Understanding Experiences of Women in Marine Science: Results of an initial pilot study

Lindsey Williams, MIT Sea Grant College Program, Cambridge, MA, United States and Tracey Dalton, University of Rhode Island, Marine Affairs, Narragansett, United States
Women are significantly under-represented in many marine science and technology fields, but make up over half of the seafood related workforce globally (Arismendi & Penaluna, 2016; Briceno-Lagos & Monfort, 2018). At the same time, concerns have been raised over challenges in recruiting the future workforce for marine resource management, research, and industry (Berkson et al., 2009; Maunder & Piner, 2015; McMullin et al., 2016; NOAA Sea Grant, 2014). Additionally, the implications of the exclusion of women’s voices in various marine related venues include, but are not limited to, an incomplete picture of marine social-ecological systems, unnecessary narrowing of the talent pool for innovation, and neglect of key issues of interest to a range of stakeholders (Gissi, Portman, & Hornidge, 2018) This study seeks to better understand the contributing factors to the current workforce demographics, and explore challenges and opportunities for women in marine and ocean science related careers. Pilot interviews were conducted in 2019 in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Interviews were transcribed and qualitatively coded. Several themes emerged that link to findings in other studies including the important role of mentors, a perceived decline in overt sexism but continued challenges, and high value placed on collaboration and work with students as definitions of success. Taken together, the findings from this study provide important lessons for educators, hiring officials, and managers, but also point to the need for further study and inclusion of the experiences of under-represented groups in efforts to prepare the next generation of marine scientists and managers. This project primarily addresses goal two of the session (recruitment and retention), but also contributes to goal three (improving the work climate).