot of women I knew walked out and said they felt they had to be academics now. I have had good and bad experiences in industry, before returning to school, so I found the whole event shocking.

    I would like skill workshops. I don’t know anything about 3-D seismic, beyond seeing the pretty pictures. I know people who still don’t consider bacteria as significant in the course of geologic history. I think it would be great to get some familiarity with lots of different areas and shore up knowledge weaknesses. I know that seminars are supposed to do that, but the average seminar is really geared toward the faculty in a specific specialty at the school, and not at me. While good speakers address the knowledge gap, they are few and far between.

    That’s the short list.

  • Oriniwen November 13, 2010, 5:22 PM

    @Smurfette, re; Industry vs Academia – from my experience and perspective it’s hard to portray industry in a non-sexist light. I’ve been in heavy oil in Calgary here for almost 5 years now and it’s really difficult to find stories to tell to the juniors that won’t send them running back to school. Part of that is the frustration that’s built up amongst the women in my cohort. It’s obvious that many of us are being relegated to positions where we’re not developing transferrable skill sets, where we’re expected to do a lot of “office busywork” like spreadsheets and printing/binding documents. I’ve been trying for 6 months to find a new job and have been applying with resumes in my initials rather than my name in the hopes of maybe, maybe snagging something else. I’m watching my peers be “mommy tracked” and then told they’re “not team players” and have bad attitudes because they complain about their crap treatment and having to fight for their maternity rights. It’s a disappointing place for a lot of women these days.

    There’s a lot of frustration and apathy in the women in my age range in industry in this town. It comes from a lot of directions and has a host of causes, and I think that any network needs to be able to address the reality of industry, such as it were. I’ve been out of academia for a while now, but I don’t remember this soul-crushing pessimism there. Academia feels like a “safe” choice for a lot of people.

    I’d like to see a network that reaches across the (sometimes antagonistic) boundary of industry and academia and realizes that there’s a lot of work going on “in the trenches” on both sides.

Leave a Comment


6 + eight =