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Diversity evening at GEM 2019 Xi'an, China

by Liz Maag-Capriotti

The GEM 2019 Xi’an:  International Workshop on Gravity, Electrical, & Magnetic Methods and Their Applications presented a special opportunity to bring together a small group of international geophysicists for an evening on diversity and gender equality. Despite a full day of technical talks, Dr. Aline T. Melo (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and I welcomed more than 30 individuals from around the globe to discuss the state of diversity and gender equality in the geophysical community.  The night was prefaced as a place to share personal experiences, ask for advice from our panelists, and most importantly learn about the on-going struggles on a global scale and how we could strive for improvement, all without judgement.  

The night began with introductions of the four panelist, Dr. Jeremie Giraud (University of Western Australia), Dr. Yaoguo Li (Colorado School of Mines), Dr. Xiaohong Meng (China University of Geoscience), and Dr. Adalene Silva (University of Brasilia).  Each panelist was asked to share personal experiences, some of which showed little to no inequality in the workplace, others more subtle bias, such as a female geophysicist being the one to serve tea in a room of her male peers, and finally blatant sexism in the form of unequal pay.  The discussion continued with topics presented by the audience, notably on the topic of targeted diversity hiring.  The general consensus was that hiring someone to specifically diversify a team is not the appropriate way to go about diversifying the industry; rather finding not only the best candidate, but the right candidate who can work well with that team was important.  Comments were made about how the GEOPHYSICS journal has recently moved to a double-blind system to remove multiple forms of prejudice that has affected both international and female authors.  

The night’s discussion also highlighted issues presented to women who conduct field work, in that some are not chosen to participate in particular projects because their companies feel it is too high a risk to send a female into the field.  Others are sent with men for their safety and protection.  This raised the question of how to address this issue, given that in many areas, field work is not necessarily safe and concern and protection are appreciated and even necessary, but that doesn’t mean a women cannot protect herself.  Overall it is difficult to solve this problem because it is not a situation that can be controlled by the geophysics industry, but is instead controlled by society.  One possibility to start to a solution was that these issues be addressed with female employees with transparency, so proper decisions could be made.  

Before the conclusion of the night, there were a few women who shared stories that were both heart breaking and eye opening.  In some parts of the world the respect and acknowledgement of women’s achievements is sorely lacking.  Both of these women hold PhDs in geophysics and work as professors but despite these momentous achievements they were not seen as successful until they were mothers.  One detailed her experiences of submitting a paper for review just hours before giving birth to her first child and continuing to work on other reviews of papers as soon as she was back home.  The pressure for these women was not lifted after having one child, but instead they were again looked down upon for not having a second.  In another heart breaking story, one of the women detailed how she returned to work the day after having a miscarriage for fear of losing her job if she took a day off.  Even with all of their struggles these women still work tirelessly to teach, conduct research, and publish papers, knowing that many in their communities believe that their husbands are responsible for their achievements, even though neither of their husbands are geophysicists.  

We concluded the night by asking the panelists to provide the group with a set of challenges and advice to take with them.  Each being a member of academia, they recommended that female students be nurtured and encouraged during the early portion of their careers.  Another presented ideas on how as a woman she put herself in a different mindset to get where she was today.  She didn’t see herself as a woman but instead as a scientist and she continued to close herself off to the negativity and continually try and further her career.  One of the major points that the entire group agreed upon was that all bias starts at a young age and to truly achieve equality in the face of gender and international diversity we must raise the next generation of children without bias and continue to promote equality as they grow socially and academically.  Finally the panelists agreed that we must continue these conversations, which I hope sharing the highlights of this event will do.


Liz Maag-Capriotti is a PhD candidate in the Center for Gravity, Electrical, and Magnetic Studies at the Colorado School of Mines focusing on discrete-valued clustering inversion of potential field data.  She earned a BS in Geophysical Engineering from CSM in 2013.  Liz has eight years of experience as a teaching assistant for a variety of geophysics classes at CSM and has interned in the mining industry.  

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