Re-defining Roles and Stereotypes in Geoscience and Technology

Updated: Feb 11

By: Roisin Kyne

Women don’t inherently think in 3D, that’s why you don’t see many women 3D modelling. Its just a fundamental difference in how men and women’s brains work”.

It was this comment made by my supervisor in the first few weeks of my 3D modelling Post-Doctoral research that sparked my first ever thoughts questioning my abilities and my choice to be in geoscience.

You see up until this point, I had only ever had positive support from my all-male supervisors and mentors. I had heard of gender disparity within the geosciences but had yet to experience it firsthand. I was shocked and discouraged but even more so, scared that this was the first time I had thought about quitting. I tried to brush off the comment and move forward, but it was certainly not the last time I would be undermined and made to feel incompetent. I thought about how blessed I had been that this was the first time I had experienced gender bias and micro aggressions only to find out that my career was mirroring the statistics for women in geoscience almost exactly.

A 2008 study published in Nature Geoscience showed that the gender balance in undergraduate and masters’ programs is almost 50% dropping to roughly 35% for PhD candidates. However, beyond the PhD level, the proportion of women who stay in the geosciences drops off dramatically. In academics in the Unites States, women make up only 26% of post-doctoral and associate professors dropping to a meager 8% at the full-time professor level. In the industry, studies show that over 50% of women leave before they reach mid-tear levels (i.e. management) sighting workplace culture, bias and discrimination as a major contributing factor (Indeed and Ramp-Up studies).

At my lowest, I knew I could not continue working in such a toxic environment. I needed to find a completely new work environment or leave geosciences altogether. Lucky for me, I found a few amazing mentors who helped me navigate my career and asked me to try just one more time. In 2018 I walked away from academics and into a much more supportive environment where my 3D modelling work is well respected and creates real value for my company. I am not limited by my gender, and I am afforded opportunities to educate, mentor and step out of a traditional role as a structural geologist into new and exciting avenues including helping to shape employee development and gender equality and inclusivity.

The industry is not perfect, there are many areas that I see need improvement. When I look at the top management teams across the geosciences, I see very little diversity in gender or ethnicity which is a major barrier to an active, dynamic industry. However, more and more this is changing as women and members of minority groups choose to stay, support each other, and build long-lasting careers which will lead to changes in management over time. I also see a shift from classic geoscience roles (i.e. geophysicist, geologist, geotechnical engineer, etc) to dynamic, hybrid roles where individuals are not just specialists, but are evolving to include new, innovative technologies and bridge the gaps between disciplines to further our understanding and push the science in unique and exciting directions.

To truly make the industry a fair, equitable place for all we need continued advocacy and mentorship as well as total buy in come companies and organizations around the world. As more women and minorities choose to stay and push through the barriers, the industry will chance for the better for us and for those who will come after us.

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