The Gender Imbalance: Still a Persistence Forecast

January 26, 2015 · 1 comment

In his Dot.Earth blog post today about the impending blizzard in the U.S. Northeast, journalist Andy Revkin addressed pointed questions about storms and numerical modeling to eight “extreme weather watchers” (nearly all of them doubling as media figures these days). Some of them specialize in snow. Some in numerical forecasting. More to the point, all eight are men.

In light of the gender imbalance of his ad hoc expert panel, Revkin asked for reader assistance:

I know lots of highly-respected female climate scientists, among them Jennifer Francis, Judith Curry and Florence Fetterer. But most high-profile, storm-focused meteorologists seem to be men. Please weigh in with names and links to women in this arena to broaden the field of view!

The gender imbalances in atmospheric and related sciences—whether in operational, broadcast, research, or other aspects of the field—are real. A good baseline for more discussion about the situation is a recent article (soon in print, but already open-access online) accepted for the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.  Authors David MacPhee and Silvia Sara Canetto note that the atmospheric sciences have a particularly poor recorded of attracting and retaining women in academia. The survey of 34 graduate-degree granting institutions showed that women hold just over 17% of the tenure and non-tenure track positions, and only about 11% of the full professorships. Worse yet, the percentage of women in academic positions is not rising and not likely to rise in the near future.

The rate of women who were the lead authors of poster presentations at the recent AMS Student Conference in Phoenix was much higher—close to 40%. But the BAMS article and AMS membership surveys show that these proportions fall as students move on with their careers.

This failure to retain women in the field is being addressed in various ways, including targeted mentoring programs as described in BAMS not long ago as well as a more recent National Science Foundation funded initiative based at Colorado State University.

Not surprisingly, Revkin received some great suggestions for women experts from readers. The actual imbalance in the community, however, remains to be solved.

[Note: Updated 9:56 p.m.]